Sometimes it’s hard to believe how just one person can make much of a difference. It’s easy to think that one person’s efforts can’t do much good to change the status quo, to right wrongs or make any difference to people’s lives. But that simply isn’t true. What is true is that we all have the capacity to drive change in simple ways, and one way is through travel.
Travel can be a force for good and there are new companies in the industry that are shaking up the traditional travel sector. Call them disruptors, champions of change or fighters of the status quo. What they all have in common is that they believe it’s about time the travel industry was harnessed as a force for good.
Over tourism and overcrowding of destinations has been problematic for the industry for years. There is a new way to see the world, through experiential travel, a more conscious and community-focused way of exploring.
It’s the kind of travel that’s the antithesis to mindless travel. It turns the belief on its head that the only way to travel is by going to a resort and seeing a few sights.
We’ve seen first hand how travel can be a force for good so we reached out to other experiential travel experts to get their take on this idea. We asked them how they thought experiential travel can be a force for good and what more hotels and tour operators could do to promote experiential travel.
1. Experiential trips are inherently designed to benefit locals
According to Tom Harding of Nemo Travel, “experiential trips are designed to specifically benefit locals and the environment. Hotels that embed sustainable practices are promoted and local guides are given the opportunity to showcase their world. The impact of tourism on communities is substantial and many would struggle to generate income without it”. He’s also seeing the upside of the pandemic. He believes that travellers will seek out travel companies that guarantee that their trips will make a positive impact on the community they are visiting.
2. Experience-based travel can have a positive impact on the environment
Amanda Ho, founder of Regenerative Travel, a one-stop-shop for the conscious traveller, believes that “regenerative travel is more than just offsetting your carbon footprint for flights. It’s about being a conscious consumer and understanding the impact your tourism spend makes on the destination you are travelling to. By booking hotels or resorts that are dedicated to environmental and social impacts like Regenerative Resorts, you can be assured you are giving back to the local community.”
What more could hotels and tour companies do to promote these kinds of experiences?
Travel blogger Joanna Nemes and the founder of The World in My Pocket agrees more needs to be done. “Hotels should partner with local businesses in their area and promote their services to their guests. There are many wonderful small businesses that really make an impact on their local communities by providing ethical experiences. Hotels and tour operators should think very seriously about which businesses they choose to work with. Since travellers are becoming more environmentally conscious, hotels and tour operators need to adapt to meet this demand or face losing a large portion of the market.
She also believes that fostering a human connection is key to a successful trip. Hotels and tour operators should train their staff to be more than just a receptionist, or a guide – but to be a local friend. She can’t even count the number of times where the hotel receptionist did not engage with her at all.
On the other hand, she will never forget how she discovered one of the most beautiful hikes in Mallorca because of the hotel receptionist, who was so passionate about her town or the time she took a Chinatown tour in London and ended up going to an underground Chinese bar together with the guide. That’s where she tried cocktails made with tea for the very first time. If the guide hadn’t been so engaging, Joanne would never have found out about this place.
Amanda weighed in on this question too. “Hotels and tour companies need to be more transparent about their sustainability practices, supply chains and regenerative initiatives. They need to do more to promote local, authentic and immersive experiences that honour a sense of place and culture.”
There’s still a long way to go… but we’re getting there
We are in no doubt that the travel industry has a long way to go before mindful, authentic travel is the norm, the kind of travel where the environmental and social impact is net positive rather than destructive. But it’s on the right track at least.
The pandemic has shifted our priorities and some for the better. There’s still a lot more to be done. If we demand more of our hotels, our tour operators and travel agencies, they will have no choice but to change their offering or risk losing business. Experiential travel is a niche market for now, but one day it might be the norm where exploiting a city’s people or environment is simply unthinkable.