Is crowdfunding for travel the way to go?

by Jill Schensu
Stripes Guam
This headline caught my eye: “Embarq site enables crowdfunding for travel.”
 
Was this a good thing, or a bad thing? I looked into it to see.
 
Embarq was created by Air Canada earlier this year to help the under-funded realize their travel dreams, using the Kickstarter/Indiegogo/GoFundMe social-media platform.
 
The program is aimed squarely at (surprise!) millennials, that big and someday moneyed demographic.
 
“We know that millennials have more audacious travel plans than ever before,” said Selma Filali, Air Canada’s director of marketing communications. “They really want to see the world but they really lack the funds to make that a reality.”
 
Embarq is the place where the cash-strapped can post their travel plans — photos or a video story about what the trip would mean to them are encouraged — and have people contribute. Air Canada envisions it as a place for family and friends to pitch in for a trip, similar to a honeymoon fund. But hey, you never know who’ll stumble in and toss strangers with the right story a few bucks.
 
Since its soft launch in March, Embarq’s gotten more than 800 entries (profiles) for all sorts of travel-related goals: going on a volunteer vacation in South Africa, a body-building competition in Vancouver — and one person was going to take a staycation and needed just $25 for maybe lunch or a snack.
 
There are some differences between Embarq and other crowdfunding sites. Embarq doesn’t take any fee or percentage of what’s donated; for instance GoFundMe — which has plenty of travel-related requests — takes 5 percent of the money raised. And you get whatever money you’ve raised, even if you don’t meet the stated goal, unlike Kickstarter or Indiegogo.
 
Air Canada isn’t doing this out of the goodness of its heart, though. Whatever funds are contributed are provided to you in the form of an Air Canada gift card, good only for airfare and ancillaries such as seat selection or baggage fees. 
 
You can’t shake any of it out for hotels, car rentals — or even Air Canada vacation packages.
 
So you can see why it’s potentially advantageous for the airline. And I suppose some people do get their dream trips funded, though I hear most of the 800 or so requests remain at $0.00 funding. I’ve only heard about the site from third parties and official Air Canada comments because I can’t actually take a look at it myself. The site knows my IP address is coming from the U.S., and I’m not allowed in.
 
Why, I have no idea. For an international airline — especially one aggressively trying to expand its reach and its image — the lockout seems counter-intuitive, Not to mention annoying.
 
And I can’t know exactly what kinds of dream trips are being posted there. I could try to extrapolate from the profiles I’ve seen on GoFundMe — a site I’ve used to chip in for several dire causes. But look up “travel” and the first page of listings starts with “Raise money to go on an exciting trip! Embark on the adventure you’ve always dreamed of.”
 
So I can’t fault people who are just asking for their exciting adventures: $10,000 to move to Japan, say — for that, you can get your name on the back of a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of Japan! Or the couple who got jobs at a Seattle Starbucks and now just need “a little push” ($1,000) to go. Or the guy who needs $43,000 to build a home in Belize (for a contribution more than $1,000 he’ll be your personal tour guide if you ever visit Belize, for $2,500-plus, “you get to live on my (theirs, too, right?) personal property during your stay.” More than $5,000, he’ll also serve you breakfast in bed, and “all your meals will be on me.”
 
Then again, there is the dream of teenager Alexis Myers, suffering with a genetic disorder that is gradually going to make her go blind. Alexis wants to experience as much of the world as she can while she can still see it.
 
I guess dreams are all relative — as are the hardships we face. Or what we consider hardships.
 
Which is a lesson you learn — or maybe remember — over and over again when you travel.
 
I’m not sure how the Embarq idea may play out — with other airlines, other areas of the travel industry, or maybe even reality TV.
 
And I worry especially if people are getting scammed by phony tales of woe or who knows what else. It’s as easy to be creeped out as it is to be genuinely moved to help out on these sites.
 
But I guess that’s a tiny risk in the so-called sharing economy. And if someone figures the best way to pay for a trip is to rely on the kindness of others, and others want to be kind, well, that works, doesn’t it?
 
OK, so, um, there’s that Trans Siberian Railroad trip I’ve had my eye on for, like, ever. Anybody spare a few bucks?

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