Responsible Tourism Trends – A Q&A with Jessica Blotter of Kind Traveler
As a leading digital marketing agency for the travel and tourism industry, Noble Studios understands travelers and what they seek out of destination marketing organizations. Travelers are increasingly seeking memorable experiences, but are also looking for ways they can make a positive impact in the communities they visit.
Noble spoke with Jessica Blotter, CEO and Co-Founder of Kind Traveler, to discuss the important role the hotel booking and education platform plays in promoting responsible tourism. A lifestyle journalist and speaker, Blotter’s love for wildlife and sustainability, combined with her passion for education, helped lead the way for her to cover the intersection between sustainability, travel and the business world.
We’re particularly excited about Kind Traveler’s mission because it’s impacting our own backyard, South Lake Tahoe. Travelers can now access exclusive Tahoe South hotel room rates (that result in significant savings) upon a $10 nightly donation to Take Care Tahoe, a collective group of more than 30 organizations that love Lake Tahoe and want to see more people connect with its beautiful natural environment. Kind Traveler is offering these types of packages at destinations around the globe and it’s making a real impact for destination, travelers and local businesses.
Kind Traveler is “the first socially conscious ‘Give + Get’ hotel booking platform to empower travelers to become a force for good.” Where did the idea for Kind Traveler come from? Since your launch in 2016, what kind of impact have you been able to have?
During a trip to Belize where I witnessed heartbreaking poverty, environmental despair and emaciated dogs roaming the streets, my partner Sean and I had an experience that changed us. We were on a bus with other travelers heading to the Mayan ruins and to go caving. Deep in the back roads, the bus stopped at a local convenience store as the last chance to get water or snacks before heading on the tour. As we got off the bus, the rib-protruding dogs approached us, begging for food with eyes of despair.
Rather than ignoring the plight of the situation, we decided to help. As animal rescue volunteers in the U.S., we ran into the store hopeful they had dog food. They did! We bought as much as we could and scattered it on the ground. As more and more dogs joined in, we looked up and saw that all of the other travelers on the bus were also carrying out bags of the dog food.
When we got back on the bus, the entire sentiment changed from this feeling of being sad, helpless, and hopeless, to a sense of joy knowing that we tried to make things better in some small way. We realized that everyone else wanted to do good — but they just needed a catalyst.
The feeling from our small act of kindness stayed with us for a long time and we wondered how we could use our entrepreneurial skills and passion for travel to make it easy for travelers to make a positive impact to the destinations they visit– and in turn, be filled up with a sense of purpose from their travels resulting in a more meaningful and memorable vacation.
After four years of research and development, the answer was KindTraveler.com. Regarding impact, here’s a look at some of our impact milestones since launching.
Some of the impact metrics include:
• 1700 in-need individuals received nourishing meals
• 4,300 lbs. of trash cleaned out of the Russian River in Sonoma County, Calif.
• 270 trees planted in national forests affected by wildfires and natural disasters
• 1,000 immunization shots provided for homeless or low-income individuals
• 600 rescued sick or injured seals or sea lions received care on the Pacific Coast
Plus many more metrics found in the report.
Outside of the $10 donation that goes towards a local cause when travelers book through Kind Traveler, how does the company encourage tourists to support and participate in responsible tourism?
Kind Traveler encourages responsible tourism in a number of ways. Beyond a socially-conscious hotel booking platform, we are also a responsible travel education and media platform leveraging our blog, newsletter, social media and PR to encourage responsible and sustainable tourism.
We choose ‘Kind Hotels’ that have existing initiatives in place that advance individual wellness, sustainability and community impact. The hotel, Kind Traveler, and sometimes the tourism board as well, identify a local charity that positively impacts the destination in regards to enhancing its community or environment. We look for charities who are aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals working to fight poverty, advance environmental sustainability and biodiversity and reduce inequality.
We also refer to the SDGs to help guide our impact goals as the ‘Global Goals’ (see more at GlobalGoals.org) ensure that if all businesses, governments, individuals, etc., work together to accomplish the goals, we will ensure a sustainable future for our planet.
After the local charity is chosen, the charity lets us know exactly the type of impact a $10 nightly donation will make. In some cases, it may clean 250lbs. of trash out of the Russian River with Russian Riverkeeper or provide 20 nutritious meals for in-need individuals with Redwood Empire Food Bank—both in Sonoma County.
The charity will also let us know how the traveler can ‘travel kindly’ once they are there. Each charity has its own designated profile on Kind Traveler where you can learn tips on how to ‘travel kindly’ and get involved in any short-term volunteer or stewardship travel experiences.
For example, with Sonoma Land Trust, you can join a guided nature hike or with Russian Riverkeeper, you can help clean trash out of the Russian River. This is an excellent way to connect your donation with a visceral experience in bringing your sustainable travel experience full circle.
Additionally, every Kind Hotel profile on Kind Traveler comes with a neighborhood guide where we list ideas for conscious culture, mindful adventures, kind dining, local wellness experiences, and how to ‘do good for the day.’ We list any short-term volunteer or stewardship travel experiences in the guide as well as send the guide to the traveler when they book with Kind Traveler.
Lastly, through the Kind Traveler Blog, newsletter, social media, PR efforts, and influencers, we continually educate around responsible travel experiences. We have hosted influencer trips with our local charities to help tell the story of the type of impact a $10/nightly donation will make and why it is important. For example, last year for World Oceans Day, we hosted our first influencer trip to Marine Mammal Care Center and local Kind Hotel, Terranea Resort. Here is one of the stories that came out of the experience from the popular travel blog, Around the World with Justin.
To date, we have acquired 380 news articles discussing Kind Traveler, equal to $3.5M in ad value. You can read the regular news and blogs about Kind Traveler here working to advance sustainable and responsible tourism.
Greenwashing—the practice of making unsubstantiated claims about a product or service’s environmental benefits–is a huge problem right now. As a public benefit corporation making a real impact around the world, what challenges does Kind Traveler face in cutting through the noise of companies with less-than-impactful initiatives?
There are several initiatives Kind Traveler is taking on in serving the utmost in transparency and responsible giving which is necessary to stand out amongst the noise. Becoming an official B Corporation is one of the best ways to ensure transparency in sustainable business practices and social impact. We look forward to acquiring this certification before the end of the year.
To additionally address the challenges in cutting through the noise of companies with less-than-impactful social impact initiatives, in addition to the impact metric report currently on our website, we’re aiming to create a much more comprehensive report to include more details about why the impact we are creating is so important specifically to the destinations we serve.
Lastly, in additional to being a socially conscious hotel booking platform, we are also a sustainable travel education platform. It is through education we can be transparent in telling others the exact impact their donation will have and why it is so important while also giving the traveler the choice to donate to a charity of their liking.
What have you found to be the most impactful marketing tactics and/or strategies for rising above the chatter and standing out in the growing social good movement?
Engaging with other writers and encouraging them to visit with our hotels and charities – and then writing about their experience either within their own outlet or another news outlet – or even for the Kind Traveler Blog, has been one of the most influential ways to consistently tell the sustainable travel opportunity we have created.
Additionally, by becoming a speaker on the subject of sustainable travel, it’s been possible to rise above the chatter and stand out amongst the noise. From delivering a TEDx talk on the subject of sustainable travel to delivering keynote speeches with several tourism boards – to recently traveling to Chile to deliver Kind Traveler’s investor pitch as part of the UNWTO Travel Tech Adventure series as one of ten startups selected (and the only one from the U.S.) – it’s possible to create a traction channel that creates meaningful connections with others in growing your community or tribe.
Surveys show travelers are more inclined to purchase products and services that make a positive impact. What can hotels and resorts do to ensure they are making an impact on their communities? How can they impactfully tell that story to help their bottom line?
There are two stories I wrote for Fast Company years ago that continue to act as a starting point and excellent set of guidelines for any hotel or brand looking to become more sustainable and conscious. Both stories were written after attending the Sustainable Brands and We First conferences – both powerful resources that are uniting the business community towards sustainability.
1) 10 Ways Today’s Purpose Driven Brands Can Bring Their Core Values to Life
2) 10 Qualities You Need to Create a Sustainable Brand
Additionally, I would recommend hotels thoroughly understand the definitions of sustainable and responsible tourism and its changing landscape by getting involved with industry authorities such as CREST (Center for Responsible Travel) and Impact Travel Alliance. They both publish influential research studies that can act as a guidebook in mapping out a sustainability plan as noted earlier.
I would also recommend referring to the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development to craft an initiative that addresses the Global Goals while also gaining a roadmap in how to accomplish such goals.
By partnering with Kind Traveler, we can help hotels identify a cause to address that is important to their community and to the world, and help them share that story with the conscious travel community.
You have a powerful legion of celebrities including actors Jon Huertas and Jeff Bridges who’ve spoken out in favor of Kind Traveler and your mission. How do you get these celebrities and influencers involved with the brand? How important has their involvement been to your growth as a company?
In addition to existing as a socially conscious hotel booking and education platform, Kind Traveler is also a media outlet to distribute its educational efforts through the Kind Traveler Blog, newsletter, and social media channels. We have been invited to interview celebrities on the red carpet at charity galas in Los Angeles which has led to the endorsement from many high-profile celebrities. The interviews are then turned into videos for the Kind Traveler Blog. You will find video interviews on our blog from Jeff Bridges, Ian Somerhalder, and more.
We also engage with celebrities as we invite them to become Kindness Ambassadors of Kind Traveler and invite them to travel around the world with us. We will work with their publicists to help tell the story of what it looks like to ‘travel kindly’ in various destinations by booking Kind Hotels with us.
We collaborated with Jon Huertas recently from NBC’s This Is Us when he went to Ka’ana Luxury Resort in Belize and visited with Cayo Animal Welfare Society to talk about the type of impact you can make with this organization focused on ending animal suffering and homelessness in the Cayo District of Belize. The story resulted in coverage on U.S. Weekly which has 35M unique monthly visitors.
Celebrity involvement is very important to us as it helps us share our mission with an audience we may not reach otherwise.
When choosing influencers or celebrities to work with, what criteria do you use to ensure that they fit with your brand and mission?
When inviting celebrities or influencers to work with us, we like to see that there is a trackable history of charity/non-profit/cause/activism related involvement that’s related to the core causes Kind Traveler addresses. It’s important for us to always lead with our values so we look for others that share the same core values as identified on our website. It’s even more ideal when we can identify individuals who already support one or a few of our existing 60+ charities.
Jessica Blotter is CEO & Co-Founder of Kind Traveler, a speaker, and a journalist. The moment she discovered the love of travel can’t be separated from the state of the world after witnessing devastating poverty on a trip to Belize, she wondered how the $7-trillion travel industry could be harnessed to benefit local communities, the environment, and animals. This experience led her and her co-founder to harness their entrepreneurial backgrounds to launch KindTraveler.com, a social enterprise that’s the first socially-conscious Give + Get hotel booking and responsible travel education platform empowering travelers to positively impact the destinations they visit. As of 2019, Kind Traveler represents 100+ hotels and 60+ charities in 15 countries.
Blotter has been featured in more than 300 news outlets including The New York Times, Forbes, Conde Nast Traveler, and Travel + Leisure. As a speaker, Blotter delivered a TEDx salon talk ‘The Future of Travel: Purpose is King,’ was a 2019 finalist in the UNWTO Travel Tech Adventure Pitch Competition in Chile, and delivered the 2019 keynote speech for Tahoe Chamber’s Annual Summit on Responsible Tourism. She’s the recipient of the ‘2017 Rising Star in Travel & Tourism’ by WITTI (Women in Travel & Tourism International) and is a member of the Forbes Los Angeles Business Council. She started her career as an earth science educator teaching 130 underserved students each day at UCSD’s Preuss School and holds a M.A. in Education from Ottawa University and a B.S. in Biology from Arizona State University. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California. Join her adventures in traveling kindly on Instagram at @TravelKindly and on Kind Traveler at @KindTraveler.