Reality Tours – A Different Way of Travel

Part Four of the Green Festival Series

One of the original innovators in responsible tourism, Global Exchange’s Reality Tours, runs customizable trips to over 40 locations around the world including many countries rarely visited by tourists such as Afghanistan, Haiti, Iran, Cuba, Palestine and North Korea. Global Exchange is a unique tourism provider because it is first and foremost an international human rights organization. By contextualizing the images often portrayed in the US media for its participants, Reality Tours is able to shine a light on US foreign policy, and the continuing ramifications of that policy over decades in a multitude of locations. Reality Tours promotes peace through citizen diplomacy delegations which create personal engagements while traveling – real people and their personal stories, not just statistics.

Reality Tours takes into account the full system that many sustainable tourism organizations lack by looking at how the ecosystem is affected, how the locals are impacted, the tour’s environmental footprint, and worker rights; its vetting list goes on and on. For the past 15 years, Reality Tours Director Malia Everette has been building a web of local tour guides on the ground managing the programs and partners to ensure that the engagements do create positive impact on local economies. Reality Tours has all of its local coordinators use criteria for picking lodging, food and excursion providers that are local to ensure that the capital flight that plagues the global tourism industry does not happen. Of the tour cost, 70 percent or more stay in the destination’s economy compared to traditional travel packages that average 10-30 percent.

Global Exchange has also cultivated important partnerships, one being with Not for Sale, a non-profit dedicated to abolishing modern day slavery. These delegations of travelers learn about the root causes of human trafficking to then implement and support innovative strategies throughout the world to combat it. All of their trips include a donation to the host organizations and the speakers including non-profits that rehabilitate child soldiers, fair trade cooperatives, indigenous rights groups and sustainable land management organizations, just to name a few. For many travelers, these trips are life changing and lead to long term engagement with the organization they visit on their trips.

Reality Tours has created a successful model that provides an authentic experience for their guests so they learn something all the while supporting local economies and promoting human rights. To book your own tour, create a customizable tour, plan an alternative spring break or learn about the organizations and people impacted by these trips, check out Global Exchange’s website.

Photo Credit: Malia Everette – Global Exchange Reality Tours


Green Festival, the nation’s premier sustainability event,  features renowned authors, leaders, educators, eco-friendly businesses, workshops, social justice films and kids’ activities to celebrate sustainable topics and ideas in New York City at Javits Center North April 21-22, 2012. A project of Global Exchange and Green America, Green Festival hosts over 300 local, regional and national green businesses who model their products, services and practices on an ethical responsibility of sustainability, minimal environmental impact, and fair trade. Green Festival also provides hundreds of speakers with a platform for education, debate and conversation, featuring many presentations on living a healthier, more impactful and sustainable life and making a difference in one’s community.

As a social impact strategist, Chelsea Souter is devoted to implementing business strategies that increase competitive advantage while creating positive societal benefits. She holds her MBA in sustainable management from Presidio Graduate School and has a strong interest in organizational design, shared values, responsible tourism, biomimicry, and storytelling for implementation.

Chelsea Souter is a social impact strategist devoted to implementing business strategies that increase competitive advantage while creating positive societal benefits. You can follow her musings on organizational design, behavior change, leadership development, shared values, responsible tourism, and storytelling @ChelseaLura.

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