The World Nomads Podcast: COVID-19 Travel News, 21 April

In this episode, the company recycling hotel soap, the impact of COVID-19 on a business supporting sustainable philanthropic travel and the animals coming out to play in South Africa.

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woman handing out soap Photo © @Eco-Soap

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The World Nomads Podcast: COVID-19 Travel News

As governments around the globe impose lockdowns and people self-isolate, coronavirus (COVID-19) has hit the travel industry hard. The World Nomads Travel Podcast has suspended its regular destination episodes and, in their place, offering a round-up of the major coronavirus-related travel headlines, including the future of travel.

What’s in the episode

01:18 The animals taking it easy during the lockdown

02:33 Malia Everette

04:30 A tough time for philanthropy

06:48 A lack of donations affecting projects

09:30 Recycling leftover hotel soap

11:24 Tips for washing your hands

14:02 How many bars of soap are thrown away per day by the hotel industry?

16:07 Next episode

Quotes from the episode

We've tried to be really flexible to all of our both clients and customers and others. And refund wherever we can but a lot of the hotels and others haven't been able to refund us quickly. As you know, through the entire supply chain, it's a really challenging moment.” – Malia Everette

So, we can all do our part in preventing the spread of this virus. You know, in a place like Liberia or a place like Rwanda, only one to 2% of households have access to soap for handwashing. This is something frankly we take for granted here in the west.” - Samir Lakhani

Who is in the episode

After two decades of experience pioneering cultural and educational exchanges and ecotours for other organizations, foundations, educational institutions, and families, Malia Everette founded AltruVistas in 2013. As a foundation and travel company, AltruVistas’ primary goal is “to promote transformational philanthropy and social responsibility in the travel industry”.

Samir Lakhani is a social entrepreneur dedicated to restoring health and dignity to developing countries. Before founding Eco-Soap Bank in 2014, Samir was deeply involved in aquaculture and nutrition projects in northern Cambodian villages. He has also developed solar lighting solution projects in Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Nepal. 

Resources & links

Donate to Eco-Soap Bank help keep children and their families healthy and safe from preventable illnesses.

The photos of the lions taking it easy in South Africa.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and World Nomads Travel Insurance Coverage

Travel safety alerts.

In self-isolation? You can put your time to good use practicing your travel writing skills

You can get in touch with us by emailing [email protected].

We use the Rodecaster Pro to record our episodes and interviews when in the studio, made possible with the kind support of Rode.

Kim Napier: In this episode, the company recycling hotel soap for the developing world, the impact of COVID-19 on a business transforming communities through sustainable philanthropic travel and the animals coming out to play in South Africa.

Speaker 2: Welcome to the new World Nomads podcast. We'll be keeping you up to date with travel alert and sharing some uplifting news and views to inspire you and keep you smiling.

Kim Napier: Hi, it's Kim and Phil with you sharing those stories that I just mentioned and some of the headlines surrounding coronavirus and travel. Phil, take it away.

Phil Sylvester: All right, generally locked down, plenty of countries have been spreading inspiring messages, with some lighting up landmarks, including the Empire State Building in New York. The top of the building has been pulsating red to resemble a heartbeat, paying tribute to the city's first responders and health workers who are really putting their own lives online there. Aren't they? Yep.

Phil Sylvester: Look we've seen deer in London and wild boar in Italy, which I fully endorse. It's a Tuscan delicacy, the wild boar, the cinghiale. Very, very nice. And wild boar in Italy, animals having a field day, taking advantage of the lockdown, including a pride of lions in South Africa. Look, they were found lying on one of the roads in Kruger National Park. Normally they're forced off into the bush because of the traffic on the roads, but they were lying on the bitumen, warming themselves up.

Kim Napier: There great pics actually. Really-

Phil Sylvester: It's fantastic, isn't it? That'd be a great shot, a great thing to come across.

Kim Napier: Yeah, well I will share that in show notes. Meantime, Emirates has begun carrying out COVID-19 blood tests on passengers at the airport prior to flights. Do you think that's a bit of an indication of the sign of the times moving forward? I'm not sure I'd like a blood test before I jumped on a plane.

Phil Sylvester: I didn't think a blood test was necessary. Don't you only have to do a swap? Maybe it's quicker. Maybe you get a quicker result that way. If it means you can actually get on a plane and get home or get to where you need to be, I'd probably back that up.

Kim Napier: Yeah.

Phil Sylvester: Look Taiwan's largest carrier, China Airlines is considering a name change. A petition started two months ago on change.org has had more than 50,000 signatures. And finally, to give you an indication of how much the virus has affected the travel industry, 96% of all destinations around the world have introduced some sort of travel restriction.

Kim Napier: It's been tough. Our first guest in this episode is Malia Everette. She is the founder of AltruVistas, which focuses on philanthropic travel. In fact, I'll let her tell you what she does.

Malia Everette: Basically, we're a socially responsible philanthropic travel company. So we basically power and run other folks, if you will, their own travel programs. So we've run them for universities that have a curriculum or high schools or middle schools.

Malia Everette: Usually it has a little bit of a social justice or human rights curriculum. And then the rest of them are either for private businesses, yoga and wellness or women's businesses in particular. Often we also run photographic journeys. And then the others are for organizations that use them as fundraisers or radio stations, for example.

Malia Everette: And so the idea is behind that triple bottom line and betting the entire supply chain, we make sure that the majority of the money always stays to benefit local economy and does good in that way. From hotels or bed and breakfasts or lodges and the like too. Oh my gosh, although restaurants are places we decided to bring people to when they're shopping and different organizations and the like. So yeah, it's just one of those things where we just make sure that, again, the majority of money benefits local tourism, local economy.

Phil Sylvester: And that, of course, has all ground to a halt.

Malia Everette: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. It's been, of course, devastating for our service providers whether you're in Quito or locally here in the Bay area. We had a bunch of trips set up right now for New Orleans, also for San Francisco. We had trips that were canceled from the Balkans to Costa Rica. And, of course, a lot to Cuba. About half of our business is in Cuba actually.

Phil Sylvester: Can I just say, I hope you're taking note on how she's pronouncing those places. Are you?

Kim Napier: I did actually. I'm seeing a lot of articles pop up about philanthropy and what a tough time it is. What are you saying to your philanthropists?

Malia Everette: Yeah, we've been really blessed overall because of the nature of our relationships are... I mean, a lot of ways they're of course long term. And so even though a lot of the trips themselves have canceled, the good faith and the good effort behind those relationships means that most of the clients have postponed.

Malia Everette: But of course, they're all scrambling and looking for other ways to generate, one, I would say still liquidity within their organization and funding. And then the second is alternative ways to connect and build relationships even though we're all physically distanced from each other.

Malia Everette: So I've seen people go to these Zoom calls like we're doing now, to online chats, to doing virtual tours. And visiting with funders and visiting with groups that they themselves have been funding or supporting.

Malia Everette: So I think people are trying to move the way that, of course, we still feel connected and still finding creative ways to share stories. I'm a member of, we call it [barriers 00:05:32] Women. Women leaders in sustainable tourism. And we have people, like the founder of WildChina who, of course, does mostly inbound outbound China. So she was talking about expecting the recovery to take about a year and a half.

Malia Everette: Others from mountain lodges of Peru and other groups. And we're also saying that they're anticipating the impact to be at least a year. We have a few trips still of our programs still kind of on the books for the fall. But I'm expecting those to probably cancel.

Phil Sylvester: And the bizarre thing is, that circumstance makes what you do even more important for the people who are going to be stranded without any income.

Malia Everette: Yeah, exactly. We've tried to be really flexible to all of our both clients and customers and others. And refund wherever we can but a lot of the hotels and others haven't been able to refund us quickly. As you know, through the entire supply chain, it's a really challenging moment. But yeah, it's really challenging.

Malia Everette: And a lot of the small organizations, like I think about the supply chain. For example, we've worked with seaturtles.org, an amazing organization. We do their trips in [Hua 00:06:51] also with Oceanic Society. We run their trips in Hua. And they themselves in their model of bringing these eco-tourists there, they give so much money away to different local community projects in Mexico and Cuba and all over.

Malia Everette: And so I just know that they're really going to be really, really challenged both in the north, the global north, in terms of the United States. But also for their projects that they're funding for conservation in other places.

Malia Everette: And that's what I'm really worried about too is who's taking care of the sea turtles on the beach at night and their eggs? So there's that whole supply chain down that it does affect both the ecology from that ecotourism management point of view as well.

Kim Napier: When we start moving again, a lot of people have said, "We will think differently about how we will travel. We'll do it slowly, we'll do it sustainably and we will do it ethically." So do you think that space will recover sooner rather than later?

Malia Everette: You're right. And in a lot of ways I've seen that shift over the last decade. I mean I got involved with human rights or advocacy based travel in the 90s, from the US context. Right. So, I've seen that shift of consciousness where people started to understand more about sustainable tourism both benefiting people and place.

Malia Everette: I think with this kind of massive pandemic, global pandemic, there is more of a global consciousness and a global awareness. And I hope that affect the way people actually put money, where their values are. How they vote with their wings. Right.

Malia Everette: And so I think for a lot of people, well I think more and more people will start to make those more ethical choices and ask, "Who owns you? How much money goes to support that local economy." Yeah. We'll see what happens as the industry ebbs and flows and both with the airlines.

Malia Everette: And yeah, from a philanthropic point of view, I know a lot of people who I normally give to. I give a 100 bucks here, 1000 bucks there and now I'm like, I can do $10 a month. So it's definitely impacting a lot of, I think, the working class, working families and middle class.

Kim Napier: Very true. And charities and projects, et cetera, Phil, need our help more than ever, including Eco-Soap Bank. This is really cool. They're addressing the critical need for hygiene in developing countries, which is being hounded home as we battle coronavirus. And I spoke to the founder Samir Lakhani.

Samir Lakhani: Well, we do a simple but very powerful thing in my humble opinion. We employ women all across the world to recycle leftover hotel soap, which we then redistribute predominantly to children along with hygiene education. And every single year, Kim, we reach 1.4 million children with the hygiene and education they need to keep themselves healthy and happy.

Kim Napier: Well, you're top of mind at the moment because we're all being told around the world to make sure that we wash our hands. It's a simple message, but not so easy in some countries.

Samir Lakhani: It's an understatement for sure. It's like we've woken up to a reality where hand-washing is top of mind and for the very first time in six years after starting Eco-Soap Bank, finally, our advocacy and our mission is resonating. Yes, now is the critical time to start washing our hands. But you know what, Kim? We're not very good at it to be honest.

Kim Napier: In terms of physically doing it or just not doing it at all?

Samir Lakhani: In terms of compliance and also in terms of the supply. So two things I want to touch on. Number one, a recent study done here in the US by the University of Michigan, yielded that only 5% of Americans wash their hands correctly after using the bathroom. So this is a hot time to re-educate, if you will, a lot of people on how to wash their hands appropriately and also to address misconceptions.

Kim Napier: Well, walk us through that. I have seen you on Facebook explaining how you should wash your hands. But for those people listening, how do you do it?

Samir Lakhani: Well, hard to do just through audio, but I would say there's a couple of things that need to be pointed out. Number one, the length of time is one of the most important factors. The length of time and friction is the most important.

Samir Lakhani: So the best way is to talk about how soap actually works. Bacteria and viruses, like the coronavirus, they attach themselves to the oils found on our hands and skin. And what soap actually does is not kill those bacteria and viruses, but it does one better. It completely removes the oil. Therefore, it completely removes the bacteria and viruses from your hands and washes it down drain.

Samir Lakhani: And so that is quite a magnificent event but it only can occur after 20 seconds of thorough hand washing with friction. Places like the backs of your thumbs, the backs of your hands, your wrists, under your fingernails. These are hot spots for potential infection.

Samir Lakhani: So we can all do our part in preventing the spread of this virus. You know, in a place like Liberia or a place like Rwanda, only one to 2% of households have access to soap for hand washing. This is something frankly we take for granted here in the west.

Kim Napier: So are you going back into those communities and reminding them of how important it is now to continue the hygiene?

Samir Lakhani: Yes. So we have a lot of viruses and a lot of diseases to contend with in addition to coronavirus and it's impending spread. Hand washing with soap could save millions of lives every single year. And now we're definitely seeing it in real time.

Samir Lakhani: We are going back into these communities and reemphasizing that hand washing is so vitally important, but we're doing one step better. We are connecting poor families in countries, like South Africa in slums and Rwanda and Nepal and Lebanon and Cambodia, with the actual resources they need to keep themselves and their families healthy.

Kim Napier: We know the hospitality industry has taken a hit during this time. That's where you source your soap. Has that been an issue for you Samir?

Samir Lakhani: So, being a millennial driven startup, it was very important for us to embed in our DNA that we were going to be part of sustainable tourism and part of a circular economy. All that is to say that we don't make a virgin soap. We save soap from going to landfills. Now, just very quickly, before the coronavirus pandemic, Kim, how many bars of soap do you think were thrown away per day?

Kim Napier: Oh, I do like questions like this. This is worldwide?

Samir Lakhani: Worldwide per day.

Kim Napier: Oh, I wouldn't even like to hazard a guess. Obviously a lot.

Samir Lakhani: Yeah, it's a lot. It's 5 million bars per day thrown away by the global hotel industry. What that means is that that's over 2 billion bars of completely usable soap that is going straight into landfills.

Samir Lakhani: And so our mission from day one was to stop the flow of soap from hotels into landfills. And to redirect them to economically disadvantaged women in countries in Africa and Asia to recycle this soap and give it to children and teach them how to use it.

Samir Lakhani: So back to your former question, Kim. Yes. Our supply has certainly taken a hit as the global hotel industry suffers from this pandemic. But I'll tell you one thing, we don't discriminate against different types of soap. We're now starting conversations with large soap manufacturers in factories asking if they have any soap waste from their manufacturing lines. And what we have found, Kim, is that soap factories waste on average 10% of their production, which translates into billions of bars of it's soap equivalent.

Kim Napier: So you've uncovered something thanks to the pandemic?

Samir Lakhani: We've found a treasure trove of soap. However, it's going to take a large movement and it's going to take a lot of advocacy to be able to collect all that soap. And so really one thing that's top of mind for Eco-Soap Bank right now is to have as many conversations with soap factories all over the world to ensure that no soap waste is sent to landfills, but is redirected to some of the hardest hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic.

Kim Napier: Heaps of links on how you can support Eco-Soap Bank in show notes.

Phil Sylvester: That's a great idea, isn't it?

Kim Napier: Isn't it? It's great.

Phil Sylvester: Fantastic. Look, if you've got a story you'd like to share with us, you can email us at [email protected]

Kim Napier: Well, we mentioned New York earlier in the episode. And next time we speak, we'll talk to travel writers in lockdown there where nearly 14,000 people have died from the virus. Bye.

Phil Sylvester: Stay safe people. Bye.

Speaker 2: The World Nomads podcast. Explore your boundaries.

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