Tired of the same old holiday options? Take these trips with a twist for tenacious travellers
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Tired of the same old holiday options? Take these trips with a twist for tenacious travellers

Travelling with like-minded people has become the new way to holiday as boutique businesses focus on special interest travel

By Mercedes Maguire
Mon, Dec 18, 2023 10:07amGrey Clock 4 min

They were knitting in the piano lounge, crocheting at the bar and pulling out their craft bags during bingo. For the ladies of the Unwind craft group, casting on and off was just as important as seeing the sites on their cruise to New Zealand.

The group of women who met at Melbourne’s Unwind Craft Café have set off on four craft cruises together and every time owner Robyn Scipione announces a new trip, it sells out in hours. Part of the attraction is to learn new sewing skills, but a much bigger part is to connect with each other while relaxing on the high seas.

If a knitting cruise sounds unusual, consider this – Carnival has a four-night cat lover’s cruise from Florida to Mexico, there is a Star Trek cruise to Aruba with Royal Caribbean and there’s even a nude cruise out of Tampa, Florida, also available through the popular cruise company.

But it’s not just cruises that offer special interest travel options. Whether you are looking to walk in the footsteps of the Anzacs, want to pick up a cooking tip or two from an Italian nonna or sing along to your favourite band, there is a trip for that.

Anna Shannon, a former Flight Centre travel agent, set up a website called TravelAgentFinder.com.au that helps connect travellers with agents that specialise in specific areas of travel. It could be as simple as finding a Disneyland expert, or as complex as someone looking to trace their ancestor’s footsteps on the Western Front.

“Themed travel is definitely on the rise and it makes sense to me,” the travel expert says. “Travelling is awesome, but when you’re travelling with like-minded people who share your passion for X, Y or Z, it’s an even more enriching experience.”

She says music themed cruises are gaining in popularity, as are crafting cruises, sport-themed travel packages and yoga and wellness tours that combine a love of yoga with traditional yogi cultures to countries like Indonesia, India or Sri Lanka. 

Anna Shannon helps match travellers with their interests through her travel website.

Scipione says her crafting cruises are usually more about the connections people make on the trip than the knitting or the destinations they travel to.

“I can tell you about six million stories of the friendships that have formed at our knitting sessions, especially amongst solos,” she says. “There was one lady who used to cruise with her husband before he died and now comes along to our craft cruises. She told me it actually saved her, and I believe her because we could see she was in a bad place when she came into the shop.”

As you might expect, the majority of the crafters are older ladies. But Scipione says young knitters are increasingly attracted to the concept with three generations, including a 10-year-old girl, joining them once.

Mat McLachlan combined his love of history with his family’s business in travel when he launched Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours in 2008. That first year the historian and author took 34 people on an ANZAC Day on the Western Front tour, in 2009, he took 50 and in 2010 it ballooned to 600 people.

“All our tours are led by expert historians who bring the history to life and share stories of the ANZACS, so no matter where your knowledge lies, our battlefield tours are designed to be an enriching experience,” says McLachlan who hosts military tours to France, Belgium, Gallipoli, Vietnam, Darwin and more.

cial interest travel incorporates food and wine. Celebrity chefs have long led tours exploring gastronomic centres of the world. Since the early noughties, French chef Gabriel Gate has led food tours of his homeland and now takes river cruisers through Southern France with Scenic. Vietnamese chef Luke Nguyen hosted several food trips on the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia introducing travellers to local produce and then teaching them to cook with them.

Television host Maeve O’Meara launched Gourmet Safaris 25 years ago after she showed her mother’s group to her favourite Lebanese restaurant in Sydney. She started by leading walking tours around Sydney’s food villages, then to locations like Victoria’s High Country, South Australia and Tasmania. Demand led to O’Meara to take her food tours overseas to Sardinia and Corsica, the Greek Islands, Portugal and Spain.

Maeve O’Meara has taken her Gourmet Safaris business to places like Portugal, Spain and Greece to provide travellers with unique gourmet experiences.

“The visits to private homes and estates, both overseas and in Australia, and tapping in to local and regional seasonal food with guided trips through produce markets, cooking demonstrations and classes, there’s nothing like it,” O’Meara says.

Sharon Summerhayes is a cruise specialist and owner of Deluxe Travel and Cruise. She is the highest seller of the famous Rock the Boat music cruises who bring headline acts like Suzi Quatro, Jimmy Barnes and Daryl Braithwaite to the high seas. She says the cruises will charge about 30 per cent more than a standard cruise but for that you get rock shows each night and the chance to bump into the artists at the bar or poolside.

“They are so much fun, especially for single people,” Summerhayes says. “There is such camaraderie among the guests because they all have something in common. You can go to the bar by yourself and you will be guaranteed to find someone with the same music taste as you. 

“And by the time you leave the ship, you’ll have 20 new friends.”

Briony Thomas, the cruise specialist who helps Scipione organise her crafting cruises, says she has been so inspired by the interest in themed cruises she wants to launch a true crime cruise.

“You need the niche, or theme, to be really specific or else it won’t work,” says Thomas, director of Tailored Travel & Cruise. 

“I thought about doing a friendship cruise, but it’s too broad. Rather, a true crime cruise will bring like-minded people together and friendship will be the result anyway.”      


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Only 5% of U.S. Foundations Invest for Impact, Study Finds
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Few of the U.S.’s philanthropic foundations invest their endowment assets—totalling an estimated US$1.1 trillion—to create positive social and environmental change in addition to high returns, potentially limiting or even counteracting the good such organisations do.

Exactly how few isn’t precisely known. But Bridgespan Social Impact, a subsidiary of the New York-based Bridgespan Group along with the Capricorn Investment Group, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based investment firm founded by Jeff Skoll , the first president of eBay, and the Skoll Foundation, also in Palo Alto, attempted to “get the conservation started,” with a study of 65 foundations with a total of about US$89 billion in assets, according to Mandira Reddy, director at Capricorn Investment Group.

The top-line conclusion: 5% of the primarily U.S.-based foundations surveyed invest their assets for impact. Most surprising is that 92% of these organisations, which have assets ranging from US$11 million to US$16 billion, are active members of impact investing groups, such as the Global Impact Investing Network and Mission Investors Exchange.

“If there’s any pool of capital that is best suited for impact investing, it would be this pool of capital along with family office money,” Reddy says.

The study was also conducted “to draw attention to the opportunity,” she said.

“We want to redefine what philanthropy can achieve. There is massive potential here just given the scale of capital.”

Foundations are required by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to grant 5% of their assets each year to charity; in practice they have granted slightly more in the last 10 years—an average of 7% of their assets, according to Delaware-based FoundationMark, which tracks the investment performance of about 97% of all foundation assets.

The remaining assets of these foundations are invested with the intention of earning the “highest-possible risk-adjusted financial returns,” the report said. Those investments allow these organizations to grant funds often in perpetuity.

Capricorn and Bridgespan argue that more foundations, however, need to “align their capital with their missions,” and that they can do so while still achieving high returns.

“Why wait to distribute resources far into the future when there are numerous urgent issues facing the planet and communities today,” argue the authors of a report on the research, which is titled, “Can Foundation Endowments Achieve Greater Impact.”

The fact most of the foundations surveyed are very familiar with impact investing and yet haven’t taken the leap “highlights the persistently untapped opportunity,” the report said. It details some of the barriers foundations can face in shifting to impact, and how and why to overcome them.

Hurdles to making a shift can include “beginner’s dilemma”—simply not knowing where to start—and a misperception on the part of large foundations that impact investing is “too niche,” offering opportunities that are too small for the amount of capital they need to allocate. Other foundations are too stretched and don’t have the resources to add capabilities for making impact investments, the report said.

One of the biggest concerns is financial performance. Some foundation leaders, for instance, worry impact investments lead to so-called concessionary returns, where a market rate of return is sacrificed to achieve a social or environmental benefit. Those investments exist, but there are also plenty of options that offer financial returns.

The authors make a case for foundations to “go big,” into impact to realize the best outcomes, and to take a portfolio approach, meaning integrating impact principles into how they approach all investments. To make this happen, foundations need to incorporate impact into their investment policy statements, which determine how they allocate assets.

It will be difficult for foundations that want to shift their assets to impact to pull out of investments such as private-equity or venture-capital funds that can have holdings periods of a decade. But with a policy statement in place, a foundation’s investment team can reinvest this long-term capital once it is returned into impact investing options, she says.

“The transition doesn’t happen overnight,” Reddy says. “Even if there is a commitment for an established foundation that is already fully invested, it takes several years to get there.”

The Skoll Foundation, established in 1999, revised its investment policy statement in 2006 to incorporate impact. According to the report, the foundation initially divested of investments that were not in sync with its values, and then gradually, working with Capricorn Investment, began exploring impact opportunities mostly in early-stage companies developing solutions to climate change.

“As the team gained more knowledge and experience in this work, and as more investment opportunities arose, the impact-aligned portfolio expanded across different asset classes, issue areas, and fund managers,” the report said.

As of 2022, 70% of the Skoll Foundation’s assets are in impact investments addressing climate change, inclusive capitalism, health and wellness, and sustainable markets.

Capricorn, which manages US$9 billion for foundations and institutional investors through impact investments, constructs portfolios across asset classes. In private markets, this can include venture, private equity, private credit, real estate, and infrastructure. There are also impact options in the public markets, in both stocks and bonds.

“Across the spectrum there are opportunities available now to do this in an authentic manner while preserving financial goals,” Reddy says.

Of the foundations surveyed, about 15, including Skoll, have 50% or more of their assets invested for impact. Others include the Lora & Martin Kelley Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Russell Family Foundation, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

Though not part of the study, the California Endowment just announced it was going “all in” on impact. The organisation has US$4 billion in assets under management, which likely makes it the largest foundation to undergo the shift, according to Mission Investors Exchange.

Although the researchers looked at a fairly small sample set of foundations, Reddy says it provides data “that is indicative of what the foundation universe” might look like.

“We cannot tell foundations how to invest and that’s not the intent, but we do want to spread the message that it is quite possible to align their assets to impact,” she says. “The idea is that this becomes a boardroom conversation.”


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