Up until now, you may not have thought about how your weekend trip to sunny Spain or your month-long excursion in Peru affects the local people and the environment.  For most of us, travel just means getting away from our busy lives, to forget about our problems for a few days or a few weeks.  We book our travel online or with a travel agent, book into a well-known resort, stay by the beach or shop at stores we are already familiar with.

While not everyone books trips like this, the vast majority of us do.

Since the pandemic, attitudes and priorities have changed. The way we live has changed. We see the world in a different way. We want different things now.

Forced isolation and restrictions have meant that people are now craving their freedom – to go anywhere they want when they want. And, if there’s an upside to the virus, it’s that it’s led to a rise in demand in experiential travel.

In a recent study by We Are Marketing, 69% of millennials indicated that they have a desire to live one-off experiences that gets them in touch with the culture of the places they visit.

This is positive because experiential travel feels good. It’s a trip that’s anything but mindless, one that hasn’t been booked by a travel agent that wants to get their client to connect more deeply with their destination in order to have a richer experience.

Read more: Experience-based travel – a travel industry shift

Does experiential travel matter?

Experiential travel is so much more than just about what you get out of the experience.  Experiential travel matters to local people and the environment.

We spoke to three experiential travel experts to give us their views on how travelling this way really does make a difference to the locals and the natural environment.

It creates jobs and discourages poaching

Elephant in nature park, ThailandTom Harding of  Nemo Travel gave us his thoughts. “It is well documented how travel is a truly global industry and that the number of job losses from the pandemic is catastrophic. Whether this is a gelato maker on the streets of Florence or a Samburu waiter at a lodge in Kenya, they all need income to support their families.”

With regards to the environment, one area that is impacted is animal poaching. “Tourism is a massive barrier to poaching activity across sub-Saharan Africa. Not only do lodges give a proportion of their fees to local rangers, but the physical act of tourists also being on the ground scares poachers away. There have been some scary reports of increased activity in areas that are no longer being protected by tourism and unfortunately, rangers do not have funding to continue to operate.”

Money talks

Amanda Ho is the founder of Regenerative Travel, a one-stop-shop for the conscious traveller says “money talks. Using the power of the dollar to support conservation and social enterprise projects, experiential travellers have the means to make a significant impact on the destinations they visit. By understanding the impact they can have on these destinations and communities, I believe that for the affluent, seeking out these types of sustainable and regenerative hotels and experiences will become a priority.”

And what does she think about luxury travel? “Luxury travel has taken on a new meaning. It’s no longer about the five-star resort with opulent decor and three Michelin-star meals.  It is about the transformative experience that takes you out of your comfort zone and opens your eyes to a different way of life with a renewed appreciation for the world’s beauty.”

Local businesses depend on you

We spoke to travel blogger Joanna Nemes and founder of The World in My Pocket and having travelled extensively around the world, she’s seen first hand how important tourism spend is when it reaches the locals rather than big chains and wealthy corporations. “Some local communities survive only because of tourism, especially in countries in Africa and Asia. When tourists stopped coming, many small businesses died.  The pandemic has been disastrous for them because most small businesses cater to foreign tourists. It was really hard to adjust their prices to attract domestic travellers.”

She’s also seen many online campaigns to raise money to buy food for Kilimanjaro guides, mountain porters, safari drivers and cooks who had their income slashed.


Support sustainability initiatives

And what does Joanna say about the impact on the environment? “Experiential travel can help reduce the carbon footprint. Many communities around the world have started sustainable initiatives to protect their forests, waters and wildlife. As a tourist, one way you can help fund these initiatives is through the entrance fee to a national park which focuses on repopulating the area with turtles.

Your tourism spend can make a difference

Where and how you spend your money makes a difference.

Spending your money visiting the locals who make traditional clothing in rural communities and staying in accommodation run by the locals, might mean that the family can eat that day and that they can continue their traditional way of life.

Imagine the impact of spending your money to see animals in their natural environment – from a distance, rather than funding cruel animal practices such as elephant riding or watching orca perform in tiny swimming pools.

“Money talks” might sound like a cliche but it is true.  There is so much change to be achieved and one powerful way is through our choices when choosing how and where we travel. So, does experiential travel matter to locals and to the environment?  We think it most certainly does.