The hope for sustainable travel in developing nations
By Graham Perkins, the Marketing Partnerships Manager at Favela Experience, a social enterprise that provides immersive and affordable room and apartment rentals for travelers in Rio de Janeiro's favelas.
The trend towards experiential travel will be the major force shaping the future of the travel industry, and there is significant potential to create sustainable travel economies in developing nations with the rise in popularity of this form of travel. All one needs to do is look at the rise of sites such as Yelp and Lonely Planet to understand that people no longer necessarily want what is easy to access and convenient, but seek unique attractions that make travel more varied and interesting. The ability for an individual to post and give feedback on their experience at a particular attraction is one major reason for the growing usage of these types of services. Instead of getting a sales pitch, online users feel they can get honest commentary from experienced travelers. The travel service Airbnb has been at the intersection of the room sharing economy and experiential travel. Its users are able to post commentary on their hosting/traveling experiences, giving an incentive for the host to offer great service and for the traveler to be a good guest.
Although room sharing has been popular with travelers in the Western world, lack of Internet user sophistication and security concerns has made the spread of these types of services slower in developing countries. Hostels have remained mainstays for travelers seeking communities of people looking to find interesting attractions and like-minded people who enjoy travel. What these services tend to do, however, is lump Westerners together and limit exposure to local culture. The future of travel services will seek to combine the affordability and community that hostels provide while featuring more direct opportunities for travelers to immerse themselves in local culture. By building online groups of travelers interested in not only sharing unique experiences but also learning and interacting more closely with local culture, this nuanced type of travel can become accessible to a larger swathe of travelers.
In addition to offering cool attractions or cozy apartments for Westerners to stay in, travel services can be highly positive vehicles for change in impoverished communities. The rise in popularity of favela tours in Brazil is a direct example of how Westerners' desire for unique experiences has the potential to bring money and awareness to poor communities. The obvious fear in this type of situation is that it becomes a human zoo where little is taken away from the experience besides feeling pity for impoverished people. What travel services operating in developing countries should aim to do is to give Westerners a sense of reality, but also give them opportunities to interact with people of these communities - in family gatherings, in open-air markets, and local NGOs or other social impact groups. Only when foreigners come to see not only the problems of impoverished communities but also have very real shared experiences with people living in these communities can there be true learning and empowerment.
The hope is that travelers come away from these experiences with a better understanding of the complex circumstances that surround communities like the Rocinha favela in Brazil, but with a sense of connection and responsibility to help these communities. By seeing first-hand the generosity of host families and the joys of interacting with local people, the goal is to create a network of informed people inspired to tell the community's story and spur on further action towards improving the lives of its citizens. Travelers who have a positive experience will likely feel the need to share this news with their friends and the online travel community to further increase the scope of interest in this form of travel.
Photo credit: Elliot Rosenberg, Founder & CEO of Favela Experience