The tourism industry accounts for approximately 10 percent of the world’s workforce, and the ripple effects felt by other industries are profound. Tourism can be an incredible force for good but implemented improperly, it can also do a lot of damage. One of the most powerful ways to encourage sustainable development through tourism is by supporting local social enterprises and initiatives, encouraging local communities to tell their own stories, and helping travelers become stewards of environmental and cultural preservation. This is the idea behind Rooted, a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainable tourism, responsible storytelling, and social impact founded by JoAnna Haugen. Serving those who work in the tourism industry, Rooted’s mission is to responsibly document, support, celebrate, and share sustainable travel initiatives that put communities first — and help others do the same.
What is Rooted about?
Rooted is a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainable tourism, responsible storytelling, and social impact. It serves and brings together three primary audiences working in the tourism industry: travel service providers (like destination representatives and tour operators), content creators (like influencers and travel writers), and travel-related social enterprises and innovations. Through Rooted, these audiences have access to free resources, articles, courses, and other offerings that emphasize the importance of working together with the end goal of showcasing local communities, their social initiatives, and their stories.
When sustainable tourism is focused on supporting local communities on their terms and through their perspectives, it is more economically beneficial, contributes toward sustainable development, and can empower travelers to make positive changes in their own lives. This is a tourism model that is a win-win-win for travelers, the destinations where people travel, and those working in the travel industry.
Why did you start this initiative?
I have worked as both a consumer-focused travel writer and in communication on the industry side of tourism. From both the B2C and B2B sides, I’ve seen how messaging and storytelling can be harmful in the travel context, such as through word choices (like “Instagram-worthy”), emphasis or exclusion of certain activities or experiences, or tactics used to get travelers to act a certain way. On the flip side of this, messaging and storytelling can be incredibly powerful when used responsibly and mindfully. Part of that includes amplifying and elevating local initiatives that are doing important and meaningful work, especially in a way that can be experienced by travelers or that travelers can learn from. I established Rooted to help the travel industry understand the power of responsible storytelling and to boost travel-related social initiatives, both of which contribute toward sustainable tourism.
How did you come up with the idea? What creative or collaborative process was involved?
My own observations and experiences were the impetus behind Rooted. More than 15 years ago, I served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in rural Kenya, and on numerous occasions, I saw the people in my own village come up with creative solutions to the problems they encountered. The idea that solutions born at the local level are often the best ones has always stuck with me. Yet most people don’t know about these creative, locally born solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues because they don’t have exposure, big marketing budgets, etc. The goal is to solve the problem. I’ve encountered many of these kinds of initiatives related to tourism, and if travel service providers and content creators tapped into them, these initiatives could continue to do good for the world while supporting the local community and getting more exposure plus more financial support through the tourism funnel.
What were you afraid of at the beginning and how (if at all) did you overcome your fear?
I was never afraid, just overwhelmed. I have a lot of ideas for how to grow and expand on this idea, but I am limited to hours in the day and the fact that I am a single person. I hired a business coach early on to help me focus, which has helped a lot.
What were the beginnings of the initiative?
Initially, I set out to establish thought leadership in this area. That’s still a big part of what I do through Rooted, because talking about and demonstrating what this idea looks like in practice within the industry is, in part, how it will catch on. But more than just talking about this important intersection of sustainable tourism, storytelling, and social impact, I realized I had to help people learn how to put this framework into place.
How did you attract public attention to the issue you wanted to tackle and make others believe in your purpose and potential?
I’ve been connected with the tourism industry for a long time, so I started by developing a newsletter and using social media to tap into my network. I’ve since launched a website, established resources that help people understand how to put these ideas into practice, and spoken on podcasts and at conferences about Rooted’s mission and why it’s important. I’m also constantly sending cold emails to introduce myself and the work I’m doing to people I think might be interested. This is an ongoing journey, and I don’t think I’ll ever be done trying to convince others that the purpose and potential of Rooted are important.
How did you make sure that your idea actually fits the needs of the users?
Admittedly, I didn’t. But, especially in my work on the industry side, I could see the importance of advocating for responsible storytelling in tourism. I was fielding far too many press releases flouting “bucket list” attractions and the like, and these press releases were bumping up against tourism trends like over-tourism and last-chance tourism, which were devastating local communities and cultures. I knew there had to be a better way, and there is. If tourism truly is going to be a force for good, it needs to be done sustainably, and that includes not racing for the bottom line and understanding how the messages we put out into the world can cause damage.
How did you raise the money for your idea, and what is your advice for others considering DIY fundraising?
There is no money coming into Rooted right now. I built Rooted because I knew there was a need for it. Money never factored into the equation. I know that for my work to be sustainable, though, I need to make money from the venture, so I’m launching my first paid courses soon, and I have other monetization strategies in the pipeline. This was one of the things my business coach has helped me with.
How did you scale your initiative, and what tips for scaling could you share?
I am working on establishing partnerships and collaboration in the tourism industry because right now I am one person. For now, I’m working on building up visibility for Rooted, developing resources for these audiences, and finding travel-related social enterprises to highlight. Eventually, I hope to hire a business manager so I can be more strategic with the work I’m doing and to help establish those partnerships and collaborations that will help me scale.
How did you change the whole system?
The idea of mass tourism focused on “beds in heads.” Though the industry is moving away from that model, it still hasn’t recognized the importance responsible storytelling plays in sustainable tourism. Helping people understand why that’s important and how to implement it in a way that puts local people — and not travelers — first changes the entire tourism paradigm.
What is the one piece of advice you can give to an aspiring social innovator?
Hiring a business coach to help me find clarity with my idea was essential. I knew what I wanted to do and say, but I didn’t know-how. She has been instrumental in helping me prioritize, set goals, and holding me accountable as I develop Rooted. If you have the financial means and a great idea but don’t know where to start, I suggest hiring a business coach.
JoAnna Haugen is a solutions-oriented writer, editor, and public speaker working at the intersection of sustainable travel, environmental conservation, and community-based advocacy efforts. She is also the founder of Rooted.
For more than a decade, she has written for and collaborated with publications, development organizations, and international brands to amplify people, projects, and news in an increasingly noisy world. Her work has been published in more than 60 print and online publications including Fast Company, Mongabay, CNN Go, BBC Travel, Popular Science, Sustainable Brands, and AdventureTravelNews. JoAnna has led conference sessions, participated in panel discussions, held workshops in professional and academic settings, and offered expertise on radio shows and podcasts. An American expatriate living Kyiv, Ukraine, JoAnna is a returned Peace Corps volunteer, international election observer, and passionate world traveler — all of which inform her work.
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