Erika Garcia is using her decades of experience working in tourism to not only improve the lives of impoverished people throughout Latin America, but also to make people feel good, by doing good, and by offering the opportunity to take a vacation! Since becoming aware of Mexican soccer player Rafa Marquez’s foundation, and realizing the scope of impact he was able to make in areas suffering from social vices, over the last 7 years Garcia and her team have aligned themselves with over 20 high-profile foundations and non-profits from Mexico to Brazil, with the ones attached to household names being the most successful to date.
Getting involved with charity work was a very spontaneous decision for Garcia. She recalls being impressed by a Spanish Graduate student who was working with the Mayan community while getting a Masters in Sustainability and Social Work. For a year and a half, he along with a Mexican friend studied thirteen Mayan communities in four different states throughout the Mexican Caribbean. His goal was to have his work certified by the World Tourism Organization. After narrowing down the regions to just two and studying them, the students were able to determine the indigenous culture’s needs, what talents and resources they possessed, and how they could they help them become entrepreneurs by offering services while honoring and respecting their own traditions.
This is how Garcia learned about the project called Kanche. “I was so moved that I decided to sponsor them with my own money on a monthly basis. Then we helped them out not only with the logistics, but also with the legal aspects of receiving a client. What I mean by this is, if you have a group of tourists or press, and you are going to invite them on an adventure of exploring, hiking or zip-lining, you have to make sure that they have liability waivers, ensure that the activities are safe, and that the criteria and certifications are being met. The communities did not have this structure, so we helped them. We decided to create three types of tours; one for adventure, one for gastronomy — so clients could meet the Mayan communities and eat with them — and the third one was a cultural encounter with music, theater and art. The Mayan children would perform and sing, and the family of the children would also sell their handmade arts and crafts. We were able to sponsor the group for three years and that is how the charitable work began,” said Erika Garcia, president and founder of the boutique travel agency, Yucatan Holidays, and CEO of Marketing for Sunset Group and Premier Cancun Vacations.
These proceeds went far in helping Kanche become a sustainable tourism company, which eventually landed them accreditation from the Rainforest Alliance. Best of all, it was an example of inverted tourism; so instead of rural Mayans traveling hours to tourist zones where they’d dress in uniform and work five to six days a week away from their families, they were able to create an industry inside of their communities by attracting tourists to come to them.
These positive changes lead Garcia to seek out new opportunities, including sharing the Yucatan’s natural beauty to celebs such as Eva Longoria and Sofia Vergara. “Eva Longoria has always been very curious about Mexico, plus she likes to improve her Spanish and Sofia Vergara celebrated her birthday here with her family,” Garcia continues. “With the help of the Yucatan Tourism Council we managed to book Sofia Vergara a tour to Chichen Itza. She was interested in the Mayan culture and wanted to eat authentic Yucatan food, which of course we were able to provide. She was a very charming down-to-earth person,” said Garcia. Mingling with well-known people is something you’ll often see Garcia doing as she also supports Shakira’s Colombian Pies Descalzos Foundation, which provides education and meals for more than 4,000 impoverished children.
Garcia’s love for the one-of-a-kind culture found in the Yucatan and Quintana Roo combined with her desire to do more to help with struggling families, kids and adolescents throughout Latin America lead to launching Vacations for a Cause; a company that delegates a small portion of fees paid to hotels (when a guest books a reservation) to charitable causes. With this, her expertise in travel and marketing, while working with household names like Rafa Marquez and Shakira, came to benefit philanthropy. “I was also motivated to act when I became overwhelmed by the commitment our celebrity soccer players had after making it abroad, and their obligation to give back to their communities by creating foundations and centers. When we saw what they were doing with the kids we decided to sponsor them. So what came about for me as my personal commitment to give back was not only to do so with money, but also visiting these foundations and centers to better understand the programs we were assisting,” said Garcia. Being on location in these various areas gave Garcia an up close and first hand look at who Vacations for a Cause was benefiting and how. It also taught her how to be a better liaison, how to create a stronger platform for fundraising money, and allowed her to donate a percentage of the profit from the campaigns, which is tax deductible, and at the same time helps those who really need it.
It’s quite plausible that people would be happier and healthier if they took a vacation, yet last year alone approximately 42% of Americans didn’t take a single vacation day while other statistics show that Americans tend to only use half of their vacation days, indicating they’re too busy at work to leave. Garcia suggests that taking time off should be as easy as A-B-C-D. Meaning, A – Agree to go on vacation; B – Book direct; C – Put the dates in the calendar and D – Check the desires. Then ask yourself these questions: Are you celebrating anything special? Or do you just need to get away? Also, take note of three mistakes to avoid while on vacation: 1 – Paying for it (meaning use your allotted vacation days); 2 – Not buying direct (better to book through the hotel as they pay 24-32% to online companies like Expedia and Travelocity); 3 – Not doing good while on vacation.
So take a vacation!
Garcia has learned that, by using the philanthropic standards and criteria accepted worldwide we recognize how much of an impact charity work has. “Social franchising gives you an opportunity to franchise a methodology and a proven system so you can reach specific economic social objectives. So what you are doing is investing in the outcomes. These programs or models will help reduce the child mortality rate and decrease the percentage of teen pregnancies, while allowing adolescent women to rise above the poverty level. On the other hand, another social outcome is for kids to have nutrition, education and sports. This is what Vacations for a Cause is investing in, and these investments have proven outcomes,” said Garcia. This type of traveling creates consciousness so people can feel good not only about taking a vacation but about working with a company that donates a percentage of what they spend on worthy causes!
For more information contact Claudia de la Rosa, email@example.com