She Built a Better OTA: Jessica Blotter, CEO & Co-Founder of Kind Traveler
In celebration of Earth Day, who better to chat with than Jessica Blotter, CEO and Co-Founder of Kind Traveler, the world’s first socially conscious Give + Get hotel booking and education platform that empowers travelers to positively impact the communities they visit. Kind Traveler is currently working with 140 hotels across 22 countries and doing amazing things for local environments and communities. Let's dive in to learn how your hotel can get involved, and what inspired this former earth science teacher to disrupt the OTA model, for GOOD.
Hi Jessica, Kind Traveler sounds too good to be true, how does it work?
It's for real! Through Kind Traveler’s Give + Get model, travelers unlock exclusive rates and perks from curated Kind Hotels upon a minimum of a $10 donation to a vetted local charity in the community they are visiting, or to a charity of choice. 100% of donations go to charity, creating a triple-win between the traveler, charity, and hotel. Sounds amazing, right? Kind Traveler currently works with 140 hotels across 22 countries, with every booking, travelers have an opportunity to learn about the measurable impact of their donation to the selected charity and will receive a positive impact report, sharing the impact of their donation.
100% of donations go to charity, creating a triple-win between the traveler, charity, and hotel.
Additionally, with every booking, there is an option to plant trees with Arbor Day Foundation: $1 USD dollar plants one tree. Visitors to Kind Traveler can also learn about the Kind Factors of each Kind Hotel - how the hotel is advancing environmental sustainability, community impact, and individual wellness at a local level. A $10 donation can go a very long way, a few examples include:
Plant 10 trees with One Tree Planted, helping to restore forests and create habitat for biodiversity
Provide a clean water filter that serves up to 2,500 per day with Imagine Thailand Foundation
Provide three weeks of food to three rescued wildlife patients with the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW Clinic)
Take 1 Maldivian child on a snorkeling trip to learn about ocean conservation with Manta Trust
There are no ‘extra’ costs to book with Kind Traveler beyond giving a $10 donation to a selected charity. Kind Traveler creates an easy pathway to give in a meaningful way to charities connected to the health and wellbeing of destinations.
That all sounds amazing, but how does Kind Traveler make money? It takes the percent that a normal OTA would get?
Kind Traveler’s revenue model consists of partnering with tourism boards, hotels, and lifestyle brands looking to influence the conscious travel community. Kind Traveler launched a Kind Destination sponsorship program for tourism boards to partner and in return, receive an initiative to drive positive impact by working with Kind Traveler to align selected hotels and charities in a destination, creating a destination-wide, unified initiative and message.
As one example, through a partnership with Sonoma County Tourism in California’s wine country, through the Kind Destination Program with Kind Traveler:
Redwood Empire Food Bank: 600 meals to in-need families have been provided by Redwood Empire Food Bank, the largest hunger-relief organization serving north coastal California from Sonoma County to the Oregon border, responding to the immediate needs of people seeking long-term solutions to food insecurity
Sonoma Land Trust: 38 miles of hiking trails have been maintained in Sonoma County through Sonoma Land Trust, dedicated to protecting the scenic, natural, agricultural, and open landscapes of Sonoma County for the benefit of the community and future generations.
Russian Riverkeeper. 7,500 pounds of trash has been removed out of the Russian River by Russian Riverkeeper, working to protect the Russian River through education, citizen action, scientific research, and expert advocacy, to date,
For hotels, Kind Traveler receives a 10% travel agent commission for every booking, which is much lower than traditional OTA’s who typically take upwards of 15-30% commission per booking.
Kind Traveler also works with many brands through our monthly vacation giveaways that often include sustainable fashion and beauty items, travel gear, and more.
The company is also registered as a PBC, what does that mean?
Yes, Kind Traveler is a PBC, aka a Public Benefit Corporation, which is a type of for-profit corporate entity currently authorized by 35 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. What’s unique is that a PBC must include in their charter one or more specific public benefits as their statement of purpose, literally part of the DNA of the corporate structure is something good. Kind Traveler’s positive impact is baked into every transaction and is not an ‘after thought’ or ‘add-on’ to the business. Becoming a PBC also creates an excellent foundation for companies to later become a Certified B Corporation (a certification of for-profit companies on their social and environmental performance), which Kind Traveler is currently working on.
Such an ingenious program, let's go back a bit, what inspired you and how did you get started? With an open heart looking to discover a business idea that would combine our passions, purpose, and skillsets, my partner, Sean Krejci, and I went on a trip to Belize. It was during this trip to Belize that we witnessed heart-breaking poverty, polluted swamps, and the plight of emaciated dogs on the streets. As animal rescue volunteers in the U.S., we had a difficult time ignoring the begging dogs. We made a choice to feed the dogs and unintentionally inspired other travelers to get involved. The feelings of helplessness turned to hope as we yearned for a way for our travel dollars to make a lasting, meaningful impact in the local community.
The emotion and feelings that evolved from giving back stayed with us for a long time and we asked ourselves: "What if we could create a way for travelers to easily make a meaningful positive impact within the communities they visit and in turn, be filled up with a greater sense of joy and purpose while traveling?” After years of development, the answer was KindTraveler.com.
How have you funded and grown the business?
Initially self-funded, we launched in 2016 with around 20 hotels in the U.S. and Mexico and have since evolved the platform to include 140 hotel partners and 100+ charities in 22 countries. In January of 2022, after participating in a three-month business accelerator and becoming a Blue Startups portfolio company, we launched Kind Traveler 2.0, a new web-based platform to optimize the user experience, and created an API (Application Program Interface) that will allow us to scale much more efficiently. We've received global recognition with various awards from UNWTO, Fast Company, Travel + Leisure, and Newsweek. Now, we are well-positioned to raise an official seed round this spring/summer.
At the moment, our lean team consists of five internal team members and contracts with independent contractors including web developers, performance marketers, and a publicist. Since launching Kind Traveler, to raise awareness, I've been interviewed on sustainable travel in 100s of articles and done numerous talks globally about sustainable tourism, social impact, and social entrepreneurship. I also serve on the Board of Directors for the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) in D.C.
You are in the fifth year, what are the top 3 lessons you have learned as an entrepreneur?
Success is finding the sweet spot where your passions, skills, and talent align with your purpose. When this alignment is in place, you will be best positioned to grow exponentially and be in an organic flow with life. It can take years to find this alignment – however, investing in education, volunteering, travel, and in self-development are excellent paths to uncover your own personal path to success.
Roadblocks are a part of every journey. It’s how you perceive the roadblocks that makes the difference. Yes, challenges make you stronger, but it’s so important to be grounded in a place that’s aligned authentically with your values and purpose to create resiliency in your journey. If I didn’t 100% whole-heartedly believe in my purpose and vision with Kind Traveler, it would have made it extremely difficult to get up every morning and keep going.
Recognize that journeys can often take much longer than one may anticipate. There is no such thing as an overnight success. However, if you truly believe in yourself and your vision, and have taken the time to and due diligence to carve a meaningful path forward, the journey will be worthwhile, regardless of how long it takes.
Thanks for sharing the Kind Traveler 2022 Impact Tourism Report, tell us about the research you've done.
We surveyed 64 Kind Traveler partnered hotels, charities, and destinations in 16 countries to uncover 10 trends that are shaping the future of impact tourism in advancing positive community and environmental impact in destinations.
Additionally, there were 1,014 global traveler respondents that submitted feedback in the Global Traveler Survey by Kind Traveler designed to better understand the behaviors, challenges, and desires of conscious travelers.
Of the top 10 takeaways, what areas do you see growing the fastest?
One of the trends that stands out the most is the opportunity for charities to drive positive impact in destinations through innovative experiences. From opportunities to connect with farm animals and nature with Charlie’s Acres Farm Sanctuary in Sonoma County, California, to visiting the Arosa Bear Sanctuary in Switzerland and learning about the former lives of rescued circus bears, there is an amazing opportunity to create meaningful and purposeful travel experiences that also educate and empower travelers.
one of the trends that stands out the most is the opportunity for charities to drive positive impact in destinations through innovative experiences...the other stand-out trend is the growing need travelers have for transparent sustainability
The other stand-out trend is the growing need travelers have for transparent sustainability initiatives – and the unique ways hotels are meeting this need. For example, I love how the Six Senses collection (9 properties bookable on Kind Traveler) has its own Earth Lab at each property, designed to engage travelers in the sustainability initiatives of the hotel.
Can you explain the TOP 10 findings from the report a bit more?
1. Hotels Innovate Creative Ways to Motivate Giving
Hotels are becoming more socially innovative to encourage philanthropic and sustainable efforts amongst guests. By integrating give-back initiatives to regenerate local communities into guest experiences on-site, sustainable purchasing, recommending attractions in destinations that are connected to the community and environmental impact, and creating partnerships with charities that advance community and environmental initiatives, hotels are advancing charitable efforts connected to sustainable and regenerative tourism solutions.
2. Transparency for Guests Required
From water & energy conservation measures, zero waste and responsible recycling efforts, involvement in community environmental and charitable projects, and the sourcing of local products, guests are becoming more and more inquisitive about the sustainable operations and partnerships hotels have in place and are requesting transparency in sustainability efforts.
3. Hotels + Local Charities as Catalysts for Destination Wellbeing
From advancing the sustainable and regenerative mission of destinations, strengthening the future labor force, supporting the needs of locals, preserving culture, advancing DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) initiatives, protecting wildlife and habitats, and funding various environmental projects, hotels see the health and wellbeing of destinations woven into the mission of charitable organizations.
4. Opportunity for Hotels to Be Regenerative Powerhouses
From doubling down on renewable energy, going plastic-free, responsible recycling that supports local communities, zero-waste and zero-carbon initiatives, cultivating biodiversity, supporting local artists, charitable donations, workforces that volunteer, guest engagement in sustainable activities, equipping local workforces, and empowering local communities and guests with sustainable lifestyles, hotels can be regenerative powerhouses in communities when aligned with principles that advance sustainability and regeneration.
5. Measurable Sustainability Metrics Are More Important Than Ever
To effectively communicate sustainability, impact measurement efforts must be in place to measure and report on both positive and negative impacts. Measuring impact on-site at hotels, seeking sustainability certifications, and creating partnerships with non-profits are a few of the ways hotels can measure and celebrate impact initiatives.
6. Charities’ Financial Support Still Ravaged by Covid-19 Impact
With 91% of charities reporting devastating negative economic losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic in the CAF America Report, taking years to recover, the need to mobilize corporate and individual donors has never been greater. From the loss of government support, a decrease in in-person event attendance and foot traffic, challenges in securing volunteers, and loss of available workforce, charities have struggled to move their missions forward due to pandemic-related influences.
7. Charities Create Positive Impact Experiences
From meditating with sheep, sleeping with wolves, and floating adventures at a bear sanctuary in Switzerland, charities are creating unique experiences to engage travelers while driving their missions forward.
8. Powerful storytelling, Virtual Platforms, and Strategic Partnerships are Key Motivators
Keeping others continually engaged and inspired is one of the keys to driving forward the mission of charities, especially when in-person events and foot traffic becomes limited due to pandemic-related events.
9. Destinations are a Key Resource for Travelers
Destinations are actively equipping travelers with the tools and information needed to reduce negative impact and increase positive impact. Responsible travel codes, online universities, and educational efforts to increase destination stewardship are at the heart of destinations aiming to create sustainable futures.
10. Stewardship Pledges as Critical Roadmaps for Positive Impact
From providing inspiring, educational content that encourages future visitors to collaborate, to partnering with initiatives that inspire giving back while traveling, destinations can use pledges to guide traveler-facing responsible travel behavior.
Looking forward, what do you see?
More than 1.4B travelers took trips pre-Covid. That alone has enormous potential to help or harm the planet, depending on how their travel dollars are harnessed. We need to focus on the positive potential, provide consumers options and education, and create easy pathways to giving back. Hotels have an incredible opportunity to be that beacon of hope in their communities and contribute to the greater good. By seeing who hertelier has covered already, we know these women are a source of inspiration and we hope to work with them.
What are ways hotels can get involved with Kind Traveler?
Hotels can reach out to our Kind Hotels relations team at firstname.lastname@example.org who will be happy to provide all the steps to get involved with our new 2.0 API technology that has streamlined our process to empower travelers to give back to local communities. It’s a win-win.