Lead from the Heart: Grand Circle Wins Global Vision Award
by Alan E. Lewis
Entry: November 2010
A Bedouin woman serving tea in Lakia, Israel—one of GCF’s “Invest in a Village” locations.
Everybody wants to be a part of something greater than themselves. That’s one of the reasons why Harriet and I created the Grand Circle Foundation, in 1992. Since then, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $50 million to support the education of young people and the preservation of cultural treasures and traditions all over the world. This wouldn’t be possible without the support of our travelers, because we apply a portion of the cost of every trip to the Foundation’s work.
I firmly believe that for corporate philanthropy to succeed, charitable work—our social mission—must be tied to the very nature of a company’s business. That’s why we’ve chosen, for example, to create initiatives that help the local people in the very communities where our travelers visit—like our new Invest in a Village initiative, which will help local leaders drive changes that are sustainable, designed for the long-term benefit of the people.
With this important work in mind, I’m delighted to tell you that Grand Circle Travel has been chosen as a 2010 recipient of the Global Vision Award, given by Travel + Leisure. We were recognized in the Philanthropic Travel category, which is a great honor, because it recognizes the essential connection between our charitable work and our business.
I am very, very proud of this award. I’ve been in the travel business a long time now, and over the years we’ve been fortunate to win many awards for our vacations. But at this stage of my life, having our company honored for its philanthropic work is so much more meaningful. I’ll tell you, it just fills me with pride and happiness, and it’s a testimony to the commitment of our travelers and the devotion of our travel associates around the world—but mainly to our selfless, hard-working partners in villages around the world.
This award is especially satisfying because of the incredible people who served as judges this year. Let me tell about a bit about some of them. Blake Mycoskie, a visionary entrepreneur and founder of TOMS Shoes, was a judge. His mission couldn’t be simpler: With every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need. Every customer becomes a benefactor—brilliant.
One of Grand Circle’s award-winning ships, the M/S River Rhapsody, cruises the waterways on The Great Rivers of Europe vacation.
Another judge this year was Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund, which is dedicated to preserving cultural heritage sites and historic architecture around the world through a wide range of strategies, from hands-on fieldwork to public advocacy. Nobel Prize-winning economist Dr. Joseph Stiglitz was a judge, too. He’s the chairman of Columbia University’s Committee on Global Thought.
The judges were particularly impressed with Grand Circle Foundation’s World Classroom initiative, and our work to support both local schools and villages throughout the world. To have our philanthropy recognized by such exceptional people—to have it said that we are improving the world through travel—is humbling and deeply satisfying. Lead from the heart and you can’t go wrong.
I want to share some terrific recognition that our vacations have recently received, too. Grand Circle has been ranked #3 in the World’s Best Small-Ship Cruise Line category in Conde Nast Traveler’s 2010 Readers’ Choice Awards. This is the sixth year in a row that Grand Circle Small Ship Cruises has been rated one of the world’s best.
What makes this award so special is that it’s chosen by travelers, so it’s based on real travel experience. This year, nearly 30,000 readers responded to the survey. In our category, readers rated their experiences based on the ships’ activities and facilities, cabins, crew and service, design and layout, food and dining, itineraries, and shore excursions.
I want to thank the readers of Conde Nast Traveler for recognizing our work. I’m particularly proud of our ability to offer travelers excellent River Cruises and Small Ship Adventures that are up to $500 per day lower than many of the small ship cruise lines in the top ten list.
Guatemalan weavers using ancient Mayan backstrap looms.
And there’s more.
Travel + Leisure has named a 14-day adventure that we specially created, Unraveling the Maya’s Mysteries, a “Trip of a Lifetime.” It’s an unforgettable adventure that takes travelers through Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—and also through time, as they trace the history of the great Mayan civilization. The editors of Travel + Leisure asked some of their favorite tour operators around the world to create exclusive itineraries just for their readers, and we had a lot fun putting this adventure together.
The magazine’s editors were particularly impressed with the warm personal encounters our travelers make with the local people, in places most travelers don’t get to visit. They also liked the enhanced cultural discoveries we added, including a sunrise hike through the jungle-shrouded ruins of Tikal and a traditional kite-flying ceremony in the Guatemalan town of Sumpango. I’m proud that Grand Circle is one of the few travel companies to be honored.
Alan E. Lewis