Anne Majumdar

With sustainable tourism fast climbing the travel and tourism agenda, we’re discussing the topic with travel industry leaders and change makers and asking them how they think we can #Traveltochangetheworld.

In our latest ‘Travel to change the world’ interview, Kristen Briggs, co-founder of Soulful Concepts, shares her thoughts and ideas on how we can all do our bit to sustain the industry and leave a legacy of goodness.

 

WHAT WAS IT THAT INSPIRED YOU TO JOIN THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY?

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It all started by watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade!  As a young girl I remember seeing Petra the “Lost City of Stone” for the first time, I was so captivated by this beautiful ancient city that I decided, there and then, I was going to be an explorer. My parents had never left Australia and would look at me perplexed with the outrageous places I told them I was going to explore.

In my early 20’s I set off to live abroad in Scotland and then continued on backpacking with friends around Central America. This was the point that I became aware of the social and environmental injustices taking place around the globe and knew that I had to do something to help.

Once arriving back into Australia I set off on a charity challenge with my best mate Turia Pitt cycling 350km across Cambodia to raise money for ChildFund Australia to help build a School in Cambodia. My now business partner Belinda Shillcock was the Fundraising Mentor and Tour Leader for the our cycling challenge, while cycling  I remember picking her brain and asking how I could get her job!

Fast forward a few years and my best mate Turia gets caught in a fire running an ultramarathon in The Kimberley, Western Australia. This was the point that changed my life and steered me towards the travel industry. After her accident, I decided to organise a masquerade ball to fundraise for her medical expenses whilst in hospital.

During my time organising the event, a position became available at the fundraising agency where Belinda worked. We worked alongside each other for two years before Belinda left to run a destination management company in Thailand. We formed an instant bond and were a formidable team, we found our visions and ethos were closely aligned.

I continued to work in risk management and travel operations for a few years before deciding it was time to start my own venture. I wanted to create a responsible travel company that showcased our beautiful world whilst support local community and environmental initiatives and knew that Belinda was the best person to help me with this challenge!

 

WHAT CONCERNS YOU ABOUT THE INDUSTRY TODAY IN TERMS OF ITS LONG-TERM VIABILITY?

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The industry is ever changing, and at a considerable pace. Now that we are connected globally online it is important for the industry to stay ahead of the market trends.

Offering money can’t buy experiences is one way to ensure savvy travellers still book through travel professionals rather than booking online themselves. With consumers going direct to hotels and airlines, is the experiences and the service the industry needs to focus on.

The industry used to have very clear segments, retail, wholesale and operations. With the recent mergers and acquisitions, there are no clear boundaries anymore. Retail agents own Destination Management companies. Wholesale companies are now also retail agents selling direct to consumers. B2B is fading out, the industry is all about B2C, it’s every man for himself.

 

DO YOU THINK TRAVEL CAN CHANGE THE WORLD?

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Absolutely!

Travel fuels the soul and through travel we become better educated. Educated travellers become proactive global citizens. Proactive global citizens actively work to create long term sustainable change in the world in which we live.

 

ARE YOU SEEING POSITIVE CHANGE HAPPENING IN THE INDUSTRY THAT YOU REALLY ADMIRE?

Baby gorilla

There are many fresh thinking travel companies out there taking on the responsible travel ethos. Globally, responsible tourism is still  a niche in trillion dollar industry.

However, with initiatives such as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development IY2017 by United Nations, the word is finally spreading.

People need to take more responsibility for the impact they have on the destinations in which they travel too.

 

WHAT PROJECTS IS SOULFUL CONCEPTS UNDERTAKING IN THIS SPACE?

Image credit: Conservation.org

Image credit: Conservation.org

Soulful Concepts is an active member of the Sustainable Coffee Challenge. We promote experiential educational experiences as a way to empower travellers to engage with global issues whilst supporting the local economy. Our Sustainable Coffee Tours are part community immersion, part cultural excursion and part environmental endeavour. We connect coffee lovers with local coffee growers and producers, giving travellers an in-depth understanding of the crop to cup process, whilst helping to improve the livelihoods of small holder coffee farmers and protect the bio diverse environments in which coffee is grown.

As an active member of the Sustainable Coffee Challenge and by  partnering with organisations across the coffee sector, we work together to find solutions that improve farmers livelihoods, sustain supply, strengthen market demand and conserve nature.

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE THE INDUSTRY FACES IN TERMS OF ‘SUSTAINING’ ITSELF?

Hands of women from the tea plantation - Sri Lanka

Hands of women from the tea plantation – Sri Lanka

It’s important we don’t confuse a hand up for a hand out. Throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s there was fast growth of new experiences, in particular voluntourism, we are now cleaning up the industry from the negative effects of this type of experiential tourism. People want to have a real experience, however, sending unskilled volunteers into a community has only spurred a growth for exploitation of the poor and children.

We are now in an era of responsible and sustainable tourism, providing travellers with the opportunity to connect, but to not leave behind the negative.

Learn more about responsible travel company Soulful Concepts.

Read Turia Pitt’s new book Unmasked to find out more about Soulful Concepts Co-Founder, Kristen Briggs.

 

Do you think travel can change the world? Share your comments below.