A Q&A with Jennifer Spatz, Global Family Travels’ Founder & CEO

A Q&A with Jennifer Spatz, Global Family Travels’ Founder & CEO

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A Q&A with Jennifer Spatz, Global Family Travels’ Founder & CEO; Chapter Lead of Impact Travel Alliance for Greater Seattle, and Travel Designer for Transformational Travel Council

Jennifer Spatz, Founder & CEO of Global Family Travels,  and Chapter Lead of Impact Travel Alliance for Greater Seattle &  Travel Designer for Transformational Travel Council

Like so many tour operators, Global Family Travels’ tour offerings came to a screeching halt at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. After pausing operations, the company initially focused on refunding and rescheduling global trips.

But with that said, the emergence of the global health crisis has not significantly altered the Global Family Travels (GFT) brand promise around community-based travel offerings. In fact, Spatz believes that tourism will be an essential ingredient for post-pandemic recovery and furthermore, that community-based travel experiences can help catalyze positive changes in various destinations.

To that end, Global Family Travels has been busy expanding its community-based tourism offerings to develop more outdoor adventures, including in its own backyard of Seattle, where GFT is providing small group, outdoor adventures that address social and environmental challenges, and give participants the opportunity to learn about the Pacific Northwest region’s diverse communities, natural beauty, and history in fun and engaging ways.

FTA recently spoke with Jennifer about GFT’s response to COVID-19 and the company’s exciting and important plans for 2021 and beyond.

FTA: How did the pandemic impact GFTs activities and offerings in 2020? Can you share a few specific examples?

GFT:

At Global Family Travels, we have always been passionate about creating community-based, family-friendly trips that are truly meaningful – encouraging travelers of all ages to become both stewards of the environment and citizens of the world.

Guided by our three community-based pillars of Learn, Serve & Immerse, many of our trips are in fact designed around key United Nations Global Goals, addressing key sustainable development issues, such as access to Quality EducationGender Equality, and Life on Land.

Sustainable tourism can make a meaningful contribution to people’s lives and our planet, and we are honored to partner with impactful organizations, both locally and globally, to deliver community-based adventures.

At the onset of the pandemic, like so many other travel operators, our global trips came to a screeching halt. After halting our operations, we initially focused on refunding and rescheduling global trips, from 2020 to 2021, and now, sadly some we have needed to postpone until 2022.

We were excited because 2020 was on target to be our best year yet!  In the Spring/Summer of 2020 alone, we had to cancel several adventures, including trips to empower girls and women,  conservation adventures to Costa Rica and Zimbabwe, a chocolate expedition to Ecuador, and several trips to India, including a school exchange trip we run every year to Ladakh, and a transformational travel yoga retreat.

In February of 2020, we had officially launched some Seattle community tours, which we also had to put on hold too.

FTA: What are some of the ways GFT has found to rebound or work around or perhaps within the new travel landscape?

GFT:

Since the onset of the pandemic, the Global Family Travel brand promise around community-based travel offerings has not changed much, except for three shifts we made:

1) We added COVID-19 safety protocols and flexible booking offerings;

2) With the complex travel terrain, we recognized that our travel advisor services was more needed than ever, making sure that the health and safety of the travelers was a priority.

3) We refocused our community-based tourism approach to develop more outdoor adventures in the our own backyard, in the Greater Seattle area.

Global Family Travels believes that tourism will be an essential ingredient for post-pandemic recovery and that community-based travel experiences specifically can help catalyze positive changes in various destinations.

Therefore, we expanded our  Seattle Community Tours to offer small group, outdoor adventures which address social and environmental challenges, and give participants the opportunity to learn about the Pacific Northwest region’s diverse communities, natural beauty and history in fun and engaging ways.

These experiences support the preservation of diverse and native cultures, conservation, education, and economic growth of the communities we work in.  Some of these fun adventures include:

Discover the history, communities, and parks around Seattle’s Lake Union by Lime Bike, in partner with Colorful Cities and the Center for Wooden Boats!

This enriching experience in a historic part of Seattle offers a compelling way to learn about the power of community gardens, and how the Seattle’s Black Farmers Collective has developed some creative solutions to systemic land and food injustices.

Explore the vibrant culture of Seattle’s street art, from the powerful pieces done in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, to the world’s longest mural display along the light rail in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. 

Lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails of the Willamette National Forest in the Cascade Mountain Range of Oregon, where some of our country’s worst wildfires recently took place.  In partnership with Cascade Volunteers, participants will learn about wildfire recovery & prevention, and experience local outdoor adventure activities, and partake in forest stewardship projects to support the McKenzie Regenerative Travel Project.

We invite interested travelers to join our Greater Seattle mailing list to stay informed about these exciting adventures that we are launching in the Spring and Summer of 2021!

FTA: What do you think 2021 will look like for your operations and travel in general?

GFT:

We can see already that 2021 will be a mix of people traveling locally, with short distance adventures and road trips to discover the beauty of our own country, as well as a few more adventuresome people traveling internationally, for both those who feel comfortable doing so and who have been vaccinated.

After spending time in quarantine this past year, we have learned that people are looking to travel with their extended families and are planning special trips with deeper purpose to reunite, which is encouraging!  Global Family Travels has received several inquires recently from people who want to make a difference when they travel on trips that teach their kids about the challenges and opportunities facing our increasingly inter-connected planet.

And certainly, we have also seen more inquires for multi-generational vacation packages from families concerned about the health and safety of their children and elderly parents, asking about proximity to medical facilities in case something happens during the trip.

COVID-19 travel planning is complex and will continue to be so in 2021 and beyond. We have already seen from the travel inquiries we are working on for many families that navigating the of planning travel around safety protocols, border closures, where to get COVID tests, and travel insurance demands of some destinations. Therefore, we recognized the need to expand our custom travel planning services during these times to become a professional Travel Advisor and joined a host agency that is a partner with Virtuoso.

We truly believe travelers of all ages have the opportunity to become environmental stewards and citizens of the world.  Therefore, Global Family Travels is excited to announce our new Climate Action Pledge.  This commitment will continue to expand and grow over the coming months, but to kick things off we have launched a Climate Change Resource Corner in monthly newsletter, which  features news and educational resources focused on climate change to inspire travelers like you.

FTA: Any advice to offer others in the travel industry regarding how to thrive or succeed in 2021?

GFT:

In many ways, our global pandemic is changing humanity on a global scale in many spheres of life; from family dynamics, people’s livelihoods, civic engagement, politics, health systems, and more. It is also steering us to take a hard look at what we value most in life.

Granted, this transformation is taking place through much discomfort, and we are growing in ways that some of us have yet to understand.   We are also witnessing the transformation and natural healing of Mother Earth itself,  with cleaner air quality.

The travel industry is being given an unprecedented opportunity right now to rethink tourism and to create experiences that show a real commitment to sustainability, building community and diversity.

Clearly, the needs of travel customers and communities are changing with our global pandemic, and bigger picture concerns, such as our climate emergency, will also drive more sustainable experiences in the tourism industry.

The rise of sustainable travel experiences will surely be more in demand, and lead organizations in the tourism industry,  such as Impact Travel Alliance, the Adventure Trade & Travel Association and Transformational Travel Council, are eager to educate fellow travel industry colleagues and travelers on how to spend their money mindfully so that the travel experiences they choose both empower locals and protect our environment.

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