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#PayWhatYouCan Brings the Outdoors to More People

Summer vacations are a much-anticipated time of the year for many Americans — but not all. According to an annual survey conducted by Bankrate, only 52 percent of Americans are planning to take a vacation in 2019. Why? The biggest barrier for 60 percent is they simply can’t afford to — with 44 percent citing the need to cover day-to-day bills and 22 percent working to pay down existing debt.

It’s a statistic that Sarah Dusek, YPO member and founder of the upscale camping trip provider Under Canvas, along with her husband, Jake, found particularly troubling when she first learned of it early in 2019.

Making vacations and the outdoors accessible

Under Canvas, says Dusek, was built on the idea of getting people easy, comfortable and accessible opportunities to experience the outdoors. “The heart of our business is preservation, protection of and accessibility to the natural world.” She says that accessibility is an important aspect of life. The idea that it would be out of reach to so many was troubling, so she decided to do something about it.

Dusek launched the Pay What You Can campaign in an effort to offer vacation opportunities to people who would otherwise not be able to enjoy a vacation. “We went out and said, ‘tell us why you would like us to help you get out in the outdoors this summer’.”

Compelling stories of need, without greed

Under Canvas invited people to fill out an online form sharing why they wanted to be considered for an Under Canvas vacation, along with what they could afford to pay for lodging, information about their family and their top picks for where they’d like to stay. The responses poured in.

More than 2,500 families submitted applications to be considered for a stay at one of Under Canvas’ eight camps. A team of Under Canvas staffers reviewed the applications and announced their choices to the families 7 June — the eve of the U.S. National Park’s National Get Outside Day. More than 700 were chosen based on factors, including their personal stories and whether they had previously vacationed with Under Canvas, with preference given to those who had not.

“Vacations and being in the outdoors, and travel, are so essential to health and well-being and life. They shouldn’t be a privilege  — they should be accessible to all.” Sarah Dusek, Founder Under Canvas 

Stories ranged from the very tragic — losing  everything in a home fire — to  more simple needs — single moms working more than one job to make ends meet. The stories, says Dusek, were “truly humbling.” And, she adds, respondents were quick to offer some form of payment.

“We opened this up with the very real expectation that people would pay zero dollars,” says Dusek. “But that actually wasn’t the case. Almost everybody who applied said that they could pay something, rather than nothing.” Applicants, she says, universally expected a hand up, not a handout.

“It’s not just about the bottom line. Impact is why we have a business in the first place, and that’s a pretty powerful thing.”

Making an impact

Every business has the ability to make an impact, says Dusek. She encourages other business owners to ask themselves some important questions: “What are we trying to achieve? What is the impact?”

It’s not just about the bottom line, she asserts. “Driving the bottom line is great, but it’s not inspiring — it doesn’t inspire your employees; it doesn’t inspire your customers.”

She adds, “Impact is why we have a business in the first place, and that’s a pretty powerful thing.”

It’s something that she encourages other business owners to think about. “I believe that the business leaders of today and tomorrow are the people who will shape the world that we will live in for generations to come,” Dusek says.

“It’s in our hands to make the world a better place. It’s in our hands to bring about change, to drive innovation, to change the way we live, to change the way we interact with each other, to change how we care about the planet. All of these things are in business leaders’ hands.”

Looking ahead

The first Pay What You Can Campaign vacations are under way. Dusek says she will run the campaign again. In fact, she says, “I’m hoping to run this as an annual event for a three-week period where we open by the summer and say, ‘tell us what you can pay, and we’ll make as much happen as we possibly can’.”

She’s also looking for partners willing to participate in the event to open it up to even more people — perhaps airline or rental car companies that can help those who may struggle to get to one of the Under Canvas destinations.

“Vacations and being in the outdoors, and travel, are so essential to health and well-being and life,” Dusek says. According to Dusek, they shouldn’t be a privilege — they should be accessible to all; Under Canvas is committed to helping that happen.

YPO is a global leadership community of chief executives driven by our belief that the world needs better leaders. We grow stronger as people and leaders through peer learning, life-changing experiences and important relationships. We inspire and challenge one another based in open sharing and trust among a diverse community. With YPO behind us, we are uniquely prepared and supported to make meaningful impact on lives, businesses, and the world.