There's nothing like sitting on a beach or touring through another country to leave work and worries behind. But for many professional women who are always striving to further their education, a beach vacation just isn’t stimulating enough. Imagine putting a purpose behind your travels, a purpose that runs the gamut from participating in fun and exciting cultural activities to learning the ins and outs of a country from the people to the business and government.
Since 1997, Malía Everette has been director of Global Exchange's Reality Tours program
. She oversees the growth and development of alternative travel programs to 40 destinations around the world. From the United States to Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Europe, and the Caribbean, Everette promotes in-depth experiential education and socially responsible travel as an alternative to the "sun and fun" tourism that often results in cultural homogenization and does little to benefit local communities and host economies. The organization is based in San Francisco.
Womenetics: How did you start working with Global Exchange Reality Tours?
Malía Everette: I started in March 1997, when the organization was 8 years old. It was a young, but very well-established nonprofit human rights organization. As an educator, social justice advocate, world traveler, and recent graduate with a master’s in international relations, I was compelled to apply and delighted when I landed the job because I had traveled with the organization to Cuba in 1991.
The group travel experience for me was inspirational, educational, and transformational. I had traveled to over 30 countries around the world before that Reality Tour, but the model and the access we had to various institutions like schools and hospitals, to individuals and artists, as well as government representatives was amazing. All I wanted was to take my passions and build upon the powerful model that Global Exchange had built. Looking back, almost 15 years later, I can say I never thought that I would have found such a perfect professional fit directing a socially responsible travel business.
Womenetics: Can you explain the relationship between Reality Tours and Global Exchange?
Everette: Global Exchange is a nonprofit human rights organization working for global political, economic, environmental, and social justice. Since 1988, we have worked to increase the U.S. public’s awareness of global issues while building progressive, grassroots international partnerships. Global Exchange pursues these goals through four program areas: fair trade; public education; human and global economic rights campaigns; and, last but not least, reality tours, which educate the public about domestic and international issues through socially responsible travel. Thus we are one program of Global Exchange.
Womenetics: Can you explain your gender-focused tours, created specifically for women?
Everette: Sixty-eight percent of our travel alumni are women. We don’t necessarily focus on attracting women to our tours; rather our tours are attractive to women. All of our open listed tours, for example, have sample itineraries, yet when we have a final sense of the group and its unique interests, we customize some of the visits. Thus responding to the backgrounds, professions, special requests, and passions of women on the tour is very important to us. We can tailor the specific tour a bit to ensure that we are maximizing the potential for long-term relationship building or at least enhancing the level of exchange and therefore learning.
As a human rights advocate, I know that women across the world bear a disproportionate burden of the world’s material poverty. Just look at international intergovernmental organizations like UNIFEM (the United Nations Development Fund for Women) and its decades of data. It exposes how women are more likely than men to be poor and at risk of hunger because of the systematic discrimination they face in decision making, politics, education, health care, employment, and control of assets that often transcend physical borders.
Our women’s delegations are an important tool for exploring countries, political economies, and cultures through an intentional gendered lens. We highlight the advancements, obstacles, and struggles of women from diverse sectors of society and learn about how they envision and live social change.
Womenetics: How do you involve women in other ways?
Everette: Gender analysis and inclusion does not stop with our gender-focused tours. On all our tours our participants always have an in-depth look at the reality of destination countries through direct observation of the host society.
We are very instructive with our program officers around the world to include women as speakers and include women’s organizations into our itineraries. This is about balance and inclusion, and it helps our participants better learn about the country's history, politics, economy, religion, government, health care, agriculture, education, and environment, all while participating in exciting and fun cultural activities.
Womenetics: From your experience, what kind of person is generally a good fit for this type of educational-based tourism?
Everette: Travel can always be a learning experience. Even individual travelers, high end to backpacker, can have their world view change in a day from an unplanned encounter that pushes their comfort zone, inspires a new way of seeing the world. I know this firsthand. I constantly see how I am a student of life when I travel. I truly believe any kind of person is a good fit for a tourism product that is educational or seeks to bring folks off the beaten path. However, those who will most enjoy it are those who are already curious and prepared to learn. My favorite participants are those who come with plenty of questions.
Womenetics: What are your client demographics?
Everette: Half of our 100-plus departures every year are customized tours. Most of these are for schools, colleges, and universities, but we also organize them for choirs, dance troupes, other travel agents, families, churches, and membership organizations. Thus the demographics are very intergenerational; on our general open tour you can find college students, professionals, and retirees.
Womenetics: How do you choose your topics and locations for tours?
Everette: The development of our tours has ebbed and flowed according to current events in the United States, changes in the international political economy, and by the interests and passions of our staff in the United States and around the world.The Reality Tours program seeks to enhance understanding around various issues with four strong program areas or themes of tours that all allow space for other destinations to be added.
Our open tours fall under: Citizen Diplomacy Tours, focusing human rights and peace and justice issues; Fair Harvest Journeys, focusing on the fair trade story and offering opportunities to learn about globalization, economics, and alternative development models while also offering service learning or voluntourism; Anti-Human Trafficking Delegations, in partnership with the abolitionist organization Not for Sale, seeking to educate travelers about modern-day human trafficking and slavery; and last, Sustainable Solutions, about programs around the world that focus on sustainable examples of development and enhance understanding of social and ecological issues.
Womenetics: This seems different than the volunteer tourism that has become popular. How does it differ?
Everette: Volunteer focuses on the act of doing a project, while our tours also focus on active engagement. Our emphasis is around education and understanding. Instead of just picking coffee beans, for example, we also ensure that the participant understands the story of primary commodities in the world market, the natural history of coffee, what the day-to-day lives of farmers are like, etc. While I applaud the desire of the volunteer traveler to do good, and I love our humanity’s generosity of spirit, I also strongly believe that we need to travel in an ethical and respectful way, one that is based on partnership. I believe that we also need to carefully scrutinize development projects where the tourist does the work. I know there can be some great programs out there, but we have to do the due diligence to ensure that these projects are ones the locals want and will benefit from, and that the capacity building to maintain and fund the project are also built into the project for the long term.
Womenetics: Can you tell me about you business model? Do customers pay to go on these tours or are they sponsored?
Everette: The business model is based on social responsibility. This is an ethical approach and a pragmatic business approach. We want and ensure that the majority of the package price that people pay for a tour actually stays to benefit the local or national economy. In fact, 70 percent or more of every Reality Tour dollar stays in the host economy. This is in dramatic contrast to the capital flight, or leakage, that plagues the conventional tourism industry. Sadly 50 to 90 percent flies back to the North. This means most of those tourism packages online are not truly benefiting the country or community you are visiting.
Even though Global Exchange is a nonprofit organization and Reality Tours exists primarily as a dynamic public education program, we charge people to participate in our journeys. Thus ours is meant to be a self-financing program that in good years can also benefit our organization. Though we offer financial assistance to selected recipients, the majority of our travelers pay the total in-country cost and then a bit more for our administrative costs.
Womenetics: What about your own personal travels, where do you go for vacations and why?
Everette: I travel a few times a year to recharge myself, and as a single mom I also want to offer incredible educational adventures to my sons, 10 and 11 years old. I try to travel back home to Oahu every year to immerse myself in nature and beauty. I also try to travel to the Amazon every few years because, for lack of better words, I am spiritually compelled to do so. I love to experience the phenomenal biodiversity nature has as well as be exposed to new cultures. I try to expose my sons to a different state and country every year, plus we take a few camping trips in California and Oregon. With extended family in Cuba, we also try to spend some time there every few years. I am blessed that my sons have traveled to nine countries throughout Latin America. We are talking about China, Japan, and Malaysia next summer.