Modern traveller seeks transformational experiences during travel.. and local living is a rapidly growing source of inspiration. What have you got to offer the traveller who is after more than just a restful break? We’ve already identified how accommodation, day tour, activity, excursion, cruise and train journey suppliers are portals to an experience – they are equally portals to local communities. Let’s shift focus onto bringing local living experiences to your doorstep, for your guests to explore as the feeling moves them.
What your guest wants to feel
It’s a good thing that travellers have evolved from being mass tourists with long lists of must-do, must-see hot spots that everybody’s visiting and having their pictures taken at. That was never going to be sustainable. Now they’re keen to feel a deeper connection with the destination they’re visiting by getting a more intimate understanding of its people.
Let’s call it a temporary, but real sense of belonging to their home away from home. That connection can only truly happen if they’re exposed to local communities in a close and personal way. They need and want to experience at first hand what daily life is like for locals, what their challenges are, what they take pleasure in, what issues they grapple with, how they blow off steam and express themselves creatively. This is in addition, of course, to learning about the history of the people, and also modern trends.
..even with traditional style organized group tours like cruises or a bus coach, today’s travelers still want to get out & explore the real [destination]…meeting locals at farmer’s markets & winemakers at wineries.
There’s learning about and then there’s participating in – travellers want to feel what it’s like to live in the shoes of the local people. It’s no more voyeurism for our modern traveller. Participating in local living brings a deeper understanding of how inhabitants of their chosen travel destination live – it brings transformation of perception with deeper empathy.
The concierge service goes next level
Local living needs a base from which travellers can explore your destination. They need the freedom to move around easily with plenty of options to engage with locals as and when they choose to. Your concierge service is the logical liaison between guest and the local communities in your vicinity of neighbourhoods. Rather than compel the guest to do their own research, you could offer that service and bridge the barriers between locals that have zero experience of the travel industry and a clientele that desire a deeper experience than what’s advertised in traditional guide books.
Your (local) staff are your greatest resource to this end – they can make recommendations on their favourite local eateries, restaurants, hang-out spots, sports clubs or events, museums and art galleries, places of worship, markets, parks all based on the guest’s specific interests.
Give your guests the inside scoop on what’s happening in the local community, and put them in touch with the living culture in an immediate, authentic way.
Getting the locals involved
As a liaison you can make introductions, but being a true portal to the local community means incorporating local initiatives into your offerings, whether on-site or near your premises. Travellers will appreciate knowing that their tourism spend benefits local individuals as portions of it find their way into the local economies.
Along the same lines is the new sophistication of locally owned & operated lodges that showcase indigenous cultures & act as economic engines for the surrounding area.
Options you provide could be based around township tours, cooking demonstrations in private homes, language lessons, art and craft demo’s or classes, lectures by local intellectuals and historians, storytelling session with community elders, learning how to surf, salsa or strum a mariachi guitar.. Look deeply into your community and the defining traits of its culture, and invite folks with local expertise to welcome some new foreign friends into their midst.
Cultural purists these days come in all shapes and ages, from the super curious and ethically-minded millennials to the more mature, seasoned Babyboomers, multi-generational families to solo travellers. They all want to get up close and personal with locals and they want to support rather than corrupt or contaminate their home. They’ll want time and opportunity for some independent exploring; so the information you provide clients should ideally ease their access to local living experiences.
Any season will work well – what locals do during off-peak tourism season is interesting too!
Direct them to areas of local interest and encourage them to use public transport: rent scooter or bicycles, take the bus, water or motorbike taxi.
Show them where to buy local, encourage them to dress like locals, inform them of important do’s and taboos.
Connect them with local translators or just regular folks who can teach them the local slang, so they get to know the basics quickly. ขอขอบคุณ (Kap-kun-kah)
Encourage them to attend a local football match, visit a school or connect them with local community projects for a bit of voluntourism. You know your neighbourhood, you know your neighbours. Put your contacts to work!
With the boom in experiential travel, hotels are more & more acting like community portals by introducing guests to popular local experiences.
This is where you can compete effectively with crowdsourcing and the shared economy space, the likes of which have spawned a new wave of independent travel planning. Local hosts in these instances may or may not offer interaction with guests, whereas you can guarantee it for yours.. with your ear to the ground, you can enable your guest with safe and fulfilling local living options to experience at their leisure.
Will the real Authentic please stand up?
It’s not only millennials who are skeptical of the authenticity travel and hospitality brands promise. The cynicism has spread over to other travellers who are weary of being promised ‘real’ only to encounter ‘fake’ or diluted experiences. Remember, the idea of travel being about experiencing everything that is traditional and historical is limiting. Local living is also about what’s current and trendy in local communities. It’s authentic when it’s relevant, not kitsch.
Local trends are generally not on the international radar; so it takes knowledgeable local people to guide and inform you on what’s the latest.
As for the history of a place, that lives in the hearts of locals whose very existence has been shaped by that history – storytelling and sharing a drink, a pipe or a meal at a gathering is the genuine immersive deal.
When a traveler visits a destination they want to understand the local traditions & feel like they are getting a true insider experience.
Authenticity in products and experiences will be quick to discern and it will be hard to fool everyone all the time – don’t make the mistake of trying to pass off dramatic representations of local culture to your clients just for show. They’ll share their experiences with the world in an instant. In fact, make their constant social sharing work to your advantage: digitally enable your content so that satisfied clients share their successful local living experiences on social media, and ensure your brand is associated with real authenticity by third parties. Use their UGC together with your own staff endorsements, your blog, and your Instagram account, to promote your brand accordingly. You might even consider tagging your local partners – everyone’s connected these days.
Focus on consumer emotion and curiosity (in product and marketing) to resonate with your market. You can certainly make better use of your social media profiles to project the authenticity of your brand and use blogging as a tool to inform readers as potential clients about what they can expect to experience with your brand. If connections are what travellers want, your engagement with them needs to start and continue here after travel, to sustain the relationship you’ve established. Your own clients will leverage the power of Instagram in your favour.
It might start off feeling gimmicky, but once your palms start turning read and throbbing from Djembe drumming and you see how the locals you’re jamming with are equally transported away in the moment, you understand you’re part of something real.
Music and cuisine are usually the easiest places to start as these are distinctive cultural identifiers.
There are few more powerful ways to engage with a culture than breaking bread with local people – the type of food they eat, how it is sourced and prepared, when and where they eat and the etiquette that accompany a meal.
For a traveller to get that involved, to show that amount of personal interest, proves to locals that they’re dealing with mindful individuals rather than sheep-like tourists. It challenges any negative national stereotypes from both ends and makes locals more open to the idea of hosting travellers and showing off their lifestyle.
One of my most favourite pursuits (accidental usually) on my travels has always been getting lost. Finding my way eventually, I’d encounter some interesting twists and surprising turns that would teach me things about the place I’d never otherwise have learnt.
My idea of fun never included hanging out with folks exactly like myself – it was always far more interesting chatting with locals, seeing their town, neighbourhood or city through their eyes. It strips you of your preconceived bias and arrogance and makes you vulnerable to the unknown. It endears you to foreign folks and opens your mind to unimagined possibilities. But it also shows us how alike we all are beneath the skin. That’s why I love this local living tourism trend and I totally get why it’s taken off in the way it has. It helps that it supports sustainability in tourism and it’s awesome how it promises to serve both traveller and host in equal measure.