Transformational Travel, Transformative Travel, Positive Impact Travel… What’s the Difference?

If you’ve already read our article, “Sustainable Tourism, Ecotourism, Responsible Travel, Conscious Tourism... What's the Difference?” you’ll know there’s a number of closely-linked, but slightly nuanced in definition, different ethical travel ‘types’ that you can experience. But what about travel for change?

Positive Impact Travel

We launched in 2017 with “Positive impact travel on the rise”, showcasing revolutionary trips that change the world through ‘life-changing places and world-changing people’ for life-affirming trips with serious positive impacts”.

What we mean is tourism which isn’t just minimising negative environmental, social and economic impacts, but is maximising positive impacts for planet, people and profit, such as conservation, community health, education, jobs and enterprise. (You can see more examples here of those ‘Triple bottom line benefits’).

As tourism reaches all across the world touching far corners and peoples, it has the power for change and development, or indeed regeneration (Regenerative tourism).

But with such potential power for impact, it needs to be done with a sustainable approach: often countries where it’s most needed can have particularly fragile political, economic and social environments which could be easily negatively impacted for the worse.

Tourism for Sustainable Development

When we launched in 2017, we were an early partner supporting the UN Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development (#IY217). We consider how sustainable tourism can help and empower Purpose and the global 17 Sustainable Development Goals (see our dedicated Purpose website section).

Here we’re talking about enhancing capacities in destinations, not just for tourism, but for sustainable development. Does that mean it’s transformational?

Travel Weekly has noted tourists are moving “beyond experiential travel to transformational travel with a lasting impact” (2018).

Tourism is a powerful development tool - but that development can be of ourselves too.

Transformational Travel

A transformation is ‘a marked change in form, nature, or appearance’, and ‘transformational’ pertaining to or leading to that transformation.

The Transformational Travel Council defines transformational travel as “any travel experience that empowers people to make meaningful, lasting changes in their life” and recognises 3 critical elements:

1. Traveling with intention, openness, and mindfulness.

2. Engaging in challenging physical and/or cultural experiences.

3. Taking time for personal reflection & meaning-making.

This harks back to our “life-affirming” trips, which probably comes as no surprise given Earth Changers’ founder Vicky’s experience in transformational travel and leading charity challenge tours: Travel with rich immersion has moved beyond experiential travel to a conduit for personal growth and pushing yourself, bringing new perspectives, so reaching a deep emotional level, new consciousness, profound change and enlightenment.

So it does include being “connected” which is one of our three values, it is reflected in our “Life-changing Places” and “Extraordinary Experiences with Purpose”, it is change- and people-centric, with soul, but it’s largely about the self: Travel for self-actualisation.

So in this way, ‘transformational travel’ is only one side of the tourism coin. It focuses on the experiences of the tourist or traveller, but with no mention of the hosts.

Sorry we’ve got news for you, traveller: It’s not all about you.

Sustainability isn’t extractive, and so neither is sustainable tourism about just taking what we can from destinations. In responsible tourism, the hosts are the focus, and sustainable tourism is mutually beneficial.

Our vital “World-Changing People” in destination communities are the heart of what we do. They are the changemakers. They are the ones enable the transformation, who make it happen.

Transformative Travel

Transformative is defined as ‘causing a marked change in someone or something’ ie. The difference with transformation is the ‘causing’ – it doesn’t just happen passively, the change is prompted.

We reflect this in our tagline’s, “…with Purpose”.

What this means is tourism which transforms the guest or tourist through their personal experience, and is caused to do so.

The Adventure Trade Travel Association even pinpoints transformative travel as the largest motivating factor for adventure travel (a much wider tourism genre which is not necessarily either sustainable or positive impact).

Earth Changers Travel

So what do we offer?

Even with all these phrases, we’re not sure we’ve got one yet that fits what we do!

Our trips offer life-changing and extraordinary experiences - for transformational self-actualisation.

That doesn’t just happen passively, there is purpose – so it’s transformative too.

But we’re far from being all about the self.

Our focus is on positive impact travel and how we as travellers can aid destination host places through sustainable tourism for development.

And in the midde of it all, it’s prompted by and for, and happens through and because of, world-changing people.

It’s sustainably intentionally revolutionary for all involved: The host communities, the place’s environment, the guest visitors.

So we’re not one or the other but all of these things together:

We’re transformative positive impact travel for sustainable development.

Does it need another name?

What would you call it?

Changemakers’ Travel? Change-making Travel? Earth-changing travel?


As we say in our manifesto, “Be the Change. Transform”