Lending a hand in Hawaii

Flight Centre Travel Group recently held its annual Global Gathering in Hawaii celebrating the year’s top achievers and rewarding the best of its best. With Bill Clinton as the keynote speaker and Duran Duran the surprise musical performers, it’s no wonder this is what everyone works towards – an invitation to this extraordinary weekend is without question the most sought after ticket all year. But for the past two years, another aspect of the Global Gathering is building steam as a major highlight proving that “play hard” attitude aside, Flighties have big hearts to match.

The Flight Centre Foundation was established at its company headquarters in Australia in 2008 and is now also present in several of the countries where the company operates including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and South Africa. Last year alone the Flight Centre Foundation donated a total of $2.9M to a number of select partner charities worldwide proving not only the company’s commitment to its community social responsibilities, but also that giving back is an important part of its DNA.

While firmly believing that one person truly can make a difference in the world, the Flight Centre Foundation quickly recognized that the annual Global Gathering provided an opportunity to harness the passion and energy of several hundred. Two years ago, the Gathering was held in Singapore and the Foundation teamed up with the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Stop Hunger Now and the Singapore Tourism Board to help the local food bank. In a matter of hours 274 Flighties representing 9 different countries volunteered to help pack 30,000 nutritious meals that helped feed close to 100,000 people in need.

This year the Global Gathering descended upon Hawaii and the Flight Centre Foundation partnered with Hawaiian Airlines to assist Paepae o He'eia, a local non-profit organisation dedicated to caring for the 800 year old He’eia Fishpond which is vital to maintaining the local way of life and feeding surrounding communities. With 85% of the fish caught in the ocean being exported, Hawaiians rely on these types of Fishponds as a critical part of their food supply. The Fishponds also provide an important ecological purpose by allowing baby fish to reach maturity ensuring continuous harvesting in a sustainable manner.

The volunteers were put to work cutting and removing invasive mangroves which didn’t involve much skill but did involve a good amount of stamina and a positive attitude as they sloshed through mud and dirt with the hot Hawaiian sun beating down. Through this experience, not only was the group’s manual labour appreciated due to the community’s decision not to use machinery (i.e. bulldozers, etc), the volunteers themselves learned about the local culture and how visitors can make responsible purchasing decisions with respect to the local economy. For example, they’ll be hard pressed to ever order salmon that’s on the menu at a restaurant on the Hawaiian Islands and will hopefully spend a little more for local fish knowing that for a small premium they’re contributing to a sustainable future. Far from the more glamourous aspects of the Global Gathering which included beach parties and celebrity guests, the work at He’eia Fishpond was dirty, sweaty and tough. And every single person that participated wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

The work this organisation is doing may seem simple but its importance can’t be overstated. In a world where climate change, endangered species and human encroachment are increasing at an alarming rate, sustainability is fundamental to ensuring the future of the tourism industry let alone the future of our planet.

As a company that relies on travel and tourism, it’s important to remember that we also carry a considerable responsibility to educate ourselves as well as our clients on responsible tourism practices. Travelling to different countries isn’t just about ticking off bucket list sites, it’s about finding a connection with the local people and culture. By exposing ourselves to diverse ways of life, we strip away ignorance and build compassion truly uniting us as a global community.

Next year Flight Centre’s Global Gathering will be held in Berlin and anticipation is already building as to who will be speaking and who will be performing. But you can also be sure that there will be a big group of Flighties wanting to know what the charity project will be, ready to put their hand up when they find out they’ve been invited to the biggest party of the year.

For more images of the team and their progress at the fishpond, see our gallery.