Philanthropic Investing for Destination Preservation

[Above, the rewards of philanthropic investing: the hotel’s restored library. Photos by Laszlo Karolyi.]

Impact Investing: How We Can Save Historic Buildings

The Cultura Manor hotel in Quito, Ecuador has won three awards before even opening, with more to come. I helped fund the restoration of this historic mansion, and now I’m getting bought out.

Exactly as planned.

Success in the art of Philanthropic Investing (PI) takes perseverance! Working in conjunction with the then Center for Sustainable Destinations at National Geographic, we coined the term (also known as “venture philanthropy”) in 2009 to form a group of philanthropists who believed in principles of quality travel development through investing, as distinguished from merely donating to local projects, which can be less effective.

The restored and newly opened Cultura Manor boutique hotel.

Its restoration complete after two decades of neglect, this former private club in Quito has now opened as the Cultura Manor hotel—a model of philanthropic investing for adaptive reuse.

Help for Developing-World Entrepreneurs
As I wrote when I introduced this project four years ago in my April 22, 2013 post, my dream for several decades had been to buy a small boutique hotel or ecolodge in a culturally unique region of the world and partner with an experienced local. This type of investing is not intended to enrich the diesem Link investors, but rather to help qualified hospitality owners succeed in their quest to bring the world authentic and unique travel experiences that would meet many of the original National Geographic geotourism standards in culture, ecology, aesthetics, and authenticity.

A room in the manor, pre-restoration. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

A room in the manor, pre-restoration. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

A key PI element was an unusual written requirement: The operator has the right to exercise an option to buy out the investor as soon as the project has stabilized, and to do so at a very reduced rate of return. Then, according to the PI concept, the investor would use that principle and profit to invest in another qualified project.

Now, the seven-year Cultura Manor project has reached that stage. When we began, the mansion was occupied by squatters and in total disrepair. Demolition was very possible. Now the hotel has been awarded the #1 new tourist project in Quito. It was also honored for Historical Restoration and won a United Nations grant to provide organic produce for its restaurant on the roof of a new addition.

A lounge features artwork by Ecuadorean artist nametk.

The lobby features artwork by Ecuadorean artist Gonzalo Anagha.

The main facility is open for business, and the operating partner is in the process of finalizing the government-backed loan to buy out us investors and construct the addition. We could not be more proud to be part of the opening of one of the most interesting and beautiful boutique hotels in the world.

A Model to Follow

I think it can serve as the model to launch a global movement to fund sustainable hospitality projects that follow established geotourism principles.

So now the question is how to we capitalize on this excellent base we have created?

Upstairs at the Cultura Manor.

Upstairs at the Cultura Manor.

We are looking for the next worthy project to lend our support. Whether you are a potential investor, an operator in need, or just someone who has a particular passion for sustainable tourism, we would like to hear from you about your vision.

You can contact us through

[Editor’s note—UPDATE: Since this post, the Destination Stewardship Center is pleased to have provided the connection for a potential new philanthropic investment project, this time in Cuenca, Ecuador. Stay tuned.]

How to CARE for a Place: Lessons from Cape Cod

[Above: Corporation Beach, Dennis, Cape Cod. Photo: CARE for the Cape and Islands]

My inspiration for launching a destination travelers’ philanthropy program for Cape Cod, Massachusetts originated in distant Monteverde, Costa Rica. After participating in the Third International Travelers’ Philanthropy Conference conducted there by the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) in 2011, I had the opportunity to see the Monteverde travelers’ philanthropy program firsthand. I noticed many similarities to my own home on Cape Cod. Both depended on tourism. Both shared the need to help educate and engage visitors and residents in the preservation of our own special place.

Wampanoag Wetu

A representative of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe explains construction and use of the wetu, a domed hut. Photo: CARE

Founded in 2012 as a nonprofit, CARE (Creating A Responsible Environment) for the Cape and Islands has an advisory board comprised of prominent Cape Cod residents, while its fiscal sponsor and mentor is the CREST. CARE‘s objectives are two-fold:
1) To raise funds from vacationers, residents, and tourism-related businesses to assist specific environmental and cultural-heritage conservation projects in the region, and
2) to assist visitors, residents, and businesses in developing a greater appreciation for and a deeper connection to the region’s unique and fragile natural beauty, native plant, marine and wildlife habitats, culture, and history through education and hands-on experiences.

Herring Cove Whale Exhibit

Education signage on whale habitat, Herring Cove, Provincetown—CARE’s first funded project. Photo: CARE

To date we have funded 15 projects throughout Cape Cod. Cultural-heritage projects have included the development of the Hyannis Sea Captains’ Row Trail and map. Another was the Waquoit Bay Reserve Wampanoag wetu construction and education project, based on local Native American life-ways and estuaries that highlight the connection between people and the environment. Environmental projects have included marine plastics reduction, whale habitat education, a water-quality shellfish aquaculture demonstration project, development of a green-practices video, and installation of water bottle filling stations at the Cape Cod National Seashore.

As I reflect upon the past four years I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from development and management of CARE for the Cape and Islands. Unlike the programs in Monteverde and the state of Oregon, CARE does not have a supportive organization with an existing funding source. We have learned that it takes time – five years or more – to grow this type of community fund into a vehicle for raising significant financial contributions. Time is required to educate businesses before they are willing to be supportive and get involved in fundraising and volunteering programs. Many businesses have been reluctant to ask their guests or visitors for donations. CARE has found that packaging a donation into the visitor’s hotel room or inviting them to donate online prior to their arrival has been more successful.

CARE Cape Day_2014 217

Volunteer painters at our first annual CARE for the Cape Day. Photo: Judith Selleck

Additionally, I encourage other destinations to find key local partners to work with, to be flexible, and to be extremely persistent. Given the range of business types and sizes, a one-size-fits-all approach will not succeed. Finding a strong and enthusiastic board and supportive network will aid in the speed and success of the program. And finally, I advise to Educate, Educate, and Educate. While many believe this kind of community fund is a worthwhile concept, it takes a while for businesses to fully understand it and decide how they wish to participate.

To learn more, visit CARE for the Cape and Islands. We are accepting grant applications for 2016 projects through Dec. 31, 2015.

Tourism Conflict in the Galápagos

[Above: Souvenir blue-footed boobies for sale in a Puerto Ayora shop, Galápagos. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

A squabble over gift-shop tourist dollars on Santa Cruz island is now threatening to close the renowned, if often troubled, Charles Darwin Research Station, whose work is fundamental to helping keep the islands’ ecosystems as healthy as possible under difficult conditions, including soaring tourism rates. Please read my complete post on the topic at National Geographic Voices.

There has been an unfortunate history of distance between the Research Station and the Puerto Ayora community at its doorstep. One has to wonder: If there had been a geotourism stewardship council in place—with representatives from government, the Research Station, and the retail community all at the table—could this politically motivated impasse been avoided?

Philanthropic Investing

Nurturing Boutique in a Chain World

My dream for several decades had been to buy a small boutique hotel or ecolodge in a culturally unique region of the world and partner with an experienced local. When I sold my company and became aware of the Center for Sustainable Destinations (then the custodian of the geotourism movement put forth by the National Geographic Society), my family became one of the first donors of both funding and pro bono research.


Restoration with the help of philanthropic investors will turn this timeworn mansion in Quito, Ecuador into an atmospheric boutique hotel. Photo courtesy László Károlyi

We traveled to Croatia, Costa Rica, St. Croix, Ecuador, and the Bahamas in a quest to find the best opportunity to demonstrate a model/prototype project to NGS. This project would have to include the necessary geotourism requirements.  Continue reading

U.S. Budget Cuts Are Stunningly Blind

A guide to the sequester for the legitimately baffled.

If you thought “sequester,” the American method of government budget-cutting, sounds incredibly stupid, you’re wrong. It’s stupider than that.

What will the sequester do?

What will the sequester do? Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

To achieve the noble goal of reducing federal spending, the sequester that goes into effect at midnight demands blind, across-the-board budget cuts of nine percent or more from nearly all agencies. A most ignoble method.

Let’s compare that to an overweight person, who has failed to diet. Continue reading