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Air Canada planes are pictured at Toronto Pearson International Airport in this 2014 file photo. (Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mail)
Air Canada planes are pictured at Toronto Pearson International Airport in this 2014 file photo. (Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mail)

Air Canada launches travel crowdfunding website Embarq Add to ...

If you’ve ever been asked to chip in for someone’s honeymoon, volunteer excursion or backpacking trip through Europe, you know firsthand how many young people are making travel a priority despite a lack of financial resources.

Air Canada has taken notice. The airline recently launched its own online travel-fundraising site called Embarq.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in the rise of crowdfunding platforms that have made it very commonplace for people to help make one of their dreams into a reality,” said Selma Filali, Air Canada’s director of marketing communications. “We know that millennials have more audacious travel plans than ever before. They really want to see the world but they really lack the funds to make that a reality.”

The website, created in partnership with marketing firm JWT, facilitates contributions to a travel goal by encouraging users to upload photos or a video story and spread the campaign through social media. It was soft launched in March.

“No other airline is offering a similar product,” Ms. Filali said. “More and more of our existing customers were purchasing our e-gift card to help friends and relatives with their travel dreams.”

More than 800 people have already put up profiles on the site, including Claudia Martellino, who wants to go to Vancouver for a national bodybuilding competition; Rosalie Poirier, who wants to volunteer in South Africa for a wildlife conservation trip and Clement Horton II, who wants to travel to Madrid for next year’s World Pride event.

According to Ms. Filali, approximately 40 per cent of the profiles are for group trips, and the top five destinations so far are Toronto, London, Paris, Vancouver and Tokyo.

Ms. Filali said a major incentive for travellers to use Embarq over other sites such as GoFundMe, IndieGoGo or Kickstarter is the lack of fees, as well as the ability to collect funds even if users don’t reach their set goals.

“All the others take a percentage of the funds raised,” she said.“Everything that you receive on an Air Canada gift card is 100 per cent for you to use. There is a seal of trust with us as an established airline that we can take you anywhere with our network.”

Funds collected through Embarq go toward an Air Canada gift card for airfare and things such as seat selection or baggage fees. “It’s not for hotel or car [rentals],” Ms. Filali said.

Travellers also cannot use the funds collected from Embarq for Air Canada vacation packages, on-board drinks or travel insurance.

Canadians already spend millions of dollars on group fundraising sites. GoFundMe reported more than 58,000 campaigns took place in Canada last year, with more than 223,000 donations generating over $17.5-million. That amount was just shy of double the donations, $9.6-million, generated in 2014.

A report from the Canadian Tourism Commission published in March, 2015, supports Air Canada’s strategy of targeting millennials between the ages of 18 and 34 for growth. “The number of international millennial trips is expected to nearly double to reach about 300 million trips per year by 2020,” the report states. “Millennials travel more frequently and further than other age groups. A large percentage of millennials value travel as an essential aspect of their lives.”

According to Statistics Canada there are an estimated 8.25 million Canadians in this age group, about 29 per cent of the country’s adult population. And according to Destination Canada, “The internet is the number one booking and planning channel for millennials.”

As for why Embarq doesn’t allow users to offer incentive levels, perks or other rewards like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, Ms. Filali said at this point, the design of the site was specifically to garner financial contributions from friends and relatives with no expectations in return. “We’re not helping you to achieve a professional goal or record a CD,” she said. “We’re not funding an enterprise, we’re allowing you to receive a gift from people who care.”

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