Americans usually visit developing countries for one of two reasons: They want to kick their feet back at a resort, or they want to try to help build things like wells or schools as part of a mission trip.
Profits earned by many resorts, though, often help outside corporations, not the local economy, and visitors seldom see much of the surrounding country beyond the confines of the resort.
And mission trips, while well-intended, do not always offer the kinds of long-term changes that communities need.
Kate and Jonathan Coleman want to give tourists a third options: Experience new countries through the lens of the people who live there.
The Colemans recently launched a company called Intentional Tours to help them carry out this mission. The business is a for-profit social enterprise that the couple runs in addition to working their full-time jobs. Kate Coleman is a workplace consultant and Jonathan Coleman is co-executive director of the Lancaster nonprofit Assets.
The company ran its first tour, to Kenya, in mid 2017 through a partnership with a college group. It has two more trips planned for 2018: a second Kenya tour, open to the public, and a trip to the Dominican Republic for members of the Lancaster Young Professionals.
“Our goal is to provide travelers with the enjoyment and relaxation of an all-inclusive resort, as well as the life-changing cross-cultural experience of a volunteer or missions trip,” Jonathan Coleman said. “But we want to do it in a way that is empowering to local communities and supports local economies.”
Both Colemans have deep roots in international travel. Jonathan Coleman holds an MBA in international economic development from Eastern University, and Kate Coleman has a master’s degree in international development form the same school.
Jonathan Coleman used that education to do economic development work in places like the Dominican Republic, while his now-wife did consulting and program coordination work stateside, including facilitating international experiences for college students.
The couple settled in Lancaster when Jonathan Coleman joined Assets about four-and-a-half years ago, but both still held on to their appreciation for cultures that many Americans ignore or even fear.
They channeled that passion into Intentional Tours. Itineraries for trips booked through the company will revolve around shopping and eating at local shops and restaurants, using locally owned transportation and, when possible, seeking out socially and environmentally responsible businesses.
Each trip will also include some kind of “home-stay” experience, like a meal with a local family or an overnight stay in someone’s home.
The company plans to keep a pulse on local happenings in order to keep its groups safe, both through working with international travel resources and through constant communication with local connections.
The Colemans tested their travel model during the 2017 Kenya trip. The trip’s itinerary offered diverse experiences, including seeing the vibrant startup scene in the city of Nairobi, spending an afternoon with members of a church in an upper-middle-class neighborhood and going on a safari hosted by a local company.
Participants also saw less affluent parts of the country, visiting a rural village where a group was trying to start a local microfinance program, and spoke with locals about issues like LGBT discrimination and tensions between the country’s Christians and Muslims.
Intentional Tours is accepting deposits for its two planned 2018 trips. More information about those tours is available on the company’s website.
The Colemans plan to run a couple trips per year through their company while continuing to work their full-time jobs. Their long-term hope is to use the company as a platform through which other guides can organize their own trips.
They also hope, in some small way, to bridge the gaps that can divide Americans from other cultures.
“Intentional Tours was born out of our mutual love of travel and our belief that authentic cross-cultural experience is a powerful tool to replace fear of ‘the other’ with a recognition of our shared humanity,” Kate Coleman said. “We also believe that tourism, done with intention, can positively impact the communities we visit.”