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Blog - Supporting Local Economies While Traveling. How and Why in 5 Points
A growing number of tourists want to pursue the admirable objective of helping local economies and people while travelling. This principle became widely known as a base of a sustainable tourism, thanks to a new consciousness privileging small-scale economies. More people want to travel and grasp the real experience with local people. If this happens in countries less wealthy than the place of origin of the travellers, good intentions of help and support also play a key role.
What do we mean when we say helping local economies during a trip? Indeed, while visiting a place, we all support the local economy in one way or another: we pay taxes, hotels, transportations, restaurants and doing so we boost the economy of the host country and “give livelihood” to those people assisting us. Then, we think: how much of what we spend is effectively distributed and how much actually reaches the hands of a few people? This pushes to meeting common people, sleeping in smaller family-managed accommodations and let our expenditures really reach those who live in those places.
We don’t want to demonize big hotels or operators, which in some cases even developed system to act well towards local communities. What we normally do is give suggestions, so that everyone will be equipped for a better decision.
Applying for obvious reasons the case to the Philippines, we can think about what we believe can be helpful to local economies.
1. Sleeping in small-sized accommodations
An Ifugao house and a rice-pounding tool . Source: Tropical Experience Travel Services.
Usually in the Philippines, these are locally-owned or with mixed local-foreign ownership. These places have limited number of rooms, and if ever they are not directly family-managed, would have more close relation with local communities they give work to – neighbours , relatives or town residents. It is true that in this way it will be harder to find 5-star hotels, but the level of the services of small structures is continuously growing (thanks also to a growing demand) and you can actually have a true experience of the country without giving up on comfort.
2. Buying handcrafted souvenirs
Filipino-style Christmas Decorations.
During our trips we choose small handcrafters and vendors, for instance among wood-carvers or ladies weaving for some extra income. In this way you can bring home unique pieces, and not industrially produced. There are actually some cases, even in other touristy places in other parts of the world, that souvenirs are not even made in the same country!
3. Eating in restaurants serving local food
A picture of a very good kare kare, the number 1 on our top 10 of Filipino food!
Here in the Philippines, you don’t necessarily need to eat the so-called “street food” to have an authentic experience. There are very good restaurants serving dishes of the local tradition (thus protecting it) and made with local ingredients (reducing the environmental impact). We can easily assume that locals will be more talented in cooking local food, right? Eating is very much part of the travel experience and tasting the cuisines of the places you are in just makes it more special. Sure, sometimes local dishes can be “strange” and so it is better to be advised by someone experienced. (But, if you really cannot find things you like, do not fret, a decent dish of pasta or pizza can be found everywhere!).
Also in this case, small is beautiful. Even though deciding on this matter can be more complex. It is a good idea to privilege operators with direct knowledge of the place, maybe even better if the enterprise is located in the same country of destination, that organize tours with skilled local staff. Obviously, it is better to do so choosing operators that are reliable and have a good reputation, especially if we are travelling in far places.
5. Traditions, cultures and shows
A scene of the famous Sinulog Festival, in Cebu, Philippines!
Impacts of tourism on local culture are often underestimated. Let’s recognize traditional cultures and show respect, interest and admiration. Let’s forget about artificial custom-made shows, unless they are organized by locals themselves. In the Philippines, for instance, a way to enjoy genuine shows is to visit one of the many festivals and parades organized during the year. Almost every town, even the smallest, holds a festival once a year. These festivals would be made with or without tourists, but travellers are always welcome.
Even if others could have different opinions, we believe that having a tour following these principles would help local economies much more than making mere charity or leaving exaggerated tips, stimulating a healthy economy and a culture of labor and good service. This would be a more balanced approach, respectful of the environment and the culture of the places.
Let’s think about it! A vacation organized this way, if done well, will not require you any renounce. Indeed, it will let you visit the most beautiful places and will give you a better experience.You will come back home with that satisfied sensation that only successfully genuine travel experiences give us.
(written on April 2015)