TravelJar: Meet the Upscale Tour Operator Mixing Conservation and Exploration

Libby White, director of experiences at TravelJar

The “experience economy” is on the rise and yet more and more people are concerned with the environment and overtourism. What is the responsible solution? Luxury Travel Advisor London correspondent Emily Goldfischer met with Libby White, director of experiences at TravelJar, a bespoke luxury expedition company, offering access to exotic locations and cultures while taking the utmost care to maintain and preserve the natural environment by including a charity component on every journey.

Here's a piece of our conversation with White:

Why did you start TravelJar?

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It came about as part of my own experience with a trip to Zambia in 2015, and I learned the treatment of the animals was not ethical, even though I thought I had done thorough research about my safari! After further investigation, I realized that the industry needed to do more—there was a gap in the market in terms of what can and should be done to support the local communities and the environment to make this kind of luxury travel viable and sustainable. I started TravelJar in 2017 with Jacques Rudolph, a former professional cricket player from South Africa who shared my passion, and my now-husband Andrew White, (who I actually met on my first Zambia trip), with a dream to do better.

What makes TravelJar different? 

Our core mission is to allow travelers access to unique experiences and destinations, but always with the conservation and community engagement woven organically into the journey. Each bespoke itinerary includes a charity component, ranging from sending guests along on rescue missions with David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, a wildlife crime and poaching prevention organization, and Rhino 911, a charity that provides emergency helicopter rescue to injured rhinos, to educational experiences with local schools in Africa, teaching them about preservation as well as social causes, such as Mabel, a sustainable feminine hygiene initiative. We only work with lodges, camps and companies that are committed to conservation, supporting local communities and reducing waste, so, as we grow into new destinations such as India, the Maldives and Seychelles, it will be through those types of organizations.

What are your most popular itineraries?

African safaris, particularly Zambia for a behind-the-scenes visit to the Elephant Orphanage Nursery Facility run by Game Rangers International. We also offer photographic journeys in Africa with award-winning wildlife photographer Nelis Wolmarans, a local expert who’s led over 100 gorilla expeditions. We also do many trips around South Africa and Cape Town, with the ability to visit ethical and organic wineries and farms, sampling farm-to-table dining along the way.

How do you work with travel advisors?

Just as travel advisors would work with other travel suppliers, we offer a commission for booking clients that want our custom itineraries and are committed to an ethical trip. Working through us, travel advisors can benefit from our deep knowledge, network of guides and lodging partners that are both luxurious and ethical, to provide their clients with the best possible trip.

Who is your typical client?

Someone looking for something different and meaningful, with the opportunity for a "hands-on" experience in conservation, education or both! Our clients range from 21 to 66 in age, but are usually in the 35 to 55 age range, either couples or families. We suggest children be eight or older for safaris, but that is not a rule. Before signing on clients, we do an in-person or Skype interview to see if what we offer is the right fit. 

What trends are you seeing in sustainable travel?

The demographics have shifted. We are seeing more older clients with a strong interest in the environment and commitment to conservation, not only “woke” Millennials. We are also beginning to see some regulation, so consumers can buy with confidence, such as the emergence of Positive Luxury, a ratings system for luxury brands across key areas: Governance, social and environmental frameworks, community investment and innovation.

What trends are you seeing on safaris? 

The Congo is emerging as the new hot place to see gorillas. There are now more than 700 rangers in the Congo and it is very safe with some amazing guides and new lodges.

What are your top tips for going on safari?

First off, pack light. Some of the safari planes are soft luggage only, so don’t plan to bring a big hard-backed suitcase. Most lodges do laundry for you, so you can pack less. However, Africa is actually colder than you think! Bring layers and dress warm for early departures. In some places, plastic bags are illegal (Kenya) don’t bring them. Once you arrive on safari, don’t get stuck on seeing one particular animal, it’s best to aim to see the Big Five to avoid disappointment; however, if you are interested in a particular animal, make sure that you have booked the right area. For example, Chobe is known for elephants; don’t book there if your main hope is to see a lion. Be safe, lodges take security very seriously and sometimes you can’t walk freely due to the wild animals—listen to the guides. Also, before you go, especially now, check with the State Department for travel advisories, though, of course, we stay on top of that and any visa and currency needs for our clients. 

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