Interview By: Joanie Ogg, Co Founder & Editor – Travel Professional NEWS®
Interviewing: Greg Takehara, CEO – Tourism Cares
First and foremost, congratulations on your new role as CEO of Tourism Cares. I was so excited when I heard the news and we really appreciate you making the time to share more about your plans as the head of Tourism Cares.
I have had the pleasure of knowing you for many years in this great industry and have always enjoyed the times we have been able to work with one another. I am excited for you and to see what you have in store for Tourism Cares moving forward under your leadership.
Likewise, I have always enjoyed the opportunity to work with you Joanie, as well as your selfless advocacy and promotion of travel professionals.
Greg, can you share with our readers your industry experiences and how they have brought you to your new role as CEO of Tourism Cares?
I was very fortunate to work for a tour operator just out of law school and I got to learn the business, the distribution model, and most importantly, got to interact with so many wonderful industry colleagues. My tour operator experience was followed by many years working in the travel insurance sector, so I have always been connected to the industry.
With your past experiences in this great industry, what do you think best prepares you for this new role?
Working for a tour operator was about helping to create travel experiences; then working in travel insurance was about protecting travel companies and travelers – creating piece of mind. I feel like I have always been connected to a greater purpose in this industry, so Tourism Cares is a natural progression for me.
I have been fortunate to be involved with Tourism Cares since its infancy. Bruce Beckham, its original Executive Director, brought together the foundations/philanthropies of three major travel associations: ASTA, NTA and USTOA, under one umbrella and I was at its inaugural clean-up event in Ellis Island in 2003. I have been an active volunteer ever since, acting as a team leader at their events, and being asked to join its board in 2012 and becoming Chairman late last year.
Can you give us a brief history of Tourism Cares and it’s growth and impact on travel destinations, the people and the infrastructure?
Tourism Cares celebrated its 15 year history of volunteer events last year in 2018 in New Orleans. We have left our mark on so many places – globally; in Peru in 2012 and in Jordan last year, as well as domestically all across the country. We have focused on Cities and National Parks as themes for our events and have collaborated with associations and travel companies to create signature private label events, as well. There has always been a strong feel good aspect to our events that comes with volunteering and giving back to our industry, but our focus has matured to ensure that we use the convening power of our diverse industry centric membership and its positive social impact to help people and places thrive. Part of our vision for the future of Tourism Cares is the development of meaningful travel maps such as the one we launched in Jordan last year.
It is hard to believe we are halfway into 2019 and I am sure you have much to share about what has been happening at Tourism Cares most recently. I believe you are just back from Puerto Rico, can you tell us a bit about that?
Yes, our team just returned from Puerto Rico last week where we held a three day Meaningful Travel Summit. It brought together the travel industry – over 150 travel professionals, along with local and government tourism leaders, social enterprises, non-profits, and community-level organizations to support the development of local economies for a resilient future on the island. We volunteered on a non-profit community farm still in need of repairs after Hurricane Maria and also, to strengthen infrastructure for future natural disasters. That farm is a grantee of World Central Kitchen’s social enterprise program, Plow to Plate, which is creating a stronger food sovereign community across Puerto Rico by fostering small shareholder farming. Some of the work the farm focuses on is renewable energy and alternative fuel sources such as bio digesters. The farm is currently in competition for a MIT grant for the innovative work they are doing around biofuels. Our work is part of our Commitment to Action with the Clinton Global Initiative to facilitate partnerships between global tourism companies and social enterprises in Puerto Rico. We are proud to work with partners such as the Foundation for Puerto Rico and World Central Kitchen to make this happen.
I read that Tourism Cares offers merit-based academic scholarships to support undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in Travel Tourism and Hospitality programs. Can you elaborate on this topic?
Our community invests in the future of our workforce, offering scholarships and mentoring programs to ensure the best talent enters and stays in the travel industry. In 2019, we are offering 24 academic scholarships awarding $77,000 to students studying in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry.
I love that Travel Professionals have an opportunity to get involved through the Good Travels Advisor program (GTA) and become specialists. Can you share more information for our readers on how they might get involved and learn more?
GTA is an online training course for travel professionals. It offers tips and tools covering good giving and volunteering, as part of the travel offering. We are working to develop the program further as travel professionals continue to gravitate towards responsible and sustainable travel. Travel professionals can access more information via www.goodtravelsadvisor.org
Is there a certification that agents receive and any other benefits to the agents who are part of that program?
Yes, upon completion of the course and receiving the certification, the agent also becomes a GTA member of the Tourism Cares community with certain benefits. Graduates also receive access to the GTA Graduate Learning Centre which contains wonderful resources including the Meaningful Travel Provider Guide – which profiles a number of responsible travel options for customers. GTA members also have access to quarterly webinars that focus on topics of sustainable tourism.
Thank you for your time and for always being a supporter of the Travel Professional, before we conclude, is there anything you’d like to add?
I want to encourage everyone to view our website www.tourismcares.org for more information and hope everyone will consider becoming a member so we can continue to do meaningful work in our communities and support the industry at large.