Many mainstream travel agents still emphasize low prices and profit, treating both travelers and destinations as commodities; but Kind Traveler challenges the viability of such a model within an industry increasingly shaped by more conscious travelers.
It was a trip to Belize that changed the way Jessica Blotter and her partner, Sean Krejci, seriously considered the positive potential of tourism. As animal-rescue volunteers in the US, they decided to feed begging dogs on the street and “unintentionally inspired other travelers to get involved,” Blotter told Sustainable Brands™. Back home, she and Krejci wrestled with a way to combine their love of travel and entrepreneurial skills to help travelers easily have a meaningful impact within the communities they visit, just as they did in Belize.
The result was Kind Traveler — a socially conscious hotel booking and media platform. Initially launched in 2016 by Blotter and Krejci, Kind Traveler’s Give + Get model allows travelers to unlock exclusive hotel rates and perks with a minimum $10 donation to a vetted local charity that positively impacts the community visited or to a charity of choice. With a significant upgrade and relaunch in January 2022, Kind Traveler now provides travelers with an option to plant trees with Arbor Day Foundation and access to a positive impact report, which details the exact impact of the donation with the chosen charity.
If these socially focused add-ons seem like overkill just to book a hotel room, consider the fact that not only are people becoming more conscious consumers but also more mindful travelers. According to Booking.com’s 2021 Sustainable Travel Report, 83 percent of global travelers think sustainable travel is vital — a finding confirmed by Kind Traveler’s own recently released Impact Tourism Report, which found 96 percent of travelers want the money they spend to make a positive impact in communities. And yet, according to a commonly cited 2014 report from the UN World Tourism Organization, only $5 out of every $100 spent by tourists from developed countries in developing countries actually stays in the developing-country destination’s economy.
In other words, people increasingly say they want to maximize their positive impact when they travel; yet, the infrastructure and business model to focus beyond cheap prices and the bottom line has not been prioritized.
“Historically, the tourism ecosystem has been about price and deals. OTAs (online travel agencies) compete with a merchant model, pre-buying projected distressed inventory from properties and then offering to a willing audience,” said Richard Bangs, a member of the founding executive team at Expedia and an advisor to Kind Traveler. “Kind (Traveler) is turning that proposition on its head: inverting the decision pyramid, and offering up the chance to make a positive difference in travel purchases — which pays a psychic dividend and rewards all links in the value chain.”
Using the Kind Traveler platform is a markedly different experience than other mainstream OTAs. When people search for a property on Kind Traveler, they see the price for the nights selected — which is the key selling point for most platforms. However, they also clearly see the local charity receiving 100 percent of the donation, key wellness features such as sleep programs and eco-friendly food options, environmental initiatives such as use of cruelty-free products and composting, community impacts such as local mentorship programs and employee volunteer hours, and relevant certifications.
Kind Traveler currently has more than 140 hotels and more than 100 charities across 22 countries listed on its platform. As part of its recent relaunch, Kind developed a custom interface that provides access to the global distribution system where the company has potential distribution with more than 250,000 hotels. Despite this deep well from which to access and list properties, Blotter noted Kind Traveler will intentionally grow its collection with curated hotels aligned with the company’s values and efforts to advance sustainability, community impact and wellness initiatives. It will also continue to create local charity alignment within each community.
“This process is often time-consuming and laborious,” she said. “When new local charities are identified through a community-based decision where Kind Traveler, the hotel, and sometimes the local tourism board weighs in; it can sometimes take multiple meetings and many weeks and months before an official partnership is established to allow Kind Traveler to legally market and fundraise on behalf of the non-profit organization.”
This is one of the reasons why, as new hotel partners come on board, they are encouraged to designate existing Kind Traveler charity partners. This also allows the company to grow its impact in a deeper way versus simply expanding its pool of charitable beneficiaries. Quality, not quantity, is at the heart of the Kind Traveler model — one that clearly resonates, especially as people seek ways to travel more sustainably.
“When it comes to being a more responsible traveler, Kind Traveler helps me pour back into the communities I visit,” user Amanda H. wrote for the company’s survey. This echoes responses from partner companies in the same survey: “Kind Traveler understands an industry insight, which is that travelers are motivated by doing good and spending their dollars with businesses that share their values,” wrote a representative from MacArthur Place in Sonoma, California.
Mainstream OTAs may continue to emphasize low prices and profit, treating both travelers and the places they visit as commodities; but Kind Traveler challenges the viability of such a model within a changing ecosystem.
“Education creates positive change,” Blotter says. “Travelers must become keenly aware of how their impacts can help or harm the planet and learn to vote with their dollars by supporting brands creating sustainable and equitable futures.”