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  • Writer's pictureJoAnna Haugen

What does 'local' really mean? 5 tips to ensure local tourism is genuine.

by JoAnna Haugen

The tourism industry has been turning away from a mass tourism model toward a more locally focused one.

Yet this surge in interest is also paired with uncertainty: What does “local” even mean? How transparent should companies be about who, specifically, benefits from community-based experiences? And, what can companies do to ensure they’re not just “local-washing” their offerings in an effort to fit in?

Experts who have worked in this space far longer than this travel trend weigh in.

1. Focus on one thing at a time

Shifting toward a legitimate locally focused model is a big step and may require changing everything from content to partnerships. Choose one area your company can focus on and go from there. This might mean recruiting diverse local guides or re-evaluating the impact of your supply chain. “We should not put pressure on businesses to nail all of these areas, but instead should encourage all businesses to tackle what they can now,” said Zakia Moulaoui Guery, founder and CEO of Invisible Cities.

2. Establish relationships to create beneficial experiences

Tourism has a bad habit of catering to travellers, often to the detriment of local peoples’ needs and desires. Before creating or marketing anything “local,” take the time to listen and learn about what they want — if anything at all.

“It is as simple as asking the locals in any destination how they want to interact with tourism. What parts of their culture do they want to showcase?” said Evie Ndhlovu, Planeterra’s program manager for Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. “Take action to make sure tourism works for them, not just the travellers.”

3. Include locally owned products and services throughout an itinerary

Maximise financial impact by tapping into local suppliers across an itinerary. Integrate locally owned dining, accommodations, shopping, transportation, and activities.

This approach also introduces travellers to many perspectives of a destination. “A local meal will allow travellers to experience the tastes of a destination, while experiences like hikes and walks will give travellers the chance to see the destination through the eyes of those who live there,” Ndhlovu said.

4. Think beyond tourism

Locally focused travel should benefit far more than the people travellers come in contact with, and it needs to support communities beyond tourism. Invisible Cities, for example, supports training for its guides so they learn transferrable skills that can be used to gain employment and other opportunities in other companies and organisations.

Women, in particular, should benefit financially. According to the World Bank, women reinvest 90% of their income back into their families and communities, creating a compounding positive impact.

5. Benefit local communities by default, because it’s the right thing to do

Long after folks are talking about something else, tour companies should still support and centre local people and needs.

“I see a lot of companies using slogans such as ‘good for the community’ or ‘benefitting locals’ when actually they simply have practices in place that should exist anyway,” Guery said. “I don’t believe we should promote the fact we pay people decently or treat them with respect as unique selling points when this is what we should be doing, no matter what business we are in.”

About the Author

JoAnna Haugen is an award winning writer, speaker, and solutions advocate who has worked in the travel and tourism industry for almost 15 years.

She is also founder of Rooted, a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainable tourism, social impact, and storytelling. A returned U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, international election observer, and intrepid traveler, JoAnna is always on the hunt for her next great adventure. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

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