Intervju med Vicky Smith bakom Earth Changers

Vicky Smith driver Earth Changers, en plattform som möjliggör bokningar av hållbara turismupplevelser och som lyfter fram människorna bakom platserna, och belyser deras drivkraft och passion att främja en positiv samhällsutveckling genom hållbar turism. Vi hörde av oss för ställa några frågor om hur allt började, hur hon ser på framtiden och vilka som är hennes favoritresmål. Läs intervjun här på engelska.

Vicky Smith är grundare av Earth Changers.
Vicky Smith driver Earth Changers, en plattform som lyfter fram hållbara turismupplevelser och berättar historien om människorna bakom platserna.

Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you and what’s your background?

Hi, I’m Vicky, and my first stated ambition was to go to every place in the world called Victoria. Later, I wanted an extraordinary life. And I think I made one!

I’ve worked in the travel business for over 23 years, and sustainable tourism for over 13 years, in destinations, marketing and ecommerce, heading up operations abroad and online for major tour operators, online travel agents and media, in mass market tourism, ski, safari, charity challenges and volunteer tourism, NGOs, start-ups and sustainable tourism accreditation organisations.

I’ve been a ski and tour guide, resort manager, a qualified game ranger in Africa, a published academic on responsible marketing and greenwashing of volunteer tourism. I’ve also voluntarily managed charity trips and voluntourism challenges, such hiking up Kilimanjaro, kayaking the Zambezi and trekking the Sahara, supporting local initiatives such as in education, health and conservation. 

Now, as well as Earth Changers, I’m trustee for SEED Madagascar sustainable development charity and part of the development team supporting the Global Ecotourism Network and creating the European Ecotourism Network.

My career path has certainly gone against the grain, but all focused in the same direction!

How did your interest in sustainable and responsible tourism start?

Retrospectively from when I worked in ski, but I didn’t know it at the time. More consciously, the penny dropped years later when I worked in mass market package tourism.

Working in the Alps in the mid 90s, skiing most days, you really get to know the slopes. One day, I noticed a slope melting in a funny way. It just looked odd and different but I wasn’t sure why, and couldn’t stop staring quizzically at it. Only years later did I find out it was likely the permafrost thawing.  More obviously, over the years, the seasons got shorter, and snow cannons were used more and more. At the time I just accepted it, but at the same time, it sunk in. Now I know more about the impacts of global warming.

I also managed thousands of British tourists abroad in that time, most of whom were great, but of course not all. And that minority is enough to teach anyone about social impacts of tourism on small mountain village communities that want the customers.

Later, in the beginning of 2000, I was working to take the UK’s largest holiday sales media online for the first time. For the first time, I had a decent salary and was able to attend a couple of friends’ weddings abroad: one, to New Zealand, all open roads, magnificent scenery, open people and warm and welcoming integration.

Vicky Smith har jobbat i över tjugo år i resebranschen och har bland annat en rangerutbildning från Sydfarika i bagaget.
Vicky Smith har jobbat i över tjugo år i resebranschen och har bland annat en rangerutbildning från Sydfarika i bagaget.

The other was to Kenya, with a cheap package holiday got through work. I was excited to go on safari for the first time, but was horrified to see plastic bags and pollution piled high along huge shanty town roads, next door to wealthy tourist enclaves where hotel staff warned guests not to go outside the walls, integrate with locals, or visit the beach; guests who were all too happy to just stay, eat, drink and tan as much as they could. Doing a little market research, I found out most guests didn’t take antimalarials or even have insurance. Where had they booked? I asked. With the company for whom I worked for was the majority’s answer. I felt it was all my fault. And from then on, I only wanted to work in responsible sustainable tourism.

In the mid 2000s, there weren’t many jobs in that, but I was lucky enough to get an ecommerce marketing manager job at one of the few major tour operators who was working on sustainability. But the whole time I had an absolute calling to return and spend more time in Africa. So I did in 2006, volunteering on lion research living on a reserve, community development projects and travelling through Southern Africa. Even though my interest had been growing for years, that was my absolute life-changing trip, experiencing the harsh realities of people and places combined with the potential of what tourism can – but so infrequently does – bring. It’s a deep perspective that I then carried with me forever more and I knew then it was my life’s vocation.

Tell us about Earth Changers, what is it?

Earth Changers promotes some of the best positive impact, transformative, sustainable tourism from around the world. We help people discover and connect to ”Life-Changing Places with World-Changing People for Extraordinary Experiences with Purpose”.

We write about the people behind places to reveal their true passions and purpose, shine a light on the issues and solutions, and enable the booking of truly sustainable tourism to support destination projects with serious impacts supporting  sustainable development goals.

Why did you start Earth Changers?

The quick answer is that I had worked for commercial companies who only cared about profit not sustainabilty, and NGOs who didn’t ’get’ the commercial market and model, so I started it to find a practical solution to marketing sustainable tourism that has integrity, which I felt didn’t exist already in the market.

What motivates you on a daily basis to run your business?

Simply, I want to change the world for the better.

I’m all about Earth Changers’ values: adventure (travel and learning), connection (with people, places, purpose and spirituality) and integrity (doing the right thing). They all keep me motivated individually, together they are an irrepressible force! I’m motivated by the awesome work Earth Changers’ partners do in their destinations, and by the stories of the people and postive impacts of the work.  I also see that I’ve always been motivated by getting out of adversity, that I’m a very positive but also brave person, willing to address challenges and practical to find solutions.

Några män tar sig fram i makoros, traditionella kanoter längs Okavanga-deltat i Botswana.
Vicky Smith har arbetat i resebranschen i över tjugo år och har rest mycket. Här färdas hon längs Okavangadeltat i Botswana i en makoro, en kanot oftast gjord av olika träslag, som tar en djupare in i deltat när vattnet står högt.

What does sustainable tourism means to you?

The world. Literally.

I care deeply about respecting the planet’s people, places and nature.

And its ability to continue without degradation, sustainably.

That people want to travel to visit and experience people and places, and that those visits are welcomed and wonderful, but that it must be the hosts’ decision-making and benefits for the long term.

That travel has the potential and ability to deliver serious positive impacts which can contribute towards equalising a very unjust world.

What are the biggest challenges you face running a business like Earth Changers?

Without doubt, resources. I’m a small boot-strapped start-up, starting as just one little person with the mammoth task of wanting to change the world for the better.

I don’t have the resources personally to do and deliver everything I want to.

I’m open to support but I don’t like the start-up funding culture which fixates on short-term profit and scaling, uncaring about sustainability.

There’s also the greenwashing in the sector – organisations claiming they are ’green’ or ’eco’ for marketing and sales benefit, without the actual evidence credentials to back it up. It’s common with nature-based tourism – it is not automatically ecotourism – because that by its definition is truly sustainable, where as nature-based tourism can be very damaging. I believe Earth Changers stands out for its integrity values.

And where suppliers are working on amazing sustainable initiatives world-wide, many consumers are interested but not actually making sustainable choices to provide the demand support. There’s a gap between what consumers say they would like to do and what they do do. Part of that is just down to understanding and make informed choices, so with Earth Changers I aim to help that.

What is the best with your job?

Visting places, seeing tourism for sustainable development in action, connecting with local people, getting the sense of place and being at one with nature.

How do you see the future. For Earth Changers in particular and sustainable tourism in general?

For Earth Changers, we have a lot of work to get to where I want to be!

We’ll be adding a lot more destinations and look forward to more customers travelling – I love speaking to them when they get back, they reinforce my passion and motivation with their life-changing experiences that I’m helping open people’s eyes wider and doing the right thing. With more guests, we can develop and reach more people and help create more positive impacts.

As consumers grow in consciousness and understanding around ethical and sustainable lifestyles, so they will turn to think about their travel habits more and question the sustainability of tourism. I’m not sure consumers realise just how much power they hold, and it’s a great thing to pressure the industry; the industry pioneers and leaders will be able to fulfil that more responsible, ethical and sustainable demand. Sustainable tourism has to become the industry default. Because if it doesn’t, the industry will literally kill itself off.

Vicky Smith hade tidigt ambitionen att resa till alla platser som heter Victoria. Här är hon vid Victoriafallen i Zambia.
Vicky Smith hade tidigt ambitionen att resa till alla platser som heter Victoria. Här är hon vid Victoriafallen i Zambia.

Last but not least, could you share with us your top five best sustainable travels/destinations?

Ooh that’s unfair! There’s so many places in the world to go, and although I have travelled in many countries, many I haven’t either

Genuinely, there’s probably always something about a place which I love, because I love travel and culture and communities. I connect with authenticity.

So I would probably say the some of the countries I’ve visited most often:

Kenya – where my first penny dropped about irresponsible versus responsible tourism.

South Africa – a whole world in a country, so much to deal with yet so much positivity and energy, a big driver for my motivation, where I did ranger training and lion conservation work.

Cambodia – the incredible Angkor Wat temple complex and the loveliest people, who have been through so very much and still they remain warm and welcoming.

Costa Rica – the most amazing environment, established and government supported sustainability and super fun!

New Zealand – spectacular scenery, great people and one of the best bunches of mates a girl could wish for!

The Galapagos Islands – truly out of this world, fascinating and a dream come true.

Läs mer på earth-changers.com

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