It’s become the norm for travelers to want to immersive themselves in local culture at their destination. Yet if they choose to go with an organization promoting responsible community based tourism, how can they be certain that they’re getting the real deal? In knowing what to look for, here are tips from tourism representatives and tour companies who know best.

community based tourism
Intrepid Travel gives its travelers tips on how to interact with locals in a respectful way when visiting their destination. Photo courtesy of Intrepid Travel

Look For The Right Accreditation

It can tough to tell which companies are genuinely doing the right thing with responsible community tourism but there are ways to find out. The first step is to look to see what others are saying through online reviews and ratings. There are other valid resources as well. “One indicator is awards from [their] industry and media and another is with feedback from past customers,” explains Geoff Manchester, co-founder of Intrepid Travel. Manchester also suggests seeing if a company has third-party accreditation to show a continued commitment (for example, Intrepid has had its Carbon Management Plan independently reviewed by Price Waterhouse Coopers).

Encourage Local Conversations

It’s one thing for travelers to want to be immersed in a culture, but it’s another for companies to encourage them to make the first move. “Travelers don’t realize that it’s often up to them to take initiative and engage with the community,” says Andrew Motiwalla, founder and director of Discover Corps. From his experience, Motiwalla finds that natives often put the onus on a visitor to approach and inquire about them. “Once they see that the traveler is interested, they open up. Sometimes they’re waiting on the fence.” To help break the ice, Discover Corps offers an orientation to travelers given by those who live there upon arriving at their destination. Plus their travelers get educated beforehand on through pre-departure booklets that serve for setting expectations about what they will be doing.

community based tourism
New York City Urban Adventures emphasizes small group tours to better accommodate participating vendors. Photo courtesy of New York City Urban Adventures

Think Small With Group Sizes

Guided tours are often a good resource but their size of their groups is what matters. Go with companies that focus on small-led tours because their end results add up to a lot. “It’s important because with community tourism you are often taking people to small businesses,” says David Naczycz, owner of New York City Urban Adventures. Bringing a large tour inside a small shop does more harm than good in basically closing off temporary access to customers or being overwhelming to manage. The magnitude can also be felt on the curb. “The other important aspect is that large groups block sideways and be disruptive to local residents,” adds Naczycz. Plus, there’s no need for the guide to be mic’d or shout so the noise level is kept to a minimum.

Learn How They Build Business Partnerships

Local businesses are the main part of the community tourism equation, so a best judgment call is seeing how partnerships develop. In aiding over 850 farms and ranches in better promoting themselves, the Colorado Heritage and Agricultural Tourism program includes a standout listing for them in their website’s online visitor directory. “They have the attraction and we have the ability to let people know about it,” says Anne Klein, the program’s PR rep. Her office also produces a booklet called Colorado Roots, a resource guide with go-to tips on where to pick fresh fruit to finding craft beer in a digital or app format.

community based tourism
Discover Corps educates travelers not just after they come but way before they arrive at their destination. Photo courtesy of Discover Corps

See Local Residents As A Best Resource

Building good tourism relations with communities extends to citizens as well. “Many of the best local businesses included in our tours have been included after chance meetings with people on our travels,” says Manchester. Intrepid staff members had met a woman in Thailand who became a trekking guide for the company. Now this person runs a homestay, where she instructs cooking classes for Intrepid’s foodie trips. Motiwalla says his company turns to in-country staff to network with non-profits and community groups who might serve as tour suppliers. One example is the Q’ewar Project, a non-profit in Peru that runs a community school and a women’s income generation program. “We pay them to arrange cooking cookies and home visits with the women in their organization,” says Motiwalla.

View All Aspects Of The Destination

A destination might be known for perhaps its scenic views or its growing breweries, but don’t let your interest be one-dimensional. Mike Norton, media relations manager for Traverse City Tourism, refers to this notion as the “enthusiastic” mistake in that travelers might get excited about one aspect and then forget others. Norton points to his area in Michigan, in finding that visitors mainly think of it as a beach town for waterside fun but there’s more to Traverse City than that. “People come and think that’s all there is, and that’s fine, but they never get a sense who the people [who live] here are,” he adds. His office will focus on promoting unique, quirky or historically significant places alongside shops and accommodations.

By Michele Herrmann

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Michele Herrmann splits her time between New England and New York City, and has gotten much better at packing light with her back and forth trips. She has jaunted across Europe and up, down and across the United States and even as far as the South Pacific. She's grateful for being able to dispense travel stories and advice through media outlets and companies (as well as putting her BA in English to good use). Her blog She Is Going Places serves as her way to encourage others to get out and exploring!

Michele Herrmann

Michele Herrmann splits her time between New England and New York City, and has gotten much better at packing light with her back and forth trips. She has jaunted across Europe and up, down and across the United States and even as far as the South Pacific. She's grateful for being able to dispense travel stories and advice through media outlets and companies (as well as putting her BA in English to good use). Her blog She Is Going Places serves as her way to encourage others to get out and exploring!

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