An Interview with Erick Gustavo Miranda

Earlier this year, the marketing campaign Vacaciones con Causa (or Vacations for a Cause) became an official foundation. So instead of just creating alliances with celebrity-owned foundations throughout Mexico and Latin America, VCC is now able to generate its own revenue and make a bigger impact through philanthropy. Started by Erika Garcia, four years ago, VCC has worked with over 20 high-profile foundations and non-profits, with the ones attached to household names being the most successful to date. I had the opportunity to interview her son, Erick Gustavo Miranda, who recently became the foundation’s President. We spoke about his new role in the company, how traveling to Mexico and staying at one of their all-inclusive resorts directly improves children’s lives, and the recent event with professional soccer player, Juan Mata.

How’d you become involved with this type of work?
I am proudly Erika Garcia’s son and I’ve been involved in the hotel and tourist industry since I was very young. I’ve worked in all the areas of the hotel, including in the sales and marketing departments. In order to promote the destination of Cancun, and to bring people to Mexico, our marketing strategy was to create alliances with other foundations and with celebrities. That’s when I had the idea to create our own foundation and do all those alliances through our foundation.

Cool! What were you doing before you started working for Vacations for a Cause?
n Mexico we have the CPTM, Mexico Promotional Board, via which I interned at The World Travel Mart in London, for 2 years. This experience allowed me a behind the scenes look of the dynamics of how money is allocated for tourism promotion. In Mexico we have the Official Tourism Board, which decides where to spend the money from the Secretary of Tourism. So while in London I got a behind the scenes look at where the money gets spent.

What’s your role now?
As President of the Foundation, I decide in which areas our focus will be and where to spend the revenue. And I also get to appear at all the local events!

What does Vacations for a Cause mean to you?
For me personally, it’s something very powerful because you’re doing many things in one action – you’re enjoying yourself by traveling to another county, and vacationing with family, all while helping. For the client, it’s perfect. And for the area of Quintana Roo, it’s perfect, too, because by bringing customers into these areas of Mexico, it creates an economic impact with 15% of that going directly into a social action. So I see it as very positive activism!

Explain how your foundation works and whom it benefits.
It’s an alliance with celebrities in three areas – sports, culture and education. Once we align ourselves with a celebrity, we create a marketing strategy, which consists of making a video clip showing the celebrity enjoying the Caribbean Sea and various other beautiful regions. It’s basically an infomercial. Then we have a clip where myself or someone else will say, “This is Vacation for a Cause. For every packet you buy you enjoy Cancun and the Riviera Maya and at the same time you will be helping children in our foundations.” This clip will be shown on TV in more than 30 countries and on the Internet. We pay for this marketing for the foundation. Once the video clip is running, people start calling and buying the package and 15% goes directly to the foundation. Then we decide where to spend the money, and the focus is always on the youth, specifically children 18 and under. Like with Juan Mata we did a sports event where we helped the most talented soccer players. When we see a vulnerable need that doesn’t fit in to those three categories we will also help. Like a few months ago we saw that there were kids in Cancun, who were basically homeless. This place that takes the kids in before going to an orphanage was really in bad shape, so we helped out, bought new beds, etc.

Tell me about getting involved with soccer.
I love soccer. And it’s a sport that gives you discipline, instead of doing something illegal in the streets or just not being productive. The only team in the Riviera consisted of players from all over and it was a franchise. So we decided to create and sponsor a local team with the name, Riviera Maya. The name really makes the children feel passion for the land and of their identity.

I’m sure it’s pretty rewarding to create and sponsor a team.
Yes! We have 60 kids on the team and we basically pay for everything so they can just enjoy and develop their skills. We provide trainers, uniforms, everything.

And your foundation recently sponsored an event where professional football (American soccer) player Juan Mata from Manchester United came to Cancun and Playa del Carmen to give kids 16 and under the opportunity to learn from a pro. How’d this idea come about?
From creating the team we realized that there are a lot of talented kids, but they don’t have the resources needed to be part of a club or to pay for the shoes or uniform so they stop playing. Even if they’re professional half their incomes are often stolen by someone who helped get them there, so it’s very hard. So when I became involved with the foundation I had the idea of having all these talented kids play together. What about the camp?Juan Mata has had camps in Miami and in the Dominican Republic and they cost $300 or $400 per kid. That’s too much money for the locals to pay, so we wanted to offer this, but for free. Yet if you do an event this big for free you’re going to have two to three thousand kids show up. So for a week before Juan came to Cancun we were doing tests with trainers and formats, to determine who was the best, and narrowed it down to 1000 kids. There were 500 selected from Cancun, 400 from Playa del Carmen and 100 from Cozumel who ended up getting to play with Juan.

Mexico does love football, but that turnout was incredible! What kind of experience were you hoping that the kids received from being part of the camp?
The kids were working with Spanish trainers with great soccer experience so they gained lots of tips and skills. They got to see that there is opportunity, but also learned that they must take advantage of this opportunity. But the most important part was the experience getting to know, speak with and play with a legend. For the kids it was a dream come true.

I can only image their excitement!
They were trying so hard to show Juan who was the best. I can’t even explain what the energy was like. In the end we raffled off some items from Juan and his teammates from Manchester and the kids were in tears, they couldn’t believe they had the jersey of the of the players they look up to, much less someone they were able to meet. Like I said, it was really a dream come true for these kids and one that they will remember for a very long time.

I’m sure the kids were all super happy and touched to meet such an influential soccer player, any stories you’d like to share?
Wow. There are so many stories. One in particular happened on the last day when we were deciding who was going to get chosen to be part of the camp. There was this kid, a defensive player. He was so good and he was having fun with Juan Mata. And Juan confirmed he was really good. All of a sudden the father comes to me almost crying. I know him because he washes cars in one of the buildings of our companies. He was telling me while crying, ‘Thank you, thank you, for choosing my kid.’ And I said, ‘Don’t thank me, thank yourself because you’ve been supporting your kid with the little you have, bringing him to practice and to events. And thank your son for having the talent! I’m just making this happen. You’re the one doing all the work.’

That’s such an amazing story, is there another one you want to share?
There’s a funny one. Juan Mata is not that tall, he’s actually very short and very skinny, but very talented. From watching him on television, we all thought he was going to be big and strong. So when he arrived we were all surprised. The kids were making jokes. It also made the kids feel more comfortable because as Mexicans we tend to be short.

Could an event like this serve as a scouting route for Mexican youth?
Yes, definitely. In order to find the best talent to play with Juan, we added some of these kids to our team here locally so we could see them play. Two are very talented kids who we want to send to Europe for tryouts.

How young can kids play professionally?
In Mexico, kids can play professionally at 13. To play oversees they have to be over 18 because of the laws, but they can do tryouts earlier.

This event, which took place in August, received a lot of attention from the press! Are there talks about doing more events like this in the future?
Yes, definitely. Next year we plan on doing another soccer event with different legend, but it’s too early to say whom quite yet. And monthly we’re doing a handful of events. Last weekend we sponsored a boxing match featuring local Mexican fighters, including one guy from Cancun. It appeared on ESPN, and had more than 100 million viewers. This week we’re sponsoring a 10k race in Cancun for Charlie & Friends. He’s been a fitness trainer for more than 20 years and he’s organizing a race to promote health. He needed assistance paying for gift bags and to close the streets so as a foundation we’re helping with these things. Additionally, we’ll be able to raise money to organize a free race for people who can’t pay.

Vacations for a Cause works with others celebrities, tell me about that.
We work directly with celebrities and foundations those celebrities own. Some of the celebrities that we’ve worked with are obviously Juan Mata and Mexican football (soccer) player Rafa Marquez. And we’ve worked with the foundations of Shakira, the Colombian singer, Juanes, the Latin singer, and Aryton Senna, Brazil’s greatest Formula One racecar driver. Although he’s passed we were able to work with his image. And we were invited to a private event in London in 2011. I was only 18 at the time and we had breakfast with President Clinton. Obviously he wasn’t going to appear in a video for us, it wasn’t a legal alliance but just being part of this, I was very proud.

I’m sure working with celebrities has increased awareness of Vacations for a Cause and the philanthropy work you all do, yes?
Working with a celebrity gives the cause more credibility. The public listens to a celebrity. And when the celebrities align themselves with us, it benefits them because they look philanthropic. And if they have a foundation it will get more exposure. With Rafa, in order to get a donation of $50,000 he might need to go to ten events, sign a bunch of shirts, give free tickets to the soccer game, etc. and the brand can exploit him, whereas when he works with us by simply doing a promotional video we can offer up to several hundred thousand dollars a year. So thanks to us, Rafa’s foundation grew tremendously and became much stronger. So working with celebrities helps them as much as it helps us.

Tell me about some of the ways each of these non-profits have been able to help underprivileged children in Spanish-speaking countries like Colombia and Mexico?
Although we work with very different programs, each of them focuses on improving the lives of children. In Brazil they are focused on education. Even though we were just helping, because they already had a very organized and professional structure in place, our money also assisted in making big changes we never expected like changing some of the primary school books. And Rafa he works with sports, soccer and nutrition. He has soccer teams but he makes sure they eat healthy with good nutrition. And Shakira she runs Pies Descalzos, which gives shoes away.

And all this is possible by utilizing a small percentage of the fee that guests pay to stay at one of all-inclusive hotels you all work with?
Yes. Cancun has two faces. The beautiful hotel zone with grand infrastructure, golf courses, everything is beautiful. But if you go past the hotel zone where the people who make all this happen it’s another Cancun. That difference doesn’t make sense. So we want to keep selling and improve these lives by putting 15% back there. As long as we grow we will keep helping more. We have goals to align with other companies to get even larger to make a larger impact. Not many companies can give 10% of their income to a foundation, but we’re going to try. By next year I want to have 40,000 people subscribing to the foundation. So I can go to the government and say I have 5,000 members don’t have running water, what are we going to do about it?

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