This week has seen the launch of LocalTravelMovement.com. It’s aim is to bring together supporters of local travel and it will act as a platform for the debate that is already going on around the web. I was involved in some of the early discussions and it got me thinking about trying to define ‘local travel’.
Some months ago, I received an email from PR rep for a hotel in Buenos Aires. I can’t remember the exact wording but it was along the lines of – “I’ve seen your blog and I have the perfect ‘going local’ hotel for you”.
“Uh oh, here we go,” I couldn’t help thinking. Did this mean ‘local travel’ was now a buzz phrase? Were all hotels going to be jumping on bandwagon, just like every hotel that recycles now calls itself an eco lodge?
As it turned out, on this occasion, my cynicism was misdirected. Not only was it a lovely property (www.livianguesthouse.com.ar), but also – and to my surprise – it did have what I’d describe as a ‘local edge’. It was the lifelong family home of one of the owners, it was slightly off-the-beaten track, and the hosts arranged art events, parties and asados (barbecues) to which all guests were invited. Ok, it wasn’t couchsurfing, but it did give you a little more of a slice of life in Buenos Aires than the swipe-card, ‘good-morning-madam’ service in the average chain hotel.
The trouble is, in theory, every hotel could jump on the ‘local’ trend just by virtue of having ‘a location’. So where do we draw the line?
Personally, I don’t think there should be too many rules or lines. As soon as you try to define ‘local’, you get yourself into problems. How long do you have to have lived in a place to be considered local? Or is it less about years, more about lifestyle? If you use a travel-networking site and meet a rich Argentine who lets you stay in their penthouse and takes you to the polo, does that still count as getting ‘the local perspective’? Or perhaps just ‘a’ local perspective? Or is local travel more about where the money goes? And, in that case, how much of that has to be kept in the local economy for a place to be considered a ‘local company’?
For me, ‘local travel’ is more about awareness, personal judgement calls and rethinking the way we have become accustomed to travelling (ie the set routes, cocooned environments and the only-for-tourists experiences). It’s more complicated than a buzz phrase.
Will this make it more than a passing fad? I hope so.