With a shared passion for travel, philanthropy and environmentalism, Belinda Shillcock and Kristen Briggs set off on the adventure of a lifetime – creating their very own responsible travel company. With incredible travel and fundraising experiences under their belts, Belinda and Kristen were the perfect duo for the job. In the below interview, you’ll find out about their inspiring backgrounds, how the business was created, what responsible travel means, and what you can expect when you take on Soulful Concepts experience.
You two are the founders of Soulful Concepts. Tell us a bit about each of your backgrounds.
Belinda: I’m a travel enthusiast with more than fifteen years of travel industry and not-for-profit experience. One of the biggest reasons I love to travel is because it’s closely linked with my vision for global equality, so I decided to pursue a career where I could focus on both industries.
Kristen: I am a passionate philanthropist and I love exploring and discovering new places. I truly believe that travel fuels the soul and opens up our eyes to what’s really important in life. This philosophy is what led me to a career in fundraising work, and I’ve since raised over $150,000 for a number of charities in support of causes close to my heart.
Belinda: Together, Kristen and I have worked with over 20 Australian and International charities and mentored more than 900 people to raise over $1.5 million for charity. Between us, we’ve also travelled to 66 countries, climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, trekked the Inca trail eight times and cycled more than 3,000km across Southeast Asia.
So, how did the two of you meet?
Kristen: In 2009, my friend Turia Pitt and I signed up for a charity challenge to cycle 350km across Cambodia to raise money for ChildFund Australia. The money went towards helping building a school in Cambodia. Belinda was the Fundraising Mentor and Tour Leader for the Challenge.
After Turia had her accident, I decided to organise a masquerade ball to fundraise for her medical experiences whilst in hospital. During my time organising the event, a position became available at the fundraising agency where Belinda worked.
Belinda: So Kristen and I worked alongside each other for two years. An instant bond was formed – we were a formidable team! Whilst I mentored her in fundraising and travel, we found our visions and ethos were closely aligned; and the rest is history!
Where did the idea for a responsible travel company come from?
Belinda: Whilst the travel industry’s had to evolve with the changing demands and travel styles of the ever curious explorer; what I find frustrating is that it’s been very slow to pioneer responsible and sustainable travel. Whilst many other industries are moving towards more sustainable modules, the travel industry, a trillion dollar industry, seems to be lagging! We both agree that responsible and sustainable tourism really needs to be the norm and not just a niche.
Kristen: There aren’t many responsible travel leaders in the industry, which is why we decided to start Soulful Concepts. We wanted to be industry leaders in responsible travel for socially conscious travellers, because we both are conscious about the impact we have on the environment and its people when we travel.
Belinda: Kristen and I both believe the everyday traveller wants to have a closer and more authentic experience with the destination they’re travelling to. We also think they want to reduce their carbon footprint. With global warming more prevalent than ever, people are asking: how can we travel and leave a meaningful print? We want to provide them with the opportunity to leave a meaningful print.
Kristen: We also believe the travel industry should be responsible for educating travellers to visit where the tourist dollar is needed most. There was recently a list published of destinations where huge volumes of tourists are having a damaging impact on the communities and environments they’re visiting. It’s our duty as tourism providers to be responsible, to guide people to destinations where their presence and dollar is needed most.
What is the mission and ethos of Soulful Concepts?
Kristen: Our mission is a simple one; to provide responsible travel experiences carefully created to minimise the social, economic and environmental impact on destinations travellers visit.
Soulful Concepts specialises in ‘philanthropic travel’ – can you explain what that entails?
Belinda: Philanthropic travel is essentially ensuring you promote the welfare of others, which is expressed especially by the generous donation of money to worthwhile causes.
Kristen: Travel is a perfect way to do this because the more personally connected we are to the world, the more we make it our responsibility to take care of it. This is why all of our experiences aim to meet the International Ecotourism Society’s definition of Ecotourism as responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment and improve the welfare of the local people.
Where did the name ‘Soulful Concepts’ come from – any inspiration that led you to choosing that name?
Kristen: We wanted to embody more than just travel. Our message is about collaboration and living a sustainable life. Both Belinda and I believe travel fuels the soul and that it is one of the most powerful educational experiences. Through philanthropic travel experiences, we know we can all be proactive global citizens.
What sets you apart from other responsible travel companies?
Belinda: We are one of the few travel providers offering a unique and sustainable travel experience which works to meet UN 17 sustainable development goals. We are pioneering what it means to travel responsibly with the concept of Sustainable Coffee Tours and have been featured on the UN website for our efforts.
Kristen: We want to educate people who drink coffee – as well as industry professionals – on the ‘crop to cup’ process. We also want to support smallholder coffee farmers in creating sustainable productivity to help meet future demands for such a highly sort after product.
Belinda: We are actually the first Aussie company to join the Sustainable Coffee Challenge and really encourage others to join in too. The challenge unites the coffee sector and conservation partners across the industry to take the actions necessary to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product!
Kristen: Our unique Sustainable Coffee Tours connect coffee drinkers and professionals with local coffee growers and producers. It’s a part community immersion, part cultural trip and part environmental endeavour. Coffee lovers really get to see what goes on behind the scenes to make a great cup of coffee.
We’re working to ensure the development of a sustainable coffee economy in places such as Indonesia, Guatemala, Rwanda and India.
What can individuals/corporates/charities expect when taking on a Soulful Concepts tour?
Belinda: When you join a Soulful Concepts tour, you are joining an educational and insightful experience which allows you to connect with the communities and environments you’re visiting. Our tours are themed and focus on culture, community development, conservation, personal well-being and sustainability.
Kristen: We also place huge emphasis on eco-friendly accommodation, which means that you will always experience great service in some spectacular natural locations, while still supporting local communities and conservation efforts. Eco-lodges, green hotels, tree-top rooms, yoga retreats, beachside tents, glamping, and historic houses are just some of our amazing responsible accommodation options!
two digits game #99cc00;”>Contact Soulful Concepts to plan your next responsible escape.