The classic Israeli passions for technology, social justice and world travel all converged in the soul of Michal Alter and led her to start visit.org, an online marketplace for booking tours and activities that benefit communities.

Using the visit.org platform, visitors can add short-term, affordable immersive local experiences to their existing travel itineraries in more than 30 countries.

Distinct from voluntourism or service trips, visit.org experiences are intended to introduce travelers to community-based nonprofit organizations while raising awareness and revenue for those organizations’ causes.

“It could be a walking tour or a workshop, ” Alter tells ISRAEL21c in a Skype call from visit.org’s New York office. “It could be a few days in a biodiversity research institute in the Amazon forest, a day with a coffee-farming cooperative in Guatemala, or a two-hour baking class in Harlem with a program that trains immigrant women to become professional bakers.”

 

A Xhosa woman seen on a village tour conducted by the community-based cooperative Mdumbi Backpackers in South Africa. Proceeds support the local community. Photo courtesy of visit.org

Before visit.org, she says, there was no centralized marketplace to promote these types of engaging visit experiences.

“It’s about human interaction; about learning from the locals.This is a highly fragmented market that is not easy for people to access on their own. That’s where our innovation lies.”

Individuals or groups can use visit.org to browse among hundreds of community-based organizations based on location, time and issue area. Visit.org charges travelers a 20 percent fee on top of every online booking. Gift cards are available.

“Online payment streamlines the process for both sides, and our partners get 100% of their asking price, ” says Alter. “Those partners not yet online are paid directly by the user.”

All listed organizations are identified and vetted by visit.org’s international staff to assure that they have a track record of positive impact and agree to invest revenue generated from visit.org tours into programs that benefit the local community.

“We spend a lot of time helping these nonprofits build programs and attractive, safe itineraries, deciding price points and making sure they run these programs so they are profitable for them and benefit the local community, ” says Alter.

“We want to make sure visitors have a good experience so a large portion of them will become long-term supporters of the organizations they visited. We see that 30 percent of our users book another experience within a week of coming home. People find these added-on experiences are the most memorable part of their trip.”

Visit.org’s new ambassador program trains travelers to go on pilot trips to potential partner organizations. They share photos and stories of their encounters on social networks and provide fresh content for the organizations through blog posts and other content that visit.org distributes.

Visitors at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in New York,   which uses tour proceeds to promote a sustainable food system. Photo courtesy of visit.org

Alter, now in her late 30s, traveled extensively in Latin America and Southeast Asia after her military service in Israel. “During those prolonged trips my most memorable experiences were related to local communities and cultures and the relationships I managed to build, ” she says.