Sustainable Tourism and Who’s Behind It

Who runs the world? today we’re featuring Kelley Louise. A travel entrepreneur passionate about storytelling and social good. Kelley runs two organizations: The Culture Collective, a creative agency for brands in the travel and impact space, and a nonprofit, Impact Travel Alliance, the world’s largest community for socially conscious travelers and travel professionals.


Tell me about yourself? (Personally and professionally)

I always say that at the core of everything I do, I am a storyteller, traveler and connector. As an entrepreneur, I wear a lot of hats – I run a boutique creative agency and also global nonprofit (both of which are in the travel/impact space), so I’m constantly on the move, meeting new people and exploring ways to be creative. My career stems from my infatuation with travel and making a positive difference, and I think a core part of my success is my love of meeting new and interesting people, as well as connecting them to one another.


How do you involved with Impact Travel Alliance

Kelley Louise | Slow Travel Story
The short story is that I created it, and (partially) by accident. The long story is that after I graduated from college, I took a trip to Uganda, where I worked as a content creator with a sustainable tourism company. This experience really opened my eyes to sustainable tourism – and how you can have a positive impact through an ordinary vacation (in Uganda, examples include such as gorilla trekking, learning to cook local cuisine, and spending time doing other culturally immersive experiences).

My trip to Uganda ended up being the catalyst to launch my freelance career, and served as a focus for what has driven my interests over the years. For my involvement with ITA, fast forward to 2015, when I took over Travel+SocialGood, which originally launched as what was intended to be a one-time summit. I built off of the momentum from a handful of one-off events, and grew it into the nonprofit it exists as today. I’ve been very much focused on community-building and feedback – I really wanted to build something that others were proud to be a part of. On one hand, it was an immense amount of work, but on the other, it grew very organically based off of a need I saw within the industry.

Last fall, I rebranded the organization to Impact Travel Alliance, a new name and feel which I hope really reflects the community that it has grown into today, and one where we hope to continue to grow toward.

My involvement in Sustainable Tourism stems from my desire to take the idea behind the initial event and turn it into something more lasting and impactful

My involvement in Sustainable Tourism stems from my desire to take the idea behind the initial event and turn it into something more lasting and impactful, and I worked to mold it into the organization it exists as today. We now have two core global conferences, local chapters and also a Media Network, all of which have been developed in an effort to push the industry toward a more impactful future through an inclusive community.


Can you share what your day-to-day looks like running the organization?

Sustainable Tourism Kelley Louise | Slow Travel Story
This changes constantly! I always have to remind people that I’m not full-time with the organization, because I think especially when you go to an event or land on our website, it doesn’t look like a side gig. So I’m constantly juggling my time between ITA and also my creative agency. When I’m in NYC, I spend my time at what essentially is an office job – I’m managing my team remotely, working to refine our messaging and branding, and also overseeing our events and progress around the world. In tandem, for my creative agency, I work with clients to develop their social media and digital marketing, so this could mean editing photos, crafting creative campaigns or building partnerships.

Travel+ Social Good | Slow Travel Story
When I’m not in NYC, which on average tends to be about 1-2 weeks of every month, I’m traveling, spending my time between press trips, working remotely and creating content. It sounds like a lot, but again, everything I do is focused on travel, sustainability and storytelling – and since I’m a people person and love building relationships – it usually ends up feeling like most of what I’m doing is simply connecting the dots.


Do you consider yourself as an influencer or an entrepreneur?

Impact Travel Alliance ATX | Slow Travel Story
First and foremost, I would consider myself an entrepreneur, because I feel like at the core of what I’m doing, I’m charting a path which hasn’t yet been explored. I have a vision of where I want to go, but being an entrepreneur means getting there might not always be what I expected, so I have to be open to pivots.

I don’t love the term influencer, but I do know I am sometimes classified in this category (and have booked gigs because of it). I think the term has started to have a negative connotation to it, just because your gut reaction is to think about a follower count, which doesn’t always translate to engagement. But if you think of influencer in terms of its most basic definition – someone who is able to influence – yes, I would categorize myself in this way.

I have always led with an honest and straightforward approach, and I often share my own experiences and opinions (even when it’s a less-than-perfect story). So I think people, especially the ITA community, hopefully really respect the work I’m doing and trusts my opinion, so I have managed to develop a level of influence in this way.


As the Executive Director of Impact Travel Alliance, what are three things people might not know about your role in this organization?

Travel+ Social Good Summit | Slow Travel Story

  1. I oversee a team of 200+ volunteers around the world, a feat that would not be possible without my core team members and local leaders who help me to oversee each of our projects.
  2. I’m driven by my desire to lead a purpose-driven life, and I am able to continue on this path (emotionally) because of the support of our community.
  3. I learn something new every day.


What are the most significant challenges, as a woman, holding a high powered position like you?

Only 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female, and also that there are more than 20,000 entrepreneur books on Amazon, but only 379 books for female entrepreneurs

Some of the challenges I face are universal to any entrepreneur – whether that be refining my organization’s message and mission, learning to pitch to investors or honing my leadership skills. But there are challenges that are unique to being a woman… some issues feel like they should be considered trivial, but are equally important, like being judged on what I wear when I’m at a speaking engagement (once, I was given feedback that someone didn’t think I was smart simply because of what I was wearing – a scenario that’s almost unheard of with a man). And then other problems are more masked and hidden, such as the fact that only 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female, and also that there are more than 20,000 entrepreneur books on Amazon, but only 379 books for female entrepreneurs (and put simply, in 2018, female entrepreneurs face challenges unique to women). Where are our mentors and resources? These issues are being talked about on an increasing basis, but, no matter our gender, we need to do more.


How do you overcome these fear and challenges to keep growing the business?

Jump off a cliff.


What are your recommendations for women who want to start their career in the tourism industry?

Find your tribe. Whether that’s through a community like Impact Travel Alliance, or somewhere like Wanderful or Girls LOVE Travel, there is a space (and a sisterhood) for you. Find people who believe in you, communities providing you with resources to advance your career, and those who will push you toward your potential.


Any professional book recommendation?

About a million and one 🙂

For those who find themselves procrastinating too often or can’t seem to find focus: Do Something by Mark Manson (this is actually an article – so you have no excuse to procrastinate on reading it).

(Click the image to start reading the book)

For those searching for the keys to success: Successful Women Think Differently by Valorie BurtonFor those who have too much going on: Present Over Perfect by Shauna NiequistFor those ready for greatness: You are a Badass by Jen Sincero (and then, You are a Badass at Making Money).

For those who need some nitty-gritty business tactics: The Freelancer’s Bible by by Sara Horowitz, and (take it with a grain of salt, but) The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss.

Photo: Kelley Louise and Impact Travel Alliance

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.