There is no shortage of niche travel labels out there – ecotourism, responsible travel, sustainable travel, ethical travel, experiential travel, mindful travel, real travel, good travel, pro-poor travel, community-based tourism, local travel etc. I suspect, though, that more than just a few of them are either meaningless or confusing to travel consumers. And we know that some of these labels have lost their potency as a result of unscrupulous entrepreneurs' false application of the terms (commonly called 'greenwashing' in the case of ecotourism).
Given this, I've seen an understandable rise in the number of logical questions being asked about all these labels: Why oh why would anyone insist on sticking by a travel label, especially if it has been discredited? What exactly distinguishes one from another? Are the sometimes subtle differences meaningful? Does any of it really matter? Shouldn't the focus of travel simply be about delivering a good experience?
I'm not going to try to answer these questions in this space. The wide spectrum of travel services and experiences makes any single response exactly that: just one of many, many conclusions that can be drawn from a very complex and fluid situation. (Yes, this is as much an excuse for not trying to answer the questions as it is an answer to some of them.)
I do, however, want take a stand with regard to one form of travel (and its label) – Local Travel.
I have hitched my horse to the Local Travel wagon for a number of reasons, including both my company's firm stance squarely behind the values underscoring it and my personal feelings, long in the making after nearly two decades of travel. I genuinely feel it is the strongest foot forward if we are to work together to improve ethical standards in tourism from the bottom up and for everyone involved.
Local Travel - A Meaningful Movement
In early 2010, the WHL Group helped cofound and launch something called the Local Travel Movement (LTM), a non-profit platform and rallying point trumpeting a call to people and organisations with a passion for local travel.
Through the movement, we established bedrock values upon which we have been building the LTM. We opted for values because we didn't wish to define Local Travel, didn't wish to set strict boundaries. We wished instead to paint a picture of travel that is mindful of local people, the local environment, local culture and the local economy. We proposed four easy steps to becoming a local traveller:
- connecting with local people before, during and after a trip
- travelling in a manner that is sensitive to the local environment
- respecting local heritage and culture
- spending money locally.
The hope was – and still remains – that these values will be read, debated and broadcast by partners of the LTM as a means of prompting action. After all, a movement is about action and we look forward to just that: action.
For travellers it's a chance to get under a place's skin (and let it under theirs), while also making the most of their travel time and saving money by spending locally. For host communities, it is vital for enforcing the beneficial qualities of tourism, maximising a general awareness of the local culture and minimising 'leakage' from the local economy.
What Exactly Is Local Travel?
Sure enough, as word of the LTM and its values has spread, the LTM has been growing. And, as we had hoped, a debate has begun that calls to task the very nature of the movement, understandably posing the earlier mentioned logical questions about why we've done what we did by adding yet another flower to an already busy bouquet.
We welcome this debate because it obliges us to clarify the thinking that motivated the establishment of the LTM, the values undergirding it and the long-term goals of making a difference through an industry with unparalleled but sadly untapped potential. We believe that, in the end, all this chatter is meaningful, if only because it will help spur us to action. Industry players of all shapes and sizes, and travellers of all stripes shouldn't have to dwell on definitions or certifications; instead, they should just travel in a manner mindful of meaningful values. That's how the movement will grow and change the industry.
So, attached to the Local Travel Movement website is a forum – a free space, open to all. While we strongly encourage everyone to post questions and comments about Local Travel, one active thread is already tackling the heady bundle of questions raised here: what exactly is Local Travel.
We encourage your thoughts and reactions. It is only through collaborative exchange that we will grow. And it is only through growth that we, as industry stakeholders and travellers can make a difference, giving locals a real voice, engage travellers and develop a stronger ethical dialogue within the travel industry.