Ecotourism has been identified as the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry. As concerns about global warming increase, and air travel is understood to be one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gases, people who still want to travel but hope to minimise their impact are increasingly looking for ways to holiday responsibly.
This, coupled with the dramatic rise in the development and tourism of developing countries, has seen more and more people seek to take holidays that claim to be responsible and sustainable.
Typically, this might mean staying at resorts that have an identifiable sustainability and communities policy, trying to reduce air miles, and swearing off as much disposable plastic as possible, but there is another far more impactful and immediate way of directly assisting the communities of the developing countries you might visit.
Pack for a Purpose  is a non-profit organisation established in December 2009 with the aim of positively impacting communities around the world by assisting travellers who want to bring meaningful contributions of requested supplies to the destinations they visit.
By visiting the website, tourists can identify lodgings and tour companies that support community-based projects around the world. The projects provide a list of supplies they need – from school equipment and toys to toothbrushes to basic medical supplies – which travellers can make room for in their cases when they pack for their holiday.
Pack for a Purpose gives travellers a way to make sure the trip they take goes much farther than the miles they travel.
Pack for a Purpose was founded by Rebecca Rothney with her husband, after realising they could use some of their baggage allowance to give something back to a community in Botswana that had warmly welcomed them. “We realised that by asking travellers to pack 5 lbs (2.27 kgs) of supplies, we felt we would be able to involve everyone who wanted to add value to his or her trip by participating. That amount would take only a small space, require little effort and still make a big impact,” says Rothney. “For us it was enormously rewarding to be able to help the people in the community that had given us such a life-changing experience,” she says.
By involving local projects, the scheme ensures that holiday-makers can meet the specific needs requested by the community and choose exactly what to pack and express gratitude to the local community with the supplies they bring. It delivers exactly what’s required directly into the hands of the people who need it.
In just five years over 345 lodgings and tour companies in 49 countries have joined Pack for a Purpose. They range from bed and breakfast inns to high end properties like Ritz Carlton. There are eco-jungle lodges and safari camps as well as a few small cruise ships in Peru, Cambodia and the Galapagos.
For hotels and resorts it offers the opportunity to connect directly with the communities in which they operate, as well as providing a simple but effective opportunity for guests to feel as if they’re really making a difference,
Yasemin Uygurmen at The Ritz-Carlton Istanbul  Turkey says, “Over the past year, guests of The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul have enthusiastically donated over 110 pounds of supplies, clothing, and toys to students at Dinçba Elementary School through Pack for a Purpose. This has been an easy and meaningful way for our guests to add value to their travels and make a Big Impact for the rural school children in Van, Turkey.”
Sandals Resorts  are well known as a luxury exotic destination travel company, and The Sandals Foundation  works in the Caribbean investing in sustainable community projects around education, environment and health and they too partner with Pack for a Purpose.
Liz Kaiser, the Sandals Foundation says, “Partnering with Pack for a Purpose has helped open doors to greater opportunities for our Caribbean children's education. This relationship has made it possible for anyone travelling to Jamaica, Saint Lucia, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Antigua and the Bahamas, to take at least five pounds of much-needed supplies that have been requested by local area schools.”
The initiative also presents a really neat way for new developments to find ways to attract ecotourists while simultaneously helping their most immediate communities.
Dr. Wayne McCallum, Director of the Song Saa Foundation Cambodia, says, “At The Song Saa Resort in Cambodia, a luxury resort in the Koh Rong archipelago, we are the first five-star development in the region. Given this we have taken seriously the responsibility of 'treading lightly' and ensuring that we work to improve the lives of those around us. In this quest, Pack for a Purpose has been a perfect partner, offering a means for our guests to join with the resort's efforts to help our nearby neighbours. It’s so simple, yet so effective!” he says. Meanwhile local schoolteacher Morm Sarith is keen to express the impact that donations have on her student's enthusiasm to learn. She says, “These materials are very useful for the students, because if they have enough books and school materials they will feel more confident, and they will pay more attention and study harder."
Looking ahead, Pack for a Purpose hopes to expand the number of lodgings and tour companies they affiliate with, and they hope more conscientious travellers will make a point of checking out their options.
“Our long-term goal is to create a sustainable organisation that will become an integral part of the travel community and a routine part of travel planning for individuals,” says Rothney. “We want to become a website to which socially aware travellers will go even before they choose their lodgings and tour companies,” she says.
She concludes, “Pack for a Purpose gives travellers a way to add value to their vacations - making sure the trip they take goes much farther than the miles they travel. The stethoscope you bring to a clinic that doesn’t have one weighs less than a kilo but can touch 10,000 hearts,” she smiles.