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Can Travel Change the World?

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Can travel help change the world? I think so. The travel industry will generate $8 trillion dollars this year, a figure that is expected to rise to approximately $15 trillion by 2025. That's real global power. Think of the enormous impact this industry can have on the environment and on people's lives. Working together, we can make a positive difference in this world, and now is the time to start.

In September of 2007, Conde Nast Traveler, in partnership with Population Services International (PSI), the nonprofit addressing global health issues, formed the Conde Nast Traveler Five and Alive Fund. The fund supports children 5 and under -- the most vulnerable -- in more than 30 countries by supplying health-enhancing products (mosquito nets, water purification products, medications). So far, we've raised close to $1 million from readers and the travel industry. A few months ago, I traveled to Rwanda to see how our money was being spent. Rwanda -- having recently emerged from the nightmare of genocide -- was the perfect place to visit, having both enormous needs and a highly committed, proactive government. Gregg Michel and Gary Hunter from Crystal Cruises and actress and PSI ambassador Ashley Judd traveled with me as well. Our visits to health clinics, community centers, and orphanages were an eye-opening way to see a country. We learned about the various models of international aid, as well as about the texture of everyday life in Africa. We also had the chance to experience Rwanda's purely touristic jewel -- its mountain gorillas.

Gorillas aside, most of the things I did in Rwanda would not be everyone's idea of a good time, such as hacking away for several hours at rich, dark, moist African soil with a hoe. But there we were, Americans and Rwandans, participating in a mandatory community service day. I confess to moments of doubt. What real difference could we be making? An expat living in Kigali, the capital, reassured me: "It's great that the Rwandans see the outside world validating their customs, their efforts at social reconciliation."

And, I have to admit, we had a good time. We met Rwandan villagers we otherwise never would have encountered, had conversations (in broken French) that we never would have had, and, most important, had the satisfaction of feeling that we had helped, however little.

I'd never traveled like this before, with this sort of purpose. Many of our readers, it turns out, have already found the same satisfaction -- traveling to volunteer, or adding do-good components to their feel-good trips. But making a difference is not just up to the individual -- we're counting on the titans of the travel industry to get involved as well, to work together to develop socially responsible policies and initiatives, limit the industry's negative environmental impact, augment the positive, and help improve the health, education, and economic well-being of the communities in which they operate.

On September 23rd, Conde Nast Traveler will convene at the 2nd Annual World Savers Congress to celebrate the companies that are turning the travel industry's enormous potential to improve the planet into reality. Our goal is to recognize members of the travel industry who are already making the world a better place and to provide a forum for engaged discussion of the challenges ahead. I'm pleased that I will have at my side during the Congress the visionary economist Jeffrey Sachs, Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, and Ashley Judd. I believe their words will serve to both educate and inspire us all.

As I said, I enjoyed getting down and dirty in Africa, but if for whatever reason you can't manage that, you can still do good works when you spend your travel dollars with philanthropically minded companies like those celebrated at our Congress. I hope you'll be inspired to take a closer look at where your money goes the next time you take a trip. There are seemingly endless opportunities for the travel industry to engage constructively with the communities where it does business -- either to help build schools, furnish much-needed medical supplies, restock wildlife reserves, dispense mirco-loans, and much more. To learn more about how your dollars can make a difference or to donate to The Five and Alive Fund, log on to http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/makeadifference.