How to take a socially responsible vacation

With the way things are heading in the world today, why not add an element of social responsibility to your vacation?

Investours is leading the way for socially responsible vacation tours around the Banderas Bay and Puerto Vallarta region. The purpose of these tours is for the travelers to meet local entrepreneurs to discover more about their businesses, more closely interact with the local culture, and learn how they can assist with micro finance loans.  Micro finance or a micro-loan is a small, interest fee loan funded by the group’s tour fees. This micro-loan improves the local entrepreneur’s business by providing funds they could not otherwise receive from a bank.  When the loan is paid back, the revenue is split between Investours and its partners to further develop their program agenda throughout the Bay of  Banderas.

Cuponismo caught up with Ryan  Pukos, director of Investours, Mexico.

Question: Ryan, as we’ve just defined Micro Finance, can you let us know what your usual type of Investour is? Are they usually local to the area, a tourist, or someone that specifically travels from away for your tours? What is the break down?

Ryan – Up to this point, our tour alumni have been mostly expats living in the area and people here on extended vacations. The vast majority of them, around 80%, have found out about us through word of mouth and referrals from friends. The other 20% have heard about us through internet message boards like the Bucerias yahoo page, local news publications like PV Pulse, Banderas News and Virtual Vallarta and Tripadvisor. I want to mention that our longer term vision is to have people plan vacations around our tours. The next step, though, is reaching into the market of shorter term tourists that stay in the hotels around the Bay.

Question: You have quite a few people that are involved on your team. Can you tell us where the main proceeds of donations come from to support your staff? If anyone were interested in donating, who can they contact to help out?

Ryan – One thing to note about our staff is that currently only three of us, Me and our two Tanzania Co-Directors, are being paid. Our other staff work mostly on a part-time basis and have other jobs. That being said, so far, 100% of our funding has come from private donors. Several of our board members, family of Investours staff and tour alumni have made significant contributions. Looking forward, we are currently in the process of finalizing our 501c3 non-profit status in the states (we are already a registered non-profit in the State of Massachusetts). Once we finish this process, we are going to be doing a significant amount of grant fundraising to help get out programs to the point where they can be financially self-sustaining.

Question: We read from your website that you have partnered with PEACE. Can you explain how that is working for you, and the services that each of you provide to the area, and how your services compliment each other?

Ryan – Peace allows us to use their office in Punta de Mita to run our tours from. They have also helped us a ton in networking in the local community both for the purposes of marketing our tours and attracting people to come on our tours. From the very start (since we launched last December), Molly and everybody from Peace has been incredibly supportive and helpful. Peace provides a number of different services for the community. They run an alternative school in Punta de Mita for kids who otherwise wouldn’t go to school. They run a spay and neuter clinic for stray animals and are also involved in recycling in the communities around the Bay.  For more on their work, check out www.peacemexico.org. One important thing that I want to mention about this partnership is that we work most closely with Se Mas Microfinanzas, the microfinance institution that was incubated by Peace, though it is technically a completely separate organization. Their offices are also located at the Peace offices in Punta de Mita. We visit Se Mas’s entrepreneur clients on our tours, and we make our loans through Se Mas. Basically, we give money to Se Mas that they lend to their clients and then they give the money back to us after covering costs. To speak about how our services complement each other, Se Mas recruits clients and handles all of the loan approval and financial education training. We bring Se Mas additional funding through our tours. Their clients also frequently benefit from advice from our tour participants. We also help them to increase their economic and social impact through our interest-free loans.

Question: Can you please give a few examples of the types of business that your investours have decided to help out? Also, can you provide some examples of how those businesses have benefited from the funds?

Ryan – Our most recent loan recipient was Luz, a woman from Bucerias who makes tamales and atole and sells them on the street to people in her neighborhood. She plans on using the loan to build a taco stand outside of her home. We also gave a loan to Jose, a fisherman from Punta de Mita who used it to fix the transmission on his boat’s engine. This helped him to continue fishing and operating during the high fishing season this past Spring. We gave a loan to Martita, a woman from Mezcales who makes piñatas and sells them to her neighbors for celebrations. She used the loan to buy more supplies, and during the spring, she used some of the money to pay a fee to participate in a local market, so she could sell more products. We also gave a loan to Carmela, a woman who runs a small restaurant from her home in Sayulita. It sounds like you may have already seen it, but this Sayulero article talks about Carmela. She used the loan to make improvements to her restaurant – paint it and install new bug screens on her kitchen. She was also able to attract some local expats as a result of this article. She continues as a client with Se Mas, and last I talked to her, she planned to take out a loan to install a roof over her seating area, so she could continue to operate during the rainy season.

Question: How can anyone that is visiting one of the hotels in down town Vallarta take part in what you are doing? Do you have any recommendations on how they can partake in the tours? Transportation recommendations, ideas on the amount of time it takes to complete a tour.

Ryan – Right now, the best way for interested people to take a tour is to contact me, either through puertovallarta@investours.org or 322-138-1274. I can then plan a tour for them. We are currently working on a new website, which should launch this fall, where tourists will be able to book tours directly online. We run tours from the American School in Puerto Vallarta, the Bucerias Bilingual Community Center and Peace in Punta de Mita. And the tours typically take about 4 hours. Typically, we run tours on Thursday from 1pm – 5pm.

Question: Typically, what are the size of the loans that most people make, and the amount of time it takes to pay back the loan?

Ryan – The size of the loan varies. It is usually between about $2,000 pesos and $5,000 pesos. The loan repayment term is 16 weeks.

Question: Can you give us any additional information that you’d like for our readers to know about your company?

Ryan – Mostly, I would like to emphasize that a huge part of our mission is to build a community of people who are inspired and committed to continuing to fight poverty. Basically, it doesn’t end with the tour. It starts there. We believe that our tour experience can be incredibly powerful and can inspire people to want to stay informed and involved. We use our Alumni Center on our website and other social networking platforms to harness that energy. We keep our tour alumni updated on the progress of the entrepreneur they chose to help. We also create opportunities for further involvement through giving and volunteering. We want to harness the energy this creates and build a global network of people committed to fighting poverty.

We’d like to thank Ryan for his time, and hope to further promote his business by spreading word, and later offering tours through our daily specials site for visiting tourists and residents alike.

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