Jonathan and Kate Coleman have a special interest in the kind of international travel that seeks out authentic experiences and supports local economies.
Now, the Lancaster couple have turned their interest into a business that creates getaway vacations that have a purpose without being volunteer trips or resort stays.
“I like to describe it as a kind of study abroad for adults,” Kate Coleman said. “So there is this education component, but we’re also hanging out at the beach and hiking up waterfalls.”
The Colemans recently launched Intentional Tours to organize group trips that draw on their own travel experiences and time spent living abroad. The company is a for-profit social enterprise the couple operate in addition to working their full-time jobs.
The couple ran a test tour in Kenya last summer and are organizing two trips this year: a second to Kenya and one to the Dominican Republic.
“We’re a social enterprise travel company,” Jonathan Coleman said. “The impact we have on these trips on the ground and the places we’re visiting is about making sure money is circulating in the local economy.”
The Colemans, both 34 years old, spent time living and working overseas before moving to Lancaster nearly five years ago.
Kate Coleman is a workplace consultant with Work Wisdom. Jonathan Coleman is co-executive director of the Lancaster nonprofit Assets.
Intentional Tours is still accepting deposits for its two planned 2018 trips. The deadline is Jan. 31. More information about those tours is available on the company’s website, www.intentionaltours.world.
What was the inspiration for this?
Jonathan: My life through my 20s was working for a small nonprofit in Latin America and Africa. ... The organization hosted a lot of groups that came — mission trip, volunteer trip type groups.
Those volunteer trips are really great, really powerful for the people who are traveling, but a lot of times on the ground, from what I was seeing, the ongoing ramifications of those trips aren’t always positive.
How could it be negative?
Jonathan: So if they come to paint the school, for example, and sitting outside the school is the father of one of the kids who goes to school there, I was beginning to ask myself, what is the better situation if you’re that father?
Those people come, they paint the school, they hand out toothbrushes, they hand out treats, they hand out books to your kids that you can’t afford as a father, and you watch them do this work that you know how to do.
Or, would it be a better situation for the community that that father is employed to paint the kids’ school, has some ownership in the development of the school and makes enough money to buy the toothbrush and to buy the schoolbooks because he has a job? I think anyone would recognize that’s the better scenario.
Kate: I think the other thing for me (is), we’re living in a time where our culture is so afraid of the other, and having traveled some we’ve seen the strengths and the beauty and how cool it is to interact with people that are different than us.
So if it’s not a missions trip and not a traditional vacation, what is it?
Jonathan: What we’re doing is bridging the gap between those two, recognizing the fact that folks in our generation are looking for more when they travel. They don’t want the packaged tour, they don’t want the sanitized version of a place.
This is an alternative to trying to impact an underdeveloped community without donations, without our philanthropy. I think that there is a lot of power in using a business model to do that. It’s not, “We’re coming to save you. You’re going to receive our good deeds.” It’s, “We are your customers; this is an equal exchange.”
How do you set up the itinerary for each trip?
Kate: Because we’ve been overseas and because he’s lived in a number of places, we have this big network of friendships who are people living and working (in) developing countries. So we really draw on those resources.
In Kenya, we do one dinner in homes and we break people up into small groups and they go out into people’s homes in an upper-middle-class neighborhood of Nairobi. And people are shocked because this isn’t the Africa they’ve seen on TV.
Is it cheaper to travel like this?
Jonathan: From a pricing perspective, the hardest thing to do is value our time. It took a lot more work to set up a trip like this than to set up in a traditional way because we’ve got to go seek out the hotel, find out who the owners are, so we know it’s a locally owned place.
But as far as the experiences, the lodging and the food and the tours, some of it is cheaper, some of it’s more expensive.
What’s the future of this?
Jonathan: I don’t intend to leave my job at Assets. This is kind of a supplement in a positive way to my work because I’m always talking about and training about social enterprise, so I’m implementing my own social enterprise.
Long term, if it’s going to stick, it will be about Intentional Tours being a platform for others with similar experiences that we have in other countries who want to set up a trip or set up an experience for other people and kind of guide and translate that experience for them.
Do you worry that turning your vacation time into another job will ruin something you like?
Kate: I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about that, but on our Kenya trip last year, I think I appreciated it more.
It’s almost like parents who say they get to experience Christmas through their children. It feels magical seeing people having these new experiences.