Many travelers are looking for a chance to go beyond being a tourist and truly immerse themselves in a culture. But the two main strategies for an authentic experience – very high-end tour packages or months of volunteer work – have kept this kind of authentic experience beyond the grasp of most travelers by making it either too expensive or too demanding.
VISIT.ORG helps travelers experience the wonders of Peru’s Sacred Valley. With the community-based cooperative Media Luna, travelers on this half-day trip discover the richness of Incan culture through traditional crafts workshops, a beautiful trek, and helping to preserve a vibrant cultural history.
A new tech-startup VISIT.ORG solves this dilemma by matching travelers to non-profit organizations who are deeply connected in a region and can offer a half-day or day-long experience that can be scheduled into a normal vacation for a nominal fee.
“The problem is that most of our vacations are short,” says Michal Alter, Founder of VISIT.ORG. “We take one week or two weeks to visit a place. We are faced with either getting the rest on the beach we need or hunting for an authentic experience.”
“We are very much aware of the difficulty,” she says. Michal Alter and her Co-founder Violaine Pierre both have a background working with non-profits and in far-ranging international travel. Between the two they have traveled or lived in over 20 countries and have developed friendships around the world.
Alter was a former software engineer who had the luxury of traveling for months between jobs, but she knows that many people only have a two week vacation each year. She decided that technology might provide an answer and founded VISIT.ORG in May of 2015 to “make immersive, interactive, very meaningful experiences available to travelers even if they are in a place for a short time.”
VISIT.ORG mostly offers half-day or one day experiences that can be added at any point in a traveler’s vacation. Occasionally, there are a few three day packages if the experience demands travel time like reaching a remote location in the Amazon Rain Forest.But these experiences are not only for adventurers. The company’s motto is “Never Be a Tourist Again” and they work to accomplish that by offering a huge array of choices. If you browse the website you can filter by types of causes like Environment, Education, Culture or Economic Empowerment or look by region or interest.
In it’s pilot phase VISIT.ORG has already helped 134 non-profits offer experience packages and we add more organizations and more experiences every day,” says Co-founder Violaine Pierre. “We work with the non-profits to help them identify their most exciting offerings, develop their visuals, and learn the basics of the hospitality industry. In our pilot phase, non-profits have received over 500 visits.”The feedback has been incredibly positive. The non-profits have found that their is often more of an impact for their work by helping travelers truly connect with local people than they ever had with long-term volunteers. “We are told that most of the visitors have kept in touch and have become ambassadors for the organization’s cause or donors in times of need.”
And those who book add-on tours on VISIT.ORG quickly realize they want more. Over 30% of travelers who return from a VISIT.ORG tour book another immediately so that they can have another experience before they leave the country.
Now, VISIT.ORG itself is going places. The company has been picked as one of the top 30 social enterprises by the accelerator ALMAWORKS, has forged partnerships with large student groups such as AIESEC, and is quickly becoming the darling of tour operators who see the opportunity to provide experiences that can be found nowhere else.