Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tourdust: Are Local Collectives The Future For Authentic Travel?

(We wrote this post for maketravelfair.  You can see it in its original format at http://www.maketravelfair.co.uk/2009/01/27/tourdust-are-local-collectives-the-future-for-authentic-travel/)

Everybody has a tale of that time they really got under the skin of a local place and people. For us, it has to be the time we were adopted by Rafi, a Sri Lankan policeman in Kandy. To our shame, with the typical cynicism of the so called experienced traveller, we had spent the day swatting away assorted hawkers selling bits and bobs.  In the evening we fell in talking to Rafi at the guesthouse and it soon migrated into a late night drinking session with his buddies, the head of the Sri Lankan navy and the guest house owner. The next day they took us on an escorted (& free) tour of the stunning Sigiriya followed by an unforgettable evening at Rafi’s house. The hospitality was out of this world and truly shamed us English by comparison, ultimately we had an awesome time.

Clearly these sorts of experience are tough to orchestrate but there are some great efforts underway in the tourism industry to promote authentic travel. In our efforts to recruit local operators for Tourdust we’ve come across some fascinating local collectives who are really trying to open up the skin of a place and welcome travellers in.

Local operators, guides or accommodation hosts tend to work within a strong local network. An assortment of accommodation options and interesting experiences in a locale are always going to draw more people than one local kayaking guide no matter how out of this world the kayaking is. We’ve come across a couple of initiatives that take this local network to the next level:

  • Celes Davar at Earth Rhythms has teamed up with over 50 partners in the Riding Mountain and southern Manitoba region in Canada. Bringing you face to face with chefs, artists, musicians, aboriginal teachers, yoga practitioners, guides, naturalists, agricultural producers, and many other remarkable local people. Its about enabling guests to have direct personal contact with a variety of local and authentic people who are the story-tellers and experience providers.
  • Robert Etherington from Ballooning In Tuscany runs some highly recommended hot air ballooning over Tuscany and is trying to pull together various locals to promote the village of Montisi. “At the heart of it will be the idea that if you wish to stay in a real, working Tuscan hilltop village with olive groves, vineyards and market gardens you will not be pampered and cosseted and treated like a visiting dignitary, but will have to take your place in the queue like everybody else for your drink, and plan your own itinerary of interesting things to do. There are also organised things to choose from (like ballooning, painting courses, wine tours etc) as well as facilities for rent for those that want to work on something in idyllic surroundings e.g. writing, painting, reading etc.” Robert has already been voluntarily running the website Montisi for a couple of years.  It isn’t a question of packaging though: “the old idea of bundling up various activities into “packages” is a well tried one that simply puts some people off, and encourages the attentions of another kind of client that wants to be entertained and told what to do next.”

Two different approaches that beg the question: what is the best way to do this?  I think there is some fantastic potential in using collective web tools such as online groups, group blogging platforms and wikis to bring together and promote individual local operators so that the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Ultimately, can the social web allow the small guys to team up, collaborate and compete more effectively than the big guys? We’d love to pull together something like this for Tourdust and we’d love to hear any input & ideas on how to execute it.

No comments: