A New Twist on Virtual Travel Tours: Fundraising for Social Impact

At a time when the global hospitality industry is scrambling to keep potential travelers’ interest — including cruise lines, theme parks and museums — virtual tours have become a lifeline. The good people running these places and organizations are doing what they can to stay afloat until the pandemic subsides and we can all travel again. Offering the chance to visit via an internet connection for many is the best option until a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed or if, like SARS did years ago, the virus “miraculously goes away.”

Next month, one travel company will try to harness virtual tours as a means of doing good.

G Adventures and its nonprofit partner, Planeterra, have announced a challenge that strives to motivate the global travel sector to rebuild community tourism in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

From September 21 to 27, Planeterra and G Adventures are asking people to register, donate money and walk 40 miles (65 kilometers) to complete a “virtual trek” to Everest Base Camp in a bid to commemorate World Tourism Day. That’s requiring participants to walk 85,000 steps, the equivalent of reaching the base camp in Nepal. (Yes, you can complete this challenge on flat ground.) G Adventures’ founder, Bruce Poon Tip, has assembled his team of virtual trekkers and said he’d match donations up to the equivalent of approximately $19,000.

“The Planeterra Trek Challenge is an opportunity for us to come together virtually and create a sense of connection at a time where people are feeling distanced, not just from travel but from other countries and cultures,” said Poon Tip in an emailed statement to TriplePundit. “Most of us are missing traveling and many are looking for a way to give back to the people and communities who have given us life-changing travel experiences in the past. I’m excited to invite our agency partners, suppliers and the wider tourism industry to join us in raising some much-needed funds.”

The funds will offer assistance to Planeterra’s network of 85 community projects around the world, which stretch from Peru to Nepal and many places in between. As is the case with many local economies, these projects have been left without income as global travel ceased due to the pandemic. Funds are needed so these communities can not only rebuild and recover, but also retrain for a safe reopening and invest in updated health and safety measures. To that end, Planeterra has encouraged its travel agency partners to work together in order to boost awareness of how important the travel sector is to communities across the globe.

Virtual tours may have been a welcome distraction during the onset of this pandemic, and cruise lines, ice hotels, museums and, yes, even Disneyland, have joined the fray. But as the pandemic has worn on and sheltering in place has morphed from a disruption to routine, the appeals of a virtual world are fast diminishing.

This venture between Planeterra and G Adventures, however, is striving to transform what’s become a tired pastime into a noble purpose.

Image credit: Toomas Tartes/Unsplash

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