I recently had friends around for a dinner party. They’re all in the 50-60 age bracket and well travelled, so we talked about an issue raised by the Local Travel Movement.
The question I asked them was whether they travelled primarily to meet and interact with local people in the destinations they go to or to see and experience things as distinct from the personal interaction?
They all agreed that “meeting and interacting with the locals” was low on their travel priority list. It was an unknown anyway. If they happened to meet someone local they connected with, great, but they did not search for it or plan it, and in some countries the local people spoiled the travel experience anyway. In the time they have available to them, they really travel to see and learn about past civilizations, nature, music, cultural festivals, museums, art galleries, architecture, local gastronomy and other travel experiences depending on the destination.
That being said, they found that for their children (20- to 25-year-olds) it was very different: the latter first socialized in social network sites or the likes, a part of the Internet to which the parents did not ever venture. The children connected with people (“…total strangers!!”) in the countries they were going to, something the parents would never do. They also travelled on a more ‘feral’ level and trusted foreigners more than their parents ever did when the latter were their age. (My friends had never backpacked or stayed in dormitories.) This style of travel was very foreign to my group and not one they could relate to. On a personal note, my 23-year-old daughter is a backpacker/couchsurfer, much my great chagrin, and I constant worry about her welfare traveling this way. I don’t think any father can honestly say he is comfortable with his daughter sleeping in a unisex dormitory or in a stranger’s lounge room in some far distant land. (I’ve left comments to this effect in the article ‘Are couchsurfing networks legitimate local travel?‘)
Time Is of the Essence
Another factor raised with my group is the time it takes to make initial contact with locals on the net or otherwise, then to socialize with when in the destination, and then maybe keep up with communications following the holiday. This is something one can do when time is not an issue – such as, generally speaking, for the younger traveler, or the empty-nesters and/or the retired – but for the average time-poor, mortgage-carrying working couple (with or without kids), time spent seeing and doing things together is the prime objective of travel. Interacting with locals beyond asking for directions and conversing at train stations is not an essential element of their holidays. Although I’m not saying that if they had more time, they would not try.
An Interesting Future
This I find very interesting, especially since, by intent, the Local Travel Movement and its partners speak to and are dominated by this new style of travel and not what I would consider the majority of real travelers I deal with. Organisations like the WHL Group are preparing well for this new generation of Real Travel. It is insightful long-term brand building and without doubt generating business for a number local partners. But will it help in the long term?
The reason for mentioning this to my friends is that they are very indicative of the traveler profile my business attracts right now, they are my bread-and-butter customers. There is good financial rationale behind this: without profits generated by ‘commercial tourism’ there is no money for me to develop the indigenous part, and that is what we at Vanuatu Hotels and whl.travel are all about.
The future will be interesting. Will the younger social-network traveler of today continue to be more ideologically local-travel oriented as he ages, or will he be more pragmatic as the material realities become more essential and economically accessible to him? I also wonder if the questions posed here would generate the same responses in, say Tripadvisor, as they will in this space.