BSTRONG Initiative, Humanitarian Travel Experience

Bethenny Frankel, Former Boca Raton Resident and First Lady of Disaster Relief Travel

Article by Marti Schnurr

Photography by Images courtesy of Bethenny Frankel

Originally published in Boca Style Lifestyle

If you're like many modern travelers, you want more from your leisure time than sitting on a sunny beach somewhere with a fruity beverage. You want to form real connections with the land and the people you visit rather than just get a surface experience and a bunch of glossy photographs that you tell yourself you'll look at someday when reminiscing about the good times in your life. You and others like you have been increasingly drawn to alternative travel options in recent years. For instance, the eco-tourism industry has gained significant strides during the past decade, and one of the offshoots that has developed from this trend is trips for the purpose of helping those in disaster-stricken areas navigate their way back to normal. Here's what you need to know about disaster relief tourism:

What It Does

Reality television star and former Boca Raton resident Bethenny Frankel of Real Housewives of New York City is indisputably the current leading lady of disaster relief tourism. Ms. Frankel started her company BStrong in 2017 as a response to the devastation that hurricanes Irma and Maria brought to so many people's lives. Even though she lives in New York City now, Bethenny remains an island girl at heart thanks to her time in Boca Raton, and she wanted to do whatever she could to help residents of the Caribbean whose lives were shattered and turned upside down by the storms.

After seeing the plight of those unlucky enough to have been in the path of these hurricanes, Bethenny harnessed her seemingly endless energy and quickly raised more than one million dollars worth of aid and supplies to the Caribbean. Since then, Bethenny's efforts have gone toward those affected by volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and Guatemala, earthquake survivors in Mexico, and yet even more hurricane victims in the Caribbean when Hurricane Dorian rampaged through the area in September of 2019. 

Why She Does It

Although the driving force behind the creation of BStrong was to provide immediate assistance to those struggling through the aftermath of severe natural disasters, it was also born as the result of Bethenny's observation that some of those who quickly stepped forward to help in disaster situations were doing it for the wrong reasons. For instance, she noted that some celebrities seemed drawn to disaster assistance as a way to keep their names and faces in the global spotlight instead of focusing on helping the victims get through a time of such devastating loss. 

It also quickly became clear to Bethenny that most of the money she was able to raise came from a combined accumulation of small amounts such as five or ten dollars rather than from grand gestures from celebrities, and this changed her entire outlook charity in general. She decided that she would form a company where 100% of the donated funds went directly to the cause after hearing so many people complain about how they believed strongly in giving what they could but have become disheartened due to the prevalence of corruption in charitable organizations. 

Is Disaster Relief Tourism for You?

A strong desire to help those in need is recommended for anyone considering spending their next vacation at a disaster site. You should also keep in mind that because each disaster is different, survivors will have varying needs. Joining an organized disaster relief effort can provide you with direction and purpose — simply showing up to help may provide a boost to local economies, but it may be difficult to find tangible ways to offer assistance.

Those opting for disaster relief tourism should also be prepared to do without the kinds of amenities many people automatically expect from their vacations. Hotels and other lodging accommodations as well as restaurants, shops, and taxi services may be inadequately staffed or not even open due to the lives of employees and business owners being seriously impacted by the disaster. In some cases, basic services such as running water and electricity may be intermittent or even completely unavailable as the result of infrastructure damage. And there may be some cases where the best thing you can do to help the survivors of a specific disaster is to send a check to the responsible relief charity of your choice and head out for a sunny beach in a different area. 

On the other hand, this could turn out to be among the most rewarding travel experiences of your life. To get the most out of it, do your research before buying tickets, and contact a reputable disaster relief organization such as BStrong for up-to-date information on how your efforts can best serve the region in question. 

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