Sandals Resorts is making its mark in the growing Voluntourism sector, with the launch of its latest initiative which enables holidaymakers to visit local schools in the Caribbean and help children learn to read.
With few places in the world remaining truly ‘undiscovered’, modern travellers are increasingly looking for more than just a destination-led break.
The focus has shifted from where to go, to what to do.
Sandals guests who wish to experience more from their holiday can participate in the Reading Road Trip initiative, engaging small groups of children aged between 5 and 7 in active reading, listening and comprehension skills. Facilitators are on hand to guide participants on how to engage and encourage children.
To date, basic and primary schools in Saint Lucia, the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos and Jamaica have signed up to participate in the voluntary literacy program, which is the latest initiative to be rolled by the Sandals Foundation – the non-profit arm of Sandals.
Adam Stewart, chief executive of Sandals Resorts International, who launched the Sandals Foundation back in 2008, explained why this was an important move for the hotel group and the role that Sandals plays.
Stewart commented: “It’s all about engagement. We’re not in the business of preaching to people about the troubles of the world but we know that there are people out there who need a little help from time to time and we know that there are people out there willing to give it.
“It’s up to us to link those two groups of people together using the power and resources of the Sandals brand. Initiatives such as this are tremendously gratifying and the feedback that we’ve had has been excellent,” he added.
Projects in the Sandals Foundation range from a homework mentorship programme in Ocho Rios, to maintaining school buildings which are in disrepair, to community based programmes such as animal shelter support.
Then of course there is the environmental protection aspect, with beach clean ups and marine protection programmes in force.
Stewart revealed: “The work we undertake with the Sandals Foundation is ongoing and comes with the kind of targets that continuously move – there’s always work to be done and it’s the reason we do what we do.”
He explained how rewarding the scheme has been: “The scope is very varied and equally rewarding. The feeling when you hear one of your scholarship students in Jamaica is studying medicine or that our marine sanctuary has helped to reverse damage caused to the coral reef is hard to beat.”
According GlobeAware more than 63 million Americans have participated in a volunteer vacation, and about 100 million more are considering taking one over the next year or so.
The Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), highlighted this growing trend as far back as 2005, when it spotlighted an annual National Public Lands Day event which resulted in nearly 100,000 volunteers heading to National Parks to build bridges and trails, plant trees, remove invasive plants.
In response to this growing trend, travel organisations including hotel groups and Cruise Lines are setting up participatory schemes, while companies such as voluntourism.org, have launched dedicated voluntourism forums.
Volunteer vacations range from low-skilled work cleaning up wildlife areas to providing high speed medical aid abroad. Volunteers share a desire to give something back, while experiencing new places that they may not otherwise visit.
But with the shift in traveller mind-sets towards what can be experienced on holiday, it is not just voluntourism that is booming.
Leisure travellers are increasingly searching for culturally based tours within their itineraries.
In response to this trend, Sandals recently launched a dedicated luxury tour operator, Island Routes Tours, which offers guests a choice of 200 different experiences throughout the Caribbean.
Stewart explained: “We look to meet the needs and desires of the Caribbean travellers by offering unique experiences for everyone and that means finding new excursions off the beaten track and away from the tourist hubs.
“We integrate each island’s unique cultural and social geo-demographics into the tour experience so that guests, all-inclusive or not, leave with a firm appreciation of the host country’s culture.
“Yes we offer more traditional tours, the ziplining and the catamarans, but we’re definitely noticing a shift towards culturally-based tours.”
He added: “Guests are certainly more discerning about tours now, they only want to do the best of the best and are more aware of safety standards and the finer details.
“This is where Island Routes comes into its own.”
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Sandals group has experienced unprecedented growth, innovation and development in recent months with new programmes such as the Sandals Foundation and Island Routes Caribbean Adventure tours successfully launching.
Sandals Plays Host to World Travel Awards
A distinguished line-up of travel industry professionals and media from 60 countries are set to gather at the luxurious Sandals Royal Caribbean & Private Island in Montego Bay this evening to find out who will triumph at the World Travel Awards Caribbean & The Americas Gala Ceremony.
The Caribbean & the Americas Gala Ceremony marks the fifth and final leg of World Travel Awards 2011 Grand Tour, and follows heats in Dubai, UAE; Antalya, Turkey; Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt; and Bangkok, Thailand.
Regional winners from these events then progress to the Grand Final in Qatar later in the year.
The event partners are Sandals Resorts, BBC World News and WeClickMedia, while media partners include National Geographic Traveller, eTurboNews, Focus on Travel News, Breaking Travel News, JaxFax and Travel Daily News.
For more info about World Travel Awards 2011 Caribbean & the Americas Ceremony & bookings visit the http://www.worldtravelawards.com/americas2011” target=“_blank”>website.