Mount Kilimanjaro and my big ask from you

Arnie Weissmann

On Jan. 5, I’ll take my first step to fulfill a personal dream, and in doing so, I hope to enable others to fulfill their dreams, as well. I’ve written a lot about purposeful travel over the years, and my plan is to take that concept to new heights, literally and figuratively.

Hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro has been a long-held aspiration, and last summer, as I was climbing a much smaller mountain in Java, it occurred to me that a) I ain’t getting any younger; if I hope to climb Kili, I’d better do it sooner than later and b) it would be motivating and rewarding if I could link it to something more than just a personal quest. Thus the pledge drive #KiliCares was conceived.

The travel industry has been very good to me, and in wanting to give back, the natural partner and recipient of any money I raise in my attempt to climb Africa’s highest mountain would be the industry nonprofit Tourism Cares. It has been instrumental in helping tourism-related workers, businesses and sites recover from natural disasters. It provides scholarships to needy students seeking a career in travel. And it supports social enterprises by providing grants, guidance and connections that create jobs, keep dollars local and preserve traditional customs and cultures.

But going back to the travel industry has been very good to me, The most common sentence I’ve heard from people I’ve interviewed is: “I’ve got the best job in the world.” Travel is the most personally rewarding for-profit industry in existence. Not only are the opportunities it offers diverse and accessible and expansive enough to enable myriad individuals to find their professional niche, but at some profound level, beyond monetary considerations, it is deeply fulfilling.

To paraphrase Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben: With great personal benefits come great personal obligations. To only reap the advantages of a life in travel — inspiring vistas, immersion in cultures, friendships that form on the road and, yes, pampering — is only part of the journey.

It’s been my observation that the most interesting places are often the most fragile, and having the privilege of visiting them carries with it the responsibility not only to help preserve it for residents and other visitors but to help strengthen its resiliency. (Agree? Support my climb and donate here.)

On the human level, it’s the right thing to give back, but on a business level, it’s essential. If we who profit from the desire of people to experience the world don’t also invest in preserving, protecting and revitalizing the places we send travelers, we don’t have sustainable business models. As more people around the world begin to cross borders, as Instagram exposes once-remote natural beauty, as the promise of “seamless travel” becomes a reality, the pressure on destinations will intensify.

Some will cope, but others will be overwhelmed, with negative consequences for inhabitants, visitors and tourism-related businesses. (Agree? Support my climb and donate here.)

Perhaps I’m personally inspired to get involved because, as a Tourism Cares board member, I’ve been on committees that have reviewed the needs of people, places and enterprises who benefit from the grants and guidance the organization provides. 

I’ve seen firsthand how carefully the organization vets requests and holds recipients to high standards and expectations. It makes certain that donations go to worthy enterprises that raise the bar on sustainable practices and tourism services and that provide meaningful jobs that support local cultures. (If this approach matches your expectations of a nonprofit, support my climb and donate here.)

Joining me on the #KiliCares climb will be my daughter, Emma, who’s an associate editor at TravelAge West, and my son Dash, a college student. They, too, have benefitted from a life in travel, and I’m happy to see they share my desire to give back. They’ll be reaching out to their respective communities to raise funds for Tourism Cares, as well.

Also joining the effort, as a Climb Partner, is Tusker Trail, which is helping subsidize the climb. It’s a trekking company that came highly recommended and that didn’t hesitate to assist when I reached out to them. I’ve also received the strong backing of Travel Weekly and TravelAge West’s parent company, Northstar Travel Group; my colleagues across the company are also supporting #KiliCares on their media platforms.

If you have any questions, hesitations or doubts about making a donation, you can write me at [email protected], and perhaps I can convince you of the importance of supporting the climb. You work hard for your money, and I know it’s a big ask. It’s also a big mountain, and my steps will be lighter if I know the industry is behind me. Please donate here.

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