It’s fair to say that I’m in awe of a lot of people. Humanity is amazing if you look for the goodness in others. There is magic everywhere! Yes, there are some hurtful people and not great things that happen, we’ve seen that recently in our world. That said, there are a lot of people creating good. And so, for our last installment of And She Travels, I’m delighted to feature a woman who is a massive inspiration to me.
Kelley Louise and I met recently through an online women’s travel group. We instantly clicked over a shared desire to create a dialogue that empowers people to travel responsibly.
Kelley is the Executive Direct of Travel + Social Good. She also owns a boutique digital marketing agency and in general, is creating waves in her field.
“Our goal is to build the travel industry of the future, one in which sustainable travel acts as the catalyst for solving the world’s most pressing issues.” – TSG.
Let’s start with getting to know about the woman behind TSG. How did you get started in the travel industry?
I think that most people in the travel industry are tied by a common thread — we all have known about our infatuation with travel from a very young age. I’ve always known that I wanted to be a part of the industry, and I’ve always had a drive to make a difference in the world.
I discovered my love of storytelling and connecting with the world around me when I was introduced to my journalism career in high school and college. After graduating, my first job abroad was in Uganda where I worked as a photographer with Msafiri Tours, a sustainable tourism company that funds Subbi Medical Centre. As a recent graduate, I didn’t know if I would be able to freelance indefinitely, so I decided to travel as much as I could, ending up in Greece, Spain, Morocco, and Portugal before returning to Brooklyn. In all five countries, I interviewed as many people as I could to soak up the local culture. Upon my return to NYC, I suddenly had all of these photos and stories to tell, and that’s how my blog, the culture collective, was born. Since then, my blog has grown to represent a boutique digital agency (I work with brands I love to help them amplify their online presence through digital marketing and social media campaigns).
My blog is focused on local and sustainable travel, and I am very passionate about each of the organizations I work with — all of which are within the travel, technology, and social good nexus. In turn, this work has been incredibly complimentary to my volunteer position with Travel+SocialGood.
When you think about the current state of the industry, what are your biggest concerns and hopes for the future?
Right now, there is a disconnect with the way (most) people think about sustainable travel and how to implement it into a regular vacation. When most people think about sustainable travel, they automatically connect it to voluntourism, eco-tourism, impact travel… They aren’t making the connection that sustainable travel can be integrated into any vacation.
The point isn’t to simply give back once in awhile; instead, this mindset can be integrated it into your everyday mindset. At TSG, we believe that sustainable travel connects a community, environment, and economy into a streamlined vision. It is easier than most people think to have a sustainable travel experience (you can read my blog post on five ways to make a difference when you travel here:http://www.kelleylouise.com/sustainable-tourism-how-to/) and the best part about all of this is that these travel experiences, the ones centered around connecting with locals and exploring in a more authentic way, are often the best memories you’ll bring home.
I feel very blessed to collaborate with an extraordinary group of people who are passionate about sustainable travel and transforming the industry into a force for good. The community is growing, and there is no doubt in my mind that sustainable travel represents the future of the entire industry.
On that note, many people think of “sustainable travel” as too hard, boring or expensive. GST is working to change that mentality and show that it can be rewarding and dare I say it, sexy! TSG is too! What would you say to someone who isn’t sure about traveling in this way?
If you’ve ever stayed at an Airbnb, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Travelers know what sort of trip they’ll get when they book an Airbnb — it’s not just about where they’re staying; it’s about the experience that goes with it. Airbnbers want to connect with a local and see a new place through their eyes. Locals have the best recommendations on places to see and how to get around a city. Airbnb is just one of many outlets that offer a more sustainable travel approach.
Thinking of sustainable travel in terms of accessibility is as easy as shifting your mindset and how you view it. Recycling didn’t used to be the norm, and now it is — most people do it without even thinking about it.
I’m a firm believer that sustainable travel starts at home and in your daily habits. I make a point to shop local (or support corporations I know are supporting local communities), I look at the labels on my clothes to ensure that they’re made in the USA (or at a responsible outlet abroad) and my favorite restaurants are all farm-to-table (which, in addition to tasting better, is also better for the environment). It all starts at home and in the daily decisions and little changes you can make every day.
Can you give us a high-level overview of the programs TSG offers? You have the Summit, the Hubs, Academy, Media Network and Coalition.
Yes, absolutely! One of my favorite things about TSG is that there’s something for everyone.
We originally launched in 2013 in partnership with the +SocialGood network and UN Foundation as a Summit (a collaborative conference) to explore the nexus between travel, tech and social good. This year, we hosted our third Summit at the UN Headquarters in New York City, and we limited the event to 150 visionaries in the travel space. We’ve partnered with NYU and we’ll be releasing white papers from the event that include a realistic roadmap to push the travel industry forward. We’re focused on collaboration and finding concrete solutions — this is not another conference where attendees get talked at.
The Summit sets the tone for the rest of our initiatives, which are:
- Hubs: Local chapters of our organization. Every Hub takes shape a little differently, as each city is unique, but through monthly events, each Hub’s goal is to transform their city into a capital of sustainable travel. We have 25+ Hubs worldwide.
- Academy: The TSG Academy is a practical education system that is focused on giving our community the skills they need in order to succeed in the industry.
- Media Network: An alliance of content creators worldwide, the Media Network works together to spread awareness of both the positive and negative effects of tourism in order to promote change within the industry. (GST is a proud member of our Network ? )
- Coalition: A network of businesses committed to sustainability, our vision for the TSG Coalition is to provide travelers with a universal resource for sustainable businesses worldwide so that they can spend their money in confidence that they are supporting a local community.
This series is all about inspiring women, making a positive impact in travel. Who are some people in your life that have given you the push to live your life in this way?
Everything I do is somehow rooted in my background in journalism, so I would have to say that two of the biggest influences I’ve had that pushed me to where I am today are my college journalism professors.
I fell in love with journalism originally when I essentially stumbled into a Journalism 101 class with Erin Hiro at Palomar College. I remember sitting there on the first day and I was just overcome with excitement (for real — I was giddy). I knew this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Erin introduced me to the industry and lit a fire within me to pursue it. She gave me the tools and resources I needed in a very hands-off way so that I could learn about the industry with her guidance, but on my own terms, which really allowed me to find my own voice and story.
When I moved to New York City and went to The New School, there was a class on data journalism that was one of my favorite courses I’ve ever had (self-admitted nerd right here). One of the professors, Aron Pilofer, was an editor at the New York Times and I remember this point where he jokingly said that he made up his job. In reality, he meant that there was a need for growth within the company and he was able to fill that position with his expertise, but this idea really stuck with me. You can create the world you want to live and work in. Before I graduated, Aron wrote me a letter of recommendation that said I was one of the top three students he ever had, and that little slip of paper was (still is) enough to remind myself that I can make it in New York.
Picture this, it’s 5 years from now, where do you see TSG? Sky’s the limit!
I think it’s incredible to see how rapidly the TSG community is growing, and it’s humbling to see the potential that is coming to life because of the collaborations and connections that are being made. I’d love for TSG to continue to transition into this community that has the ability to catalyze the industry’s next leaders. There is so much potential that lies within connecting established industry professionals and entrepreneurial travelers with people from the social enterprise and technology industries, as well as private and public sectors.
On a personal level, I’d love to play a small part in giving future generations the resources they need in order to push the industry forward. It’s tough to make it in the travel industry, and it can feel alienating to want to focus on social good. I spent a long time saying, ‘I know it’s naive, but I want to change the world.’ But you know what? It is not naive. It is possible. I know this because it is happening already. I want the 17 year old out there who has big, grand, beautiful dreams to have the resources they need in order to change the world.
And now for a few of your travel favorites…..
I know it’s hard to choose, but do you have a favorite destination that you’ve been to?
As a traveler, I think a lot about the concept of home, and I really believe it’s more about being somewhere you feel a sense of belonging (rather than just living somewhere). Different travel experiences bring different opportunities to experience that. I have this vivid memory of one of my first nights in Uganda, where I was just out exploring the area and gathering my bearings… I had this huge moment where I thought to myself, “This is where I belong. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.” I love that sense of peace you can find when you’re abroad. So, for my favorite destination, I would pick Uganda — for the sense of peace it gives me and the beautiful people who welcomed me into their home as if it were my own.
What’s one thing on your bucket list that you’ve already accomplished?
I’m terrified of heights, but I have this thing where if something scares me, I have to try it at least once. So when I was in Rio, I decided to go hang-gliding, which was simultaneously one of the most terrifying and amazing experiences I’ve had (unreleased footage of my face when going off the cliff is proof of my terror). But the bigger bucket list item would be doing it the second time — because I knew what I was getting myself into. When you hang-glide, you have to look out onto the horizon and run as fast as you can off of a cliff, and there’s this terrifying moment where you drop several feet before getting lifted up into the air. Your body instinctively tells yourself that you can’t just run off a cliff and be okay, but if you stutter while you’re running out, you’ll fall. I hold that lesson very close to my heart — you have to have faith in yourself and know that you can fly.
Well, you certainly have inspired me. I love pushing the edges of what we are comfortable with too. It’s awesome hearing about the goodness you are creating and thank you for sharing your journey with us!
For more information on Kelley and Travel+SocialGood visit:
Get involved with TSG! Tweet at us @travelplusgood or check out our website for ways to get involved. http://www.travelsocialgood.org/get-involved/