After witnessing extreme poverty on holiday in Belize, Jessica Blotter co-founded KindTraveler.com, the first Give + Get hotel booking and media platform that empowers travellers to positively impact the communities they visit.
In this interview, Anula Galewska speaks to Jessica Blotter about Kind Traveler’s niche approach to responsible travel and how the pause created by the COVID-19 pandemic has enabled travellers to rethink their viewpoint towards sustainable tourism. Watch the video or read the excerpt below.
Anula: How has it been since 2016, what has been the journey that you’ve gone through?
Jessica: Well, we launched as the first socially conscious Give + Get hotel booking and media platform that would empower travelers to positively impact the communities that they visit. And we do that through a simple give and get booking model where travelers will give a $10 nightly donation to a locally vetted charity that positively impacts the community that they’re visiting. And then in exchange for their act of kindness, they are rewarded with exclusive hotel rates and perks from kind hotels. And really, through that model, 100% of donations go to charity, which creates a triple win amongst the traveler, the charity and the hotel. So, since we’ve been building, we have about 140 hotels on the platform, many of which are going to be live in about the next 30 days, because we’re launching website 2.0, which I’m super excited about. And we have about 70 charities on the platform and 22 countries and all of our impact goals are aligned with the United Nations Global Goals for sustainable development. So that’s kind of where we are today.
Anula: Have you seen any changes in terms of how your business model is being perceived? Have you seen any changes in demand or behavior changes among travelers, and that which also impacted your business?
Jessica: When we launched, sustainable tourism still very much felt like a niche industry within the travel sector. The momentum and the need for sustainable tourism has become wildly popular and COVID has actually created a shift and a heightened awareness in a much bigger way for sustainable travel. So, it is a very different landscape from 2016. And I’m just so excited, we’re, you know, I feel that the market has finally risen to meet us where we’re at, where back in 2016, we were doing so much educating just on the basic principles of sustainable travel. So, the industry is definitely accelerating towards that. And it’s just exciting to see so much more interest and enthusiasm around impact travel, specifically, and sustainable tourism as a whole.
Anula: I saw on your website that you have an opportunity to experience social impact in a day coming soon? Is it some new feature that gives customers more engagement beyond just donating money?
Jessica: There’s a section when you donate money, where you can really educate yourself about the charity, we tell you the exact impact a $10 donation will make which, by the way, $10 goes a really long way. As a quick example, $10 can help clean up 250 pounds of trash out of a local waterway with an environmental group, with a food bank $10 can provide up to 40 nutritional meals to a family. So, $10 might not sound like a lot, but the impact that it can create is extremely measurable. When you are looking at these local charities, they will tell you why this charity is important to the community that you’re visiting and how they are doing the work that they’re doing so that you know you’re making an informed decision. But then also, we will tell you ways to get involved beyond the donation. We love partnering with organizations that also have a traveler facing experience, for example, you might be able to sign up for a beach or a river cleanup in the local community, or perhaps you sign up to volunteer at a food bank for a day.
Anula: How do you select your hotels? Do you have any strict sustainability criteria or other no-goes for the accommodations?
Jessica: Our hotels must have a sustainability policy. They also must choose a charity that is aligned with the United Nations Global Goals. Now in website 2.0, we’re launching a feature that will separate hotels that are going above and beyond with sustainability and that are sticking to a very much more stringent set of guidelines than the ones that simply have a sustainability policy, they are doing some really amazing things, but they could be doing more. And so, we are looking to separate those players in our new website launch, which is something we are super excited about.
Anula: Sometimes donations are perceived as I don’t know, where my money’s being used for, where’s it going? So here, you need to be quite transparent, but on the other hand, there are some privacy issues. How do you communicate between privacy and transparency?
Jessica: We have an information collecting system, where the charity tells us, what the impact is, how they’re using their dollars, like how they do the work, and you’ll see all of that on the Kind Traveler website as a guest checking out. But after that donation is collected, the traveler will get a donation receipt. It is very important for us to thank our travelers for donating to the charity that they’ve donated to and that is how we keep it transparent in the transaction.
Anula: How do you market yourself to get customers and tractions to pay your bills?
Jessica: We started building our newsletter literally years before we launched to the public. When we launched to the public, we had a list, it was only about 2000 people at the time. But now fast forward five years, this August we have just close to 200,000 subscribers on our newsletter. Our newsletter has become our largest driver to the website. But we’re also looking at where our customers are, where our target audience is spending their time planning their trip. And the research really reveals, especially with Millennial demographics, that they utilize Google search and social media inspiration to plan their trips. It’s very important for kind travelers to spend time investing in those platforms. Largely also, through utilizing PR and ambassadors, we do have a couple celebrity ambassadors as well that we’ve created. Living in Southern California, we hope to also tap more into celebrity ambassadors who share our faith, passion and causes. But spending time online through PR content marketing, organic and paid social media, all of that which will help also grow our newsletter, database and traffic to the website is extremely important. All businesses should look at where their target audience is obviously spending the most time because not everybody plans their trip using online sources, especially as you start to look at baby boomers and older demographics. They might be much more comfortable working with a travel agent, which is a different model.
Anula: The whole brand is about the social impact and support? How about the principles within your own team and the office? What are some sustainability practices in your office that you’re proud of if you could share?
Jessica: Whether it’s our team or one of our partners, we have a set of core values about 30, and we ask all of our partners to sign off on these guiding principles, as well as any intern that we might work with. But I think just on a personal level we believe plant-based, living and dining, eating less meat is really one of the biggest things that you can do to lower your carbon footprint. We encourage our team to go out and volunteer with charities just to light up their own passion so that you’re connected with the reason that you’re actually doing the work that we’re doing.
To learn more about Kind Traveler, visit them via:
Jessica Blotter is CEO and Co-Founder of Kind Traveler, a speaker and journalist on sustainable tourism, she also serves on the Board of Directors for CREST (Center for Responsible Travel) in Washington, D.C. Blotter’s efforts on behalf of Kind Traveler have been cited in 300+ news articles and earned a Travel + Leisure 2020 Global Vision Award as well as a finalist position for Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Awards 2021. In November of 2020, Blotter graduated from the Blue Startups venture accelerator program based out of Honolulu. She holds a M.A. in Education from Ottawa University and a B.S. in Biology from Arizona State University. Find inspiration to #TravelKindly and ‘do more than travel’ on KindTraveler.com.