Visit.org Vietnam Visit.org Vietnam A young family visits an organization in Vietnam, organized by Visit.org. (Photo: Courtesy of Visit.org)

A travel startup that helps you give back

​Visit.org gives travelers a way to help communities and get new insights on the places they travel.

Call it "tours with a twist."

Harlem, N.Y-based travel startup Visit.org is an online marketplace that offers tours that go beyond traditional sightseeing and photo opps. Whether it's exploring unique neighborhood architecture or making cheese in a Peruvian mountain town, they are all ideal tourism activities, just perhaps not the kind to which we’ve grown accustomed.

The site is the brainchild of Israeli-born Michal Alter and partner Violaine Pierre. Alter, a veteran of the tech industry, spent a year in Latin America before transitioning into the social sector. “One of the things I realized during that year traveling on my own was the relationships I developed with locals were the most memorable moments and also provided the most memorable emotions – ones I've carried with me since then,” Alter told From The Grapevine.

As people grow weary of the run-of-the-mill Disney jaunts and cookie-cutter resort getaways, they're now striving to travel in a way that’s more responsible and ultimately more rewarding. This, Alter said, is where Visit.org comes in. Tapping into a swath of local, independent nonprofits and community-based organizations across the globe, the marketplace offers positive and affordable travel experiences that benefit local communities. “It’s not about luxury,” said Alter. “It’s really about having access and the opportunity to do this kind of activity during your travels.”

Sidreh Lakyia Visit.orgVisit.org works with Sidreh Lakyia, a women's organization based in the Negev desert in Israel. There, visitors can work with the women on weaving projects. (Photo: Courtesy of Sidreh Lakyia)

To make sure travelers get a positive experience, the Visit.org team vets every activity on the site. “We work only with organizations that have been operating for several years,” Alter said. “Organizations that are very much established with a very good track record of positive impact on their community.” Alter also wants to ensure that the operators on their site don’t just have the consent of local communities, but are also collaborating with them. “That’s a way for us to make sure that the proceeds actually go back to public projects and projects that benefit the entire community rather than an individual tour guide.”

On Visit.org, travelers can search for activities by destination and based on the issues they care about. Tours, which range in length from a few hours to longer overnight stays, can be worked into existing travel itineraries. For instance, any mindful traveler taking on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu will be aware of the struggle between commerce and conservation. Visit.org and its partner organization Awamaki offer a half-day workshop with artisan weavers in the nearby Andean highlands – an experience that not only offers insight into genuine Andean culture, but also provides “a way for them to give back to the community and to do something that is very different from the half a million other people walking alongside them.”

Visit.org AwamakiVisit.org works with organizations like Awamaki to give travellers tours of Incan villages. (Photo: Courtesy of Awamaki)

The activities are varied, designed to appeal to students, professionals and everyone in between. There are visits to a penguin preserve in Cape Town and a bear sanctuary in northwest Greece, as well as a bamboo-building workshop in Brazil and a horseback trek through the canyons of Kyrgyzstan. “The options are changing and growing almost daily,” said Alter.

Visit.org has also partnered with tour operators in Alter’s native country. Having worked in the nonprofit sector in Israel, Alter finds this to be a particularly exciting prospect. “For instance, there is a great organization [Sidreh Lakiya] in Negev that works with Bedouin women. I spent an afternoon weaving with them, and it’s very inspiring … they are local Bedouin women who really take their future in their hands and create economic development opportunities for themselves and for their family. They work together to create those businesses and to train in business practices.”

Incan women Visit.orgIncan women weave on the trail tour run by Awamaki and available through Visit.org. (Photo: Courtesy of Awamaki)

Public education is just one aspect of Visit.org’s mission. Another is the work they do with partner organizations. Through on-the-ground representatives, known as country leaders, Visit.org collaborates closely with the operators. “We recruit a local person who is already in the nonprofit sector or the sustainable travel sector in their country, and who is already familiar with the native organizations. They are the ones who reach out to these organizations and help with the vetting process,” explained Alter.

Visit.org provides support to operators in coming up with the structure of the tour, said Alter. "We help them with coming up with ideas for the tour or the workshop. We help them design the itinerary, we help make sure it’s attractive for travelers, that the pricing makes sense. Other organizations don’t need it because they already offer these kind of activities today. In that case, they come on board and we just serve as an extra marketing channel for them. But when they want help, we give them all the support we can.”

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A travel startup that helps you give back
​Visit.org gives travelers a way to help communities and get new insights on the places they travel.