Have you ever traveled to a foreign country and wanted to go sightseeing? You usually have two options, go down to the lobby and sign up for your excursion of choice at the travel desk. Or walk outside to the edge of the property line and ask the locals which are the best places to see, eat, and visit.
Now depending on your comfort level, you may feel as though the hotel sponsored tour is the way to go. Safe, reliable, possibly even insured. But how much of the authentic culture are you really going to see? And more importantly, how much of your money is going toward preserving that culture?
Due to the booming tourism industry, there has been an increase in foreign-owned tour operators. That means the money spent to experience the culture is not staying in the place you are paying to see. There is estimated to be up to 80% “tourism leakage” in the Caribbean. Most of this can be attributed to all inclusive packages. They strive to portray luxury at every turn, which means hiding the realities of daily life in the local surrounding communities.
So how can you ensure that your cultural experience supports and reflects the true culture?
Look Before You Book
Before you get to your destination, find out what types of activities or outings are offered in the area. Then, see what locally owned and operated companies are available for those trips. Travel reviews or stories of others’ experiences can also help.
Empower the local people wherever you go. If someone offers to help carry your bag when you arrive at a destination airport, let them. (Even if you are more than capable of wheeling your luggage down the short hall.) Then tip them. It’s called econo-tourism. Supporting the local economy through tourism.
World Bank describes tourism as, “the largest voluntary transfer of cash from the rich to the poor in history.” It’s how many people in impoverished areas make a living. So if local people are finding solutions in tourism, help make it sustainable.
Avoid the dime-a-dozen tourist traps. Shop off the beaten path. Buy from the people hand-making their wares on the side of the road. Try the local street fair. Hire a local guide to show you around. Local empowerment will give you an experience that no outside tour company ever will.