As the world is threatened by over population and depletion of resources at an alarming rate, a new movement of sustainability has emerged and is seeing rapid growth in an industry that has proved quite exploitive in the past.
Ecotourism or sustainable travel, as defined by The International Ecotourism Society, is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”
People in many third world countries around the world, where industry has not yet destroyed nature, are stepping up to protect the rights of humans, wildlife and nature. Ecotourism is not just about travelling to destinations that operate ethically, it’s about travellers who make ethical decisions and look to unite in conservation, give back to the community and chose to use products and services that protect the environment and respect local people and cultures.
One such local Calgary travel company with a goal to establish the principles of ecotourism of uniting in conservation, building communities, and sustainable travel, is Let Live Travel (LLT).
The idea was developed on a cramped and scorching drive across southern Thailand by a couple of girls with the thirst for adventure and a mission to do good in this world. Let Live Travel was born in 2012 with a vision of providing travelers a sense of adventure and self fulfilment through its volunteer programs.
Currently the travel company operates in India with three tours running for 14, 21 and 26 days respectively. For more information on tours and dates, check out their website here.
We talked to founder Shawna Aylard and asked her a few questions about Let Live Travel and the future of sustainable travel.
MCM: What made you start Let Live Travel?
SA: After a decade of being an avid international traveller, I saw the need and desire from travellers to engage with cultures on a deeper level. They wanted to feel as though their travels were fulfilling for more than just themselves. International travel is becoming much more prevalent, and if the majority of travellers don’t embrace sustainable travel, our actions/presence could be very harmful on cultures and the livelihood of small villages and individuals.
MCM: What were some of the challenges you faced or are facing at the moment?
SA: Challenges… they are plentiful and constant, but there is always a way around. The main challenges have been:
Financial – as I started Let Live Travel with my own personal funding, my own fundraising efforts (events), and only about 5% of financing from external individual donations from friends and family. I didn’t want to start the company in a deep hole of debt, and I was also worried about the company being run by external decision makers, so I avoided loans and major sponsorship.
Marketing has never seen a better or worse time. Social Media has made marketing options so accessible to everyone. This is fantastic, as marketing doesn’t have to be soul-suckingly expensive. However, this also means that there is a lot of noise on social media. Trying to be heard – it’s difficult.
I knew starting a business was going to be hard, but wow. It is seriously hard. I am constantly worried that I missed a big step somewhere along the lines, and everything is going to go up in flames. I highly suggest to anyone thinking of starting a company – make sure you have a hard working and reliable business partner first. Doing it alone – it’s a lot, and a lot of stress to carry on your own.
MCM: What drives you to continue to do what you are doing?
SA: The love of it. I am so passionate about what I do. Culture and people – they are my jam. Helping to preserve incredible cultures through hands on learning, appreciation and respect, and being able to share these amazing discoveries with others – its magic. The people we have met in India and the local non-profits we get to help out are so inspiring. The work I do can be both heartwarming and heart wrenching, both of which are emotions that get you to take action.
Let Live Travel may be new, but I have seen the difference we have already made in some lives – our tour members, Indian locals associated with LLT, the non-profits we partner with, and myself. Making a positive change in the lives of some, no matter how big or small, that equals success to me. When I think of that, it makes me certain that I could never quit working by butt off for this.
MCM: What makes LLT different from other travel businesses?
SA: We combine the best of both worlds! It’s relatively easy to find an adventure tour company, OR an international volunteer project. But finding one that embraces both of these ideas is hard to come by.
We take on the feel of an adventure tour company by hitting up multiple destinations per tour (always alongside the same group and two guides), and enjoying a terrific assortment of adventurous activities along the way. However, we also spend a third of the trip giving back to the communities we visit by volunteering with local non-profits. Our volunteer projects are diverse, giving our tour members a chance to experience a variety of ways that help can be offered, and perhaps discovering what is their most preferred.
MCM: What are your future plans for LLT and how do you look to grow?
SA: In the future, we would like to keep expanding to new places. We will always continue our tours in Northern India, but we would like to spread out to other parts of India (south) and other countries. The countries we head to next will be very dependent on the feedback and requests we get from customers and prospective customers.
Here is a little preview video of what LLT has to offer:
For further information on Let Live Travel and their sustainable travel programs visit their website www.letlivetravel.org