Did you know that by (painlessly) choosing experiences that benefit the local community means that you’ll have an even better time when you travel?
The travel industry is huge but recent statistics show that for every $100 spent in a given area, only $5 of that money will stay locally. The rest, the comparatively huge $95, goes to large national and international companies. But it’s easy to make simply choices that will ensure that the money you spend actually benefits the area you are enjoying.
WHERE YOU STAY
It sometimes seems that the hospitality industry is composed entirely of hotels belonging to large chains. In the last century, travellers enjoyed this because they ‘knew what to expect’. Today’s travellers have different requirements and don’t want their accommodation in Thailand to be the same as the Marriott in their hometown. We prefer experiences these days.
A little research will easily show you that there are plenty of privately-owned hotels and you also have the option of home sharing or renting a separate suite or apartment from Airbnb or a similar website. This keeps money in the community, more than likely gives you a friendly host who can make genuine local recommendations and give you a much better experience.
WHERE YOU EAT AND SHOP
Some resorts, which are owned by large chains, are all-inclusive – meaning that you don’t have to leave the premises when you want a meal, a drink or even to shop. At one time, travellers liked this but no longer. It’s bad for the local community and robs the traveller of interesting local experiences.
At one time, tourists liked to use the nationwide restaurants and cafés that they were used to at home, but again, this is no longer the case. They have a much better experience if they enjoy the local restaurants, bars and stores. This is where you’ll get another great advantage when you stay with local hosts – they will tell you their favourite places to eat, drink and shop, rather than telling you simply about the tourist places.
You’ll also avoid the touristy places that have higher prices than the businesses where the locals go and you’ll be relieved to avoid the stores that sell overpriced tourist tat at overblown prices.
LOCALLY RUN ACTIVITIES
In many areas, various activities, tours and other experiences are run by companies who are not local and/or are not concerned about the local community. It’s easy to find exciting things to do on your trip using local people and businesses. Your host will be able to advise you which places to go to.
You’ll also have the advantage of dealing with people who might well have superior local knowledge. Who knows? The guy who runs your snorkel boat might let you know about a fabulous place to eat dinner or his favourite café or bar. He might tell you about a great gig that’s happening in town or where you can buy absolutely the best, authentic local crafts – off the beaten path.
TRY DIFFERENT PLACES
Of course, if you find the perfect coffee shop, then you’ll want to go there for breakfast every day if possible. But to benefit the local community – and to experience the best that the area has to offer – then eating at different places every day, exploring more local shops, will help you enjoy even more great experiences.
The advantage to the local community is that you’ll be spreading your spending even further within the locality.
SOUVENIRS & GIFTS
If you like to buy souvenirs of your trip or take home gifts for your friends, then you’ll definitely want to avoid Eiffel Tower bottle openers, Mona Lisa shot glasses or a miniature Michaelangelo’s David made in Taiwan. So head for the farmers market, local craft shops and street stalls.
Locals or your host will tell you the best places to go. And remember that food and drink souvenirs and gifts are often the best! Honey from a local farm, artisan cheeses, wines from a local vineyard – all these are much better souvenirs for you or gifts for your friends and help to keep your spending money in the area.
Remember to ask locals often for recommendations. They will be able to tell you the places they like to go, to eat or to shop. Many will have friends who make local products as a sideline. They may know of farmers who can sell you local produce or olive growers who can provide you with the best olive oil you’ve ever tasted.
Maybe they have an aunt who knits traditional local sweaters, perhaps they have a cousin who is performing every night in an off-the-beaten-track jazz club that never attracts tourists. It could be that they have a friend who works in a cafe and makes the most fabulous bouillabaisse in the area. Once the ball starts rolling you’ll get some excellent suggestions that makes your trip great and helps the local community.
JJ is originally from the UK and has lived in South Florida since 1994. She is the founder and editor of JAQUO Magazine. You can connect with her using the social media icons below.