I think there is a shift happening in the kinds of travel experiences many people are seeking: a drift away from traditional sun and sand vacations towards a more meaningful type of trip. The cruises and resort vacations will always be popular, but it seems more and more people are seeking out moments of cultural authenticity, deeper local experiences, and ways to connect with their chosen destination. To me, these are the elements that define the essence of the local travel movement and what this new breed of travelers are seeking.
Cultural authenticity. People are seeking cultural experiences that are REAL. Travelers want to eat local food, see local art, touch (and buy) local craft items, and meet the people who live in the destination. They don’t want replicas, menus “tamed” for foreign tastes, or actors in costumes parading before them. They want to see the culture as it is, not how gift shops package it.
Deeper local experiences. It means cultural immersion at a level not possible at a resort or at an airport souvenir shop. Travelers might want accommodation other than the big hotel chains, or even a homestay. They might want a meal at a restaurant only locals know about, to learn a local dance, or have a revealing and enlightening conversation with a member of the local community. Many want to plunge as deeply into the experience as possible and try as much as they can. As a student of anthropology, we would call this “participant observation”, where the observer participates in whatever activity their anthropological subject is doing to help better understand the culture. It’s not just a “when in Rome” attitude these sorts of travelers have, it’s more of a “going native” approach to interaction with a sincere interest and curiosity about the local culture at the heart of it.
Connecting to the place. Travelers want to connect to the people and the place they are visiting and create a meaningful travel experience through those connections. They want to feel like they have done more than just relax and recharge – they want to feel as though they have learned something and or they have become more aware of themselves and the world in which they live. For travelers who seek a local travel experience, it is difficult to do so without some sort of “in” or way to connect with locals. A tourist with a tourist map in hand will likely only find the tourist attractions and sites with the budget to advertise in tourist publications. It’s difficult for most travelers to find the deep, authentic experiences on their own, especially when time is limited. The best way to travel local is with a local guide. In anthropological research, this guide or “informant” is essential – a person who can interpret their culture or help explain things to the anthropologist (or in this case the traveler). The trick is finding a guide who is aware enough of their own culture to explain the finer idioms and nuances (without a mere shrug of their shoulders) and lead the traveler quickly past the souvenir stands and tourist attractions, off the beaten path and down the back streets into the communities to show them how people really live.
Something I’ve left out of my definition of local travel is the benefit to the local community. It is quite possible to have a local travel experience that does not in any way benefit the local community, but I think the best kind of travel is done when issues of responsibility and sustainability are addressed and considered as important as the accommodation and destination itself. Are the hotel staff paid a living wage? Does money spent in a store or hotel stay in the community, or are profits sent off to a foreigner’s bank account? Is the food local, or is it imported at a great environmental cost? Will visitors continue to benefit the community indefinitely? Ideally, local travel done correctly – done with the benefit of the community in mind – result in a win-win for both the traveler and the people they encounter, from the local shopkeepers, restaurateurs, and taxi drivers to the local tour guide.
Where does Tour Guys fit into the local travel scene?
- Our guides live in the cities we operate in. A Tour Guys tour is done by a local guide showing you the places they know and love. We share ways to best get around town, the coolest things to see and do, and often ways to save you time and money while visiting!
- Tour Guys supports local businesses. We’re a local small business, and when we suggest someplace to shop, eat or grab a drink, it’s not WalMart or McDonald’s. It’s not a Starbucks (although we like them). We want our guests to spend their money in a way that maximizes the benefit to the local community – at independently owned and operated establishments!
- Our tours are designed to give our foreign guests a better idea of what it’s like to live, work, and play in the city. We want them to understand why we love our country and the city we call home as much as we do. We also want our local guests to see their city in a new light and hopefully fall in love with it even more deeply than before! We think our tours are a nice mix of great stories, personal anecdotes, advice and opinions – all wrapped up in a nice walk with a friendly local… That would be us of course.
For more on the growing local travel movement and to get involved with (or inspired by) it, visit Local Travel.