Skip to main content

Giving something back

  • Story Highlights
  • Concern about socio-cultural and economic impacts of travel is rising
  • Vast sums have been raised through airlines' charity schemes
  • More can be achieved if travelers pick operators that support local economies
  • Next Article in Travel »
By Emma Clarke
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Making donations to charity is becoming an integral part of business travel. Airlines are bringing in vast sums through onboard donation schemes that gather unwanted foreign currency from travelers. And frequent fliers are even handing over their precious air miles to charities.

Virgin Atlantic frequent fliers helped rebuild a school in the Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya.

As reported on September's CNN Business Traveller, in the 14 years British Airways has been running its Change for Good program it has raised almost $46 million for UNICEF. Video Watch CNN Business Traveller »

Change for Good supports a range of UNICEF programs globally, including long-term schemes focusing on HIV/AIDS in Ukraine, Tanzania and Ghana. In 2007, funds were also used for emergency relief work in response to the Bangladesh cyclone, the South East Asia floods and the Darfur emergency.

This year alone, Virgin Atlantic has raised nearly a million dollars through its onboard scheme, the Change for Children Appeal. And by 2012, the airline is aiming to raise $2 million every year. "We believe we can achieve this by engaging our cabin crew and our passengers," says a Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman.

Virgin Atlantic has taken the decision to regularly rotate the charities it works with in order to reach as many small-scale beneficiaries as possible. The focus is on children and specifically schemes for treating life-threatening illnesses such as AIDS and malaria; education and counseling services; and development of communities such as summer camps.

Don't Miss

Ten of the Virgin Atlantic's frequent fliers recently worked with the airline, Sarova Hotels and charity Water for All to help rebuild a school in the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. The Flying Club members and Virgin Atlantic brought together over $110,000 to create new dormitories at the school, a kitchen, play areas and solar water pump system.

Travelers can also donate their air miles so charities can use them to transport beneficiaries and employees.

Miles donated through Air France-KLM's frequent flier program are converted into tickets and sent to charities such as La Chaîne de l'Espoir, helping to mobilize surgeons, physicians, nurses and foster families for children in medical need in developing countries.

During the first week of the Asian Tsunami in 2004, United Airlines' Mileage Plus members donated 40 million miles to help humanitarian organizations get support on the ground for the relief efforts.

As Peter Krahenbuhl, co-founder of Sustainable Travel International (STI) says, more travelers are now willing to give something back. But often their question is how.

He says business travelers can support the local communities they visit by offsetting flights through credible carbon offset programs. Krahenbuhl advises travelers to look for schemes that meet internationally-accepted criteria that include high environmental as well as community development requirements.

STI has also launched a new Travelers Giving Back initiative that will encourage travelers to donate to charity when booking holidays. Tour operators can use the service to integrate giving portals into their online booking systems or offer charity gift cards to travelers.

While the initiative is currently aimed at tour operators in the leisure sector, Krahenbuhl sees a wider application for business travelers. So in the same way carbon offsetting is becoming a common feature of the travel booking process, he expects giving portals to appear on a range of booking systems for flights and hotels.

Giving something back isn't just a case of donating to charity. The decisions made on the road can ensure money is directed to local communities. And a careful choice of transport providers and hotels can also ensure travel spend has socio-economic or environmental benefits. Read what hotels are doing to have a positive impact on the environment and communities they work in

Countless certification systems from around the world help travelers determine which providers are committed to environmental and social sustainability. These include STI's Sustainable Tourism Eco-Certification Program (STEP) and the Voluntary Initiative for Sustainability in Tourism (VISIT) in Europe.

In an effort to harmonize these efforts, sustainable tourism heavyweights including Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Foundation, as well as travel groups such as Expedia, Federation of Tour Operators (FTO) and Hyatt Hotels have joined together to create the Global Partnership for Sustainable Tourism Criteria.

The criteria will set the a minimum standard for sustainability for the tourism business, covering the social and economic benefits of tourism as well as its impact on a destination's environment and cultural heritage.

Business and leisure travelers will be able to identify the travel providers who are taking measures to improve their energy efficiency, as well as those who help local charities and communities.

The criteria is due to be launched at the World Conservation Congress on October 6.


Currently, it's focused on accommodation providers and tour operators, but airlines are on the horizon.

"As with other global eco-label and accreditation programs such as Fair Trade, this should significantly mainstream sustainability in the travel industry and facilitate market uptake," Krahenbuhl says.

All About Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd.Air France-KLM GroupBritish Airways plcUNICEF

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print