An Ever-Expanding Search for Authenticity: Connecting Travellers to Local Operators

  • Ben Colclough, Director of Tourdust Ltd.
  • 28 November 2009

There is a shift in Western societies that has its roots in travel. Social status has always traditionally been about flash badges of wealth, but nowadays, having a couple of wild and romantic stories up your sleeves from your travels is a far more impressive social differentiator.

Through AWOL and the Bicycling Empowerment Network, travellers can tour by bicycle through the Cape Town township of Masiphumelele in South Africa. Tours like this provide real jobs for people in the community. For example, bike mechanics repair the tour bicycles and all tour guides are local.

Through AWOL (tour operator) and the Bicycling Empowerment Network, travellers can tour by bicycle through the Cape Town township of Masiphumelele in South Africa. Tours like this provide real jobs for people in the community. For example, bike mechanics repair the bicycles used and all guides are local.

Whether this is the cause or result, it underpins a dramatic shift in travel tastes towards more authentic experiences. As more and more people are exposed to tales of gap years and the like, they want more of the eco lodge and the historic inn and much less of the bland four-star hotel. They aren’t happy putting up with big tour buses and a dictatorial tour guide. After all, who wouldn’t want to stay somewhere which is unique to the place and be guided by a knowledgeable local in a small group? Ultimately it is all about getting unscripted glimpses into a local culture.

Interestingly though, the extent of the trend depends on the originating country of the traveller and the destination. Typically the more remote and adventurous a location, the more likely a traveller will want the assurance of a domestic (i.e., home-based) travel agent holding their hand. Whilst this isn’t contrary to their wishes for a more authentic experience, they are left hoping blindly that the selections of their agent match their own travel philosophy. In addition it is likely that their tourist money is passing through at least three if not four intermediaries’ hands, each taking their own cut. What is new is that nowadays as soon as a destination comes to be perceived as more accessible, then people want to start pulling together their own trips together and begin to research in minute detail local operators and lodges.


This is where companies like whl.travel, Tourdust and others are trying to help: giving the traveller access to online booking and vetted selections and reviews of high-quality local operators. And, like whl.travel, Tourdust supported the Geotourism Challenge 2009 because we strongly believe that the holy grail of travel is small-scale locally supported initiatives which strike the perfect balance between offering the traveller a simply amazing experience that is unique to that place and delivering genuine benefits to the local community.

An interesting diversion is to spend a little time on the TripAdvisor forums. They are full of travellers planning and researching local lodges and operators in some very adventurous destinations. The demand is clearly there for doing it independently, but oh so often the thread ends with the individual admitting that despite all the research they finally chose to book through a domestic agent, typically because there was no online booking option, getting in contact was difficult, payment was tricky and ultimately they didn’t find the validation they were looking for in their choices.

Those are the issues that we are all here to solve.


Tourdust is a UK-based online travel agent selling wilderness adventures and cultural journeys. We handpick what we see as the best specialist local operators offering adventure holidays and cultural tours, and encourage travellers to piece together their own independent travels with some of these amazing experiences. We always search for owner-operated local companies who have a driving passon for their place and their communities.


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3 Responses to “An Ever-Expanding Search for Authenticity: Connecting Travellers to Local Operators”

  1. gap year says:

    Is there such a thing as a bland 4* hotel? Most people on a gap year would kill to be in one!

  2. travel deals says:

    why do we travel? Or like the song goes “does anybody know what we are looking for”?? Why do we consider travel a basic desire nowadays? I especially like how George Santayana puts it in The Philosophy of Travel: “We need sometimes to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life, to taste hardship, and to be compelled to work desperately for a moment at no matter what.” Do we travel to lose ourselves or to find ourselves? In order to find the WHERE, WHEN or HOW to travel, we need to rediscover the pure pleasure of travels and the meaning of our own inner journey and rediscovery.

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