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Tourism Cares Launches Global Outreach Program

mike-reaMike Rea

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Tourism Cares announced last month that it is launching an initiative to preserve, enrich and empower World Heritage destinations and local communities that are emerging from crisis and reopening to tourism.

The program, called Global Impact Portfolio, was introduced at the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) annual conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. Tourism Cares will marshal the resources and insights available to the global travel industry to make timely financial grants, organize skilled and professional volunteers, enhance the visibility and awareness of iconic destinations, and facilitate exchanges of ideas to positively affect sites and communities.

Tourism Cares executive director Mike Rea said the effort will begin with assistance in Egypt and Myanmar.

“We’ve already had a researcher on the ground in Myanmar — that’s a country that’s changing so quickly,” Rae told The Group Travel Leader at the USTOA conference. “She went for a week and met with tourism offices, nonprofits, philanthropic interests, to look at heritage preservation and social enterprises there before all the new infrastructure is in place. We have to promote child-safe tourism there now before it explodes. That will resonate with our tour operator community here at USTOA.

“Egypt is just now coming out of its economic recession following the revolution two years ago, and we can provide much needed help there with hospitality training for local communities. We can also help to preserve significant archaeological sites there.”

Rea took the helm of Tourism Cares last summer after the retirement of longtime executive director Bruce Beckham. Previously, Rea worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and founded the social philanthropy organization Give2Asia.

Tourism Cares has formed a global task force and has recruited teams of advisers immersed in the local social, political and economic landscapes of both countries. In Egypt, where tourist arrivals have plummeted since 2011 but are expected to eventually resume, the new fund will start by helping to preserve an underappreciated, iconic World Heritage destination and provide hospitality training for the disadvantaged.

In Myanmar, where 3 million tourists are expected in 2015, Tourism Cares will support heritage protection, help at-risk youth develop skills and participate in the tourism economy, and invest in local social businesses. Tourism Cares will also contribute ideas and thought to the new and rapidly evolving dialogue on corporate social responsibility and tourism.

“For me, these international efforts are about the competitive advantages of this industry and lining them up to be socially responsible in places around the world,” Rea said. “This isn’t just about cleaning up a park or painting a school; we need to bring in high-level volunteers with the expertise to teach management skills or to do research or build websites.”

Rea said that Tourism Cares aims to raise $100,000 each for the Egypt and Myanmar projects. Fundraising at the conference got off to a quick start, with monetary and in-kind gifts from the Bob Whitley Memorial Fund, Delta Air Lines, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Tauck World Discovery and Abercrombie & Kent.

“This Global Impact Portfolio is so new for Tourism Cares,” Rea said. “We already have lead gifts from the Whitley fund and other sources. It’s going to take time. It took a real push on our part to be ready to talk about this here at USTOA, but we’re working with incredible people.”