Getting the feels for Detroit

By Jessica Ahern, Director of Volunteer Programs

Cars, abandoned buildings, the Lions—those were  my only points of reference to Detroit outside of articles I’ve read when researching the headlining city for Tourism Cares for Our Cities .

Boy, did I have it wrong.  Detroit is most definitely a city on the move. There is construction everywhere – condos going up, commercial space being renovated, and beautiful historic buildings being transformed.

I thought it best that Kati and I try to see the city through a different lens on our first visit to the Motor City; we needed more than our typical site visit to be able to showcase this city in May to the hundreds of travel professionals attending “Travel’s Big Give”—the first annual summit of travel professionals dedicated to corporate social responsibility—in conjunction with Tourism Cares for Detroit.  I asked a new friend, the hilarious Mark Denson of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, to show us around – and we fell in love with Detroit fast

We explored the amazing neighborhoods – Midtown, Corktown, Downtown, Eastern Market – each with its very own character, history and appeal. We learned about the neighborhoods, how the city is working to connect and make them more accessible from the downtown corridor. New sidewalks, bike paths and green spaces are popping up all over the city, making it easier to get to and from all the distinctive parts of town.

We saw the community garden spaces, the impressive schools, the gorgeous architecture and design of the Guardian Building. We learned that five years ago there were 48 closed/abandoned buildings downtown, today there are only 3. That’s incredible progress – the city is flourishing with buildings being filled, repurposed and rebuilt.

We added so many restaurants to our list of places to dine that I don’t know if we can plan enough trips to experience it all (and if we do, I might need to buy bigger pants). As a place to start – check out Standby downtown, located down an alleyway covered in beautiful graffiti with great handmade cocktails. In Midtown choose a beer off the massive beer list at HopCat and in Corktown you cannot miss Ottava Via for the incredible Italian fare.

The progress and growth in Detroit is incredible. The city has such a spirit, character, and the food and drink is to die for.  The city still has grit, but it also has local charm, and a small business scene that is so Detroit.

I have lived outside of Boston all of my life and I am fortunate that I get to explore the world and meet the people that support our travel industry volunteer programs. I have always learned a lot at each place I visit, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so surprised and impressed by a city like I am with Detroit.

When boarding our flight at DTW, I completely understood why the New York Times named Detroit one of the cities to visit in 2017 – seriously, it’s one to explore!

I hope you’ll join us in when we bring more than 300 travel professionals to the city for a day of service. And if you can-- make sure to come in a day early; on Thursday we will have lots of tours and experiences available, including the tour Kati and I were fortunate enough to go on.

Returning the Power of Tourism for Nepal

By Mike Rea

WHERE DOES NEPAL FIT in your tourism life? Have you been? Do you send clients there? Do you ever want to go? And after the earthquake last April, did you make a donation to help out? Please read on if your answer is ”Yes,” “I wish” or even “I want to know what tourism can accomplish after a crisis.”

   For that is the story we can now tell as we approach the first anniversary of the Gorkha earthquake, which killed 8,617, injured 16,808 and displaced 2.8 million Nepalese. Tourism Cares, as the charitable community of the travel and tourism industry, acted quickly after the disaster, launching the Nepal Recovery Fund, which gathered more than US$85,000 in contributions from 220 donors, such as The Travel Corporation, Alexander+Roberts, Globus and Abercrombie & Kent.

   Our stories and lessons from Nepal are divided into two related parts: how visiting the country can uniquely support communities, companies and travelers during the recovery phase, and how tourism’s collective philanthropy can help the industry—and the traveler experience—bounce back better than before.

   As a travel professional and influencer, consider this: Today is one of the best and most meaningful times ever to visit Nepal. Crowds are low along famous treks, discounts are available at attractions and the U.S. State Department recently lifted the travel advisory that had been in place since the earthquake.

   Yet what supercharges the Nepal experience is what else you can experience only now: the inspiration of the recovery. Tourism accounts for 400,000-plus jobs in Nepal and about 10 percent of its GDP. The welcome you receive bythe famously hospitable people will be especially warm. A trip to Nepal in 2016, beginning with the earthquake anniversary in April, can be especially meaningful. There are “Wisdom Wednesdays,” hosted at a pub in the Kathmandu neighborhood of Thamel by local nonprofit Next Generation Nepal; it includes speakers on ethical tourism and volunteering.

   You can even be a part of the recovery, as research from Tourism Cares shows that giving and volunteering during travel enhances trip satisfaction. So travelers should consider a service trip, using a company committed to rebuilding and giving back to Nepal (e.g., Crooked Trails). Any trip will help sustain jobs, and you’ll create extra benefit if you pick a rebuilding trek to the Langtang or Gorkha regions that were especially hard hit.

   The greatest power we have for change is our business and clients. So think about Nepal and what you can do to help tourists return.

   Our value to Nepal’s future is far from done. There’s also the power of philanthropic investments, especially ones linked to our business. The goal of the Nepal Recovery Fund is to support tourism during the recovery phase and to invest in the renewal phase afterward. As tourism returns, we want it to benefit more people and produce an even richer experience. This is a vision that only the Tourism Cares community will tackle, and we’ve had some neat successes:

• We partnered with the Nepal Academy of Tourism and Hotel Management to offer a special training and certificate for lodge and tea house owners and managers displaced by the quake.

• With Seeing Hands Nepal, a massage clinic, we supported the training for another five visually impaired massage therapists, fostering a direct link to the tourism economy.

• On behalf of our contributors and media partners, we supported tour operator disaster preparedness trainings with the Adventure Travel Trade Association.

• We have promoted effective volunteering in the wake of crisis. This was all made possible by you: NTA supporters, friends of Tourism Cares and the tourism industry itself. It is the magic of Tourism Cares, which is far more than your standard charity.

   So thank you for what we have done to support Nepal and what we can do.

Mike Rea is the CEO of Tourism Cares. This post first appeared in the April 2016 issue of Courier magazine.


How Tourism and Training are Helping Nepal Heal

Tourism Cares and the Harvard Kennedy School Nepal Fund (funded by students at the school), recently sponsored a training program for people displaced from the Langtang region of Nepal by April’s earthquake, which triggered a series of landslides that destroyed their villages.

Upasana Khadka from the Fund reports:

Women and a few men, currently living in Kathmandu, the capital, were provided a ten day course on Lodge and Small Hotel Management at the Nepal Academy of Tourism and Hospitality Management (NATHM).

Because Langtang is one of the most popular trekking destinations in Nepal, most of its residents are involved in the tourism sector. While men are involved in both trekking as well as hotel management, women are mostly involved in the latter.

Therefore, the course allowed them to get equipped with skills that will help them better run their hotels and teahouses in addition to helping them pass time productively as they wait idly in the capital. The course included the following topics: housekeeping, hygiene, reception, cooking, bakery and waste management. Given that the course was 6-7 hours long per day, we also provided them with transportation and dinner at NATHM.

Lhakpa Jangba, one of the few men who took this course, kindly sent us a review of his experience at NATHM. Lhakpa used to be a baker in Kyanjin Gumba where he ran a small bakery called “Dorje Bakery Café”. He took this course to enhance his knowledge and be able to provide his customers with better services.  As one of the few people in the group who is able to read and write, he expresses “I was a little worried in the beginning because many of our women are not educated. However, NATHM understood our situation and tailored the course such that we had 90 per cent practical classes and 10 per cent theory classes that enabled us to learn much better. Everyday, spending 6-7 hours in the course also allowed us to get closer as a community as we were able to share our thoughts and help each other. The 10 days passed so quickly that by the time the course ended, we were wishing for more.” He further continues, “I was able to understand the women from my village better, their aspirations and the questions they have regarding what happened and what lies ahead. I too don’t have answers to many of their questions and am always thinking of ways to improve the situation of our community. We enjoyed the course and learnt a lot about high quality hotel management and once our normal lives resume, we want to use our cooking and baking skills. Most of the women mentioned that they felt refreshed and the course gave them a lot of willpower to move forward with their lives.” He hopes that he will be able to upgrade his café to a new level with a combination of local and western food items.

Just like Lhakpa, everyone in the community has incredible stories of loss and survival. Two volunteers from Langtang, Tsering and Jangbu, kindly conducted interviews of a few trainees:

Dhamjay was sobbing when she got off the helicopter as she had lost everything during the earthquake. When she saw the landslides coming, she hid in a hole otherwise was used to hide potatoes during winters to prevent them from rotting. She could not breathe nor move as she was completely covered with snow. When her son Tsewang helped free her, she was in a lot of pain both because her right leg was fractured and also because she realized that she had lost her husband and her daughter. But because her other three children survived the disaster, she had to stay strong despite the pain.

Cho Pema Tamang, a native from Langtang, used to be a farmer who grew barley, buckwheat etc. When the earthquake hit, she was in her field planting barley with her daughter, son and 6 other villagers. The minute the earthquake started and the avalanches followed, they ran under a rock in the field and stayed there till everything stopped. Everything was covered in snow. Once she dug out her children from the snow, they headed upwards and hid under a big rock which was relatively safer. They stayed there with 15 other villages without any food or blankets. Five of them were severely injured in the head, leg or hand while the rest had minor injuries.

My life after Earthquake has been like hell”, says Dawa who another survivor. Her husband, Chenga Tamang, was a worker at local Cheese and Bread Factory. Their business was doing very well as it was the only factory in Langtang. When the earthquake hit, she was on her buckwheat farm clearing weeds with 5 other women. Once the shaking began, Dawa being relatively younger, was able to run faster than others. Other women were knocked down by the avalanche while Dawa managed to hide behind a stone. She saw roof tins flying in the sky along with pieces of woods and iron rods at a great speed. Once the landslide stopped, Dawa rushed towards her house and there was nothing left. After seeing the situation of her husband’s workplace she knew that he is no more. She was then worried about her two sons who had gone to a forest to look for some kind of herb. But luckily they survived by taking shelter under a big stone. She wants to be good in Bakery and wants to give continuation to her husband’s profession.

 Dolma Tamang was returning to Mundu village after working in her field for a few hours in Langtang. When the earthquake started, Dolma and her children ran towards a big stone hoping to hide behind it but the stone started rolling towards them. So they ran towards a field. Her two daughters who had gone to Langtang to drop something at their grandmother’s house were unfortunately killed by the landslide. The next day when Dolma heard that her daughters body was lying somewhere in the field, she went to get their bodies with her husband which was one of the most painful experiences of her life.

All the trainees are waiting to rebuild their lives in Langtang. They enjoyed the course thoroughly and have now gone back to Langtang to recover any belongings that can be salvaged, to clear trails and they will again be back in Kathmandu at the camp over winter. We have a few more projects on the pipeline for our friends from Langtang to help with tourism revival: to provide advanced cooking and bakery courses to a subset of the trainees and to ensure that they have access to baking equipment and ingredients once they setup their teahouses/hotels in Langtang. We are very grateful to the management of NATHM for their support throughout the process.

5 Takeaways from the inaugural Travel Talent for Tomorrow mentoring program

Tourism Cares and ASTA launched a new agent mentoring program at the 2015 ASTA Global Conference, as the first phase of the Travel Talent for Tomorrow program.

The mentoring program brought selected Millennial travel agents to AGC and paired them with senior agents, managers and owners attending the convention to build connections, share insights and get inspired.  

Kim Osmer of Travel Future ran the pilot program for Tourism Cares, and reports on 5 opportunities discussed at a mentor program roundtable (Let us know your thoughts!) --

1.       Develop succession planning models to hand-off of books of business from retiring senior agents
Provide a few financial and contractual models that create both a smooth customer experience, reward the senior agent for mentoring and support and provide the Millennial agent with a significant head start to building their business

2.       Design a clear plan and career path actions to reach and maintain specialist certification
Provide the roadmap for travel agents to build their knowledge, providing certification testing at key levels of achievement towards specialist status and providing ongoing bi-annual certification.

3.       Share technology opportunities that improve and simplify the customer experience
Take the best in class learnings of the variety of travel agency distribution models as well as of personal service excellence by select senior agents to set models for high standards to raise the service bar across the industry and inform agents how to improve their business.

4.       New business model options for newer agents wanting to launch their own business
Define and house new business models at industry level, including those that leverage new media and technologies for new small business entrepreneurs to use to launch new businesses.

5.       Building tailored service and fee model for the Millennial traveler

Recognizing that Millennial travelers value service and are willing to pay for time and knowledge, design services and fee models representing what these travelers value, that differ from generic service fees.

Thanks to our phenomenal mentees and mentors representing many consortia for their active and inspired participation in our breakout sessions.  We are using their feedback as well as other industry leaders to chart the course for further mentor program development.

Let us know your thoughts – which ideas do you think should be developed at an industry level?  We welcome your comments and thoughts.   

An Open Letter on Nepal

An Open Letter on Nepal

Dear friends of Tourism Cares and of Nepal:

As professionals and as humans, we, along with so many others worldwide, have been touched by the terrible disaster in Nepal.  Many of us have personal and professional connections to that special place, and I visited Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and other sites back in 1989.
We all want to help and to make a difference, and it is an honor to be a part of the Tourism Cares community today.  Your response has been humbling and inspiring...

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