Over the past few years, a crop of travel startups, including the likes of Aribnb and TripIt, have transformed the travel industry. They’ve been breaking the mould of what’s gone before with new and innovative ideas, some of which have changed the way we travel.
In our latest article for From the Grapevine, we took a closer look at a brand spanking new travel startup – an exciting New York-based venture called Visit.org. Visit.org is an online marketplace for socially responsible travel activities. The tours they offer are global in scope, covering destinations from the Philippines to Peru, Senegal to Tanzania, and many more besides. Working with nonprofits and community organisations, Visit.org offers a way for tourists and travellers to engage in responsible and ethical tourism. Want to learn more about what they do? Scroll down to read an excerpt from our interview, which features insights from Visit.org co-founder Michal Alter.
Call it “tours with a twist.”
Harlem-based travel startup Visit.org is an online marketplace offering tours that go beyond traditional sightseeing and photo opps. Whether it’s exploring unique neighborhood architecture or making cheese in a Peruvian mountain town, they are all ideal tourism activities, just perhaps not the kind to which we’ve grown accustomed.
The site is the brainchild of Israeli-born Michal Alter and partner Violaine Pierre. Alter, a veteran of the tech industry, who spent a year in Latin America before transitioning into the social sector. “One of the things I realized during that year traveling on my own was the relationships I developed with locals were the most memorable moments and also provided the most memorable emotions – ones I’ve carried with me since then,” Alter told From The Grapevine.
As people grow weary of the run-of-the-mill Disney jaunts and cookie-cutter resort getaways, they’re now striving to travel in a way that’s more responsible and ultimately more rewarding. This, Alter said, is where Visit.org comes in. Tapping into a swathe of local, independent nonprofits and community-based organizations across the globe, the marketplace offers positive and affordable travel experiences that benefit local communities. “It’s not about luxury,” said Alter. “It’s all about having access and the opportunity to do this kind of activity during your travels.”
To make sure travelers get a positive experience, the Visit.org team vets every activity on the site. “We work only with organizations that have been operating for several years,” Alter said. “Organizations that are very much established with a very good track record of positive impact on their community.” Alter also wants to ensure that the operators on their site don’t just have the consent of local communities, but are also collaborating with them. “That’s a way for us to make sure that the proceeds actually go back to public projects and projects that benefit the entire community rather than an individual tour guide.”
On Visit.org, travelers can search for activities by destination and based on the issues they care about. Tours, which range in length from a few hours to longer overnight stays, can be worked into existing travel itineraries. For instance, any mindful traveler taking on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu will be aware of the struggle between commerce and conservation. Visit.org and its partner organization Awamaki offer a half-day workshop with artisan weavers in the nearby Andean highlands – an experience that not only offers insight into genuine Andean culture, but also provides “a way for them to give back to the community and to do something that is very different from the half a million other people walking alongside them.”
The activities are varied, designed to appeal to students, professionals and everyone in between. There are visits to a penguin preserve in Cape Town and a bear sanctuary in northwest Greece, as well as a bamboo-building workshop in Brazil and a horseback trek through the canyons of Kyrgyzstan. “The options are changing and growing almost daily,” said Alter.
Visit.org has also partnered with tour operators in Alter’s native country. Having worked in the nonprofit sector in Israel, Alter finds this to be a particularly exciting prospect. “For instance, there is a great organization [Sidreh Lakiya] in Negev that works with Bedouin women. I spent an afternoon weaving with them, and it’s very inspiring … they are local Bedouin women who really take their future in their hands and create economic development opportunities for themselves and for their family. They work together to create those businesses and to train in business practices.”
To read the original article in its entirety — published on From the Grapevine with additional pictures — click here. Or check out some of the other articles we’ve written for From the Grapevine by clicking here. Have you discovered any other interesting travel startups you think we should be covering? Tell us about it on Twitter.
Vietnam image courtesy of Visit.org; weaving image courtesy of Sidreh Lakyia/Visit.org