From couchsurfing to community-based tourism and from Tripbod to FindYourItaly, meeting local people while on holiday is becoming a very organized thing. It used to be “reserved” to backpackers staying in hostels and daring adventurers. It is now accessible to all, and I’m quite happy about that!
Do you think this will improve the way communities in destinations are treated? Open travelers’ eyes to the importance of preserving the local culture, traditions, land? Or not?
I think what we’ll see more of is the growth of “staged authenticity” in the local guiding market. MacCannell wrote about this in 1973, largely reference to packages and ‘cultural shows’.
So over time what it becomes is not “real” per se, but a sanitised and staged version of real, as locals keep their “real real” culture behind doors as some necessary privacy for themselves.
We already see it here with ‘authentic london pub crawls’ – that no one but tourists take part in nor resemble where local people would actually go; rather the tourist trap fake versions.
But I think that can still open travellers’ eyes to cultural concepts, whilst retaining privacy for locals which is where real cultural conservation can continue, without tourist dilution.
Great point, Vicky. I agree with you. Putting on a show for visitors is part of human nature (hey, we even do it when our own family comes visiting from a couple of towns away, don’t we?) However, initiatives like couchsurfing – and the more organized versions of it – or really meeting normal citizens at the destination change a bit that landscape, I find. When I read the feedback from travellers returning from such trips, I see that their best memories are when they just hung out, did not go to all the “cultural events” or “traditional places”. When they just spent a day in the life of… and that’s quite interesting to me. Most community-based tourism experiences are somewhat far from that, I agree, and I shouldn’t have put them in the same bag. Although we could aspire to change that.