When we started Cohica five years ago, amid a nearly year long trip around the world, one of our main goals was to spotlight sustainable and socially responsible travel. I was just two years removed from an MBA in Sustainable Business, and Megan had just left her Director-level position at the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui where she’d worked closely on the hotel’s burgeoning sustainability initiatives. Along the way, we found ourselves constantly asking how the life-changing travel experiences we were having could have an even more positive effect on the communities that served as their foundation. So we started to meet with local business owners and sustainable tourism program managers, curious as to how international travel and tourism could provide long-term, sustainable economic development, preserve local cultures, and minimize environmental degradation. We wrote story after story, promoting responsible travel companies and, in 2016, when we first launched Cohica as a travel design agency, made sustainable travel a primary focus of our growing business.
Fast forward five years and we continue to focus on these vitally important aspects of international travel and tourism. Although we always choose environmentally sustainable travel first, we’ve recognized that some of the greatest effect travelers can have on the places they visit is through socially responsible practices that are inherent to a more culturally centered type of travel. Environmental sustainability in travel is crucial and there are a variety of things tourists can do, but the scale at which these issues must be addressed relegates any real change to large businesses, industries, and government policy. When it comes to social responsibility though, travelers, as a collective, have the power to create a fundamental shift toward a world of more ethical, sustainable, and positively impactful travel. When culture is placed at the forefront of a travel experience, there is a natural movement toward the types of trips that have the potential to create long-term value for the communities and stakeholders they involve. And in a year marked by a devastating pandemic, in which thousands of travel (and travel-related) companies have gone out of business, taking the following steps when you go on your next trip will go a long way to help tourism professionals, small businesses, and communities get back on their feet.
Spend your $ at Small & ‘Micro’ Businesses
In destinations around the world, small and micro businesses make up a significant part of the tourism infrastructure. Here in Italy, more than 95% of SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) are micro businesses, with less than 10 employees. These types of businesses almost always have fewer resources, especially financial, and receive less government support in times of economic crisis. Their earnings don’t go to shareholders, nor do their CEOs receive annual bonuses in the millions.
What all this means is that when you stay at a small boutique hotel, eat at a local restaurant, visit the farmer’s market, or buy from a small shop, the money you’re spending goes directly to the owners of these businesses, and therefore to actual members of the community you’re visiting. There’s no better way to make sure your dollars get in the pockets of those who need them.
Stay in Boutique Hotels & Book Direct
A handful of multinational corporations account for more than half of the world’s hotel rooms (source) and the industry continues to consolidate behind the top hotel groups. Although there are many wonderful, corporate-owned or managed hotels that employ countless people across the world, dollars spent at these properties rarely go far toward supporting the local economy.
So instead of staying at a Marriott, choose a boutique, locally-owned hotel and book direct. More often than not, these types of properties offer a clearer view into local culture, along with a true sense of place. When you book directly with the hotel (or with us, as we do), you ensure that one of the many massive OTAs (online travel agencies) isn’t skimming 10-20% off the top of the property’s earnings. Even better, you're also likely to benefit from a more flexible change and/or cancellation policy.
Celebrate Culture & The Arts
There may be no industry in the world that’s been hit harder by the pandemic than the arts, and what better way to learn, while celebrating local culture, than visiting a museum, gallery, historic monument, or music venue. Take a language class, go to a concert (as soon as they're back!), discover street art with a local guide, or check out a craft market. It’s one of the fastest ways to enrich your travel experience and really get to know a place, while supporting the people and communities behind these industries.
Eat Authentic & Local
As popular as it’s become to eat local, sticking to the same strategy when traveling is even more important. By choosing small, locally-owned restaurants, exploring traditional cuisine, and buying regional foods, you’ll make sure the food you’re eating is sustainable and continues to play an important role in the food traditions of the place you’re visiting. The more authentic your food, the more you’ll understand about what makes each community so unique. Take a trip to Valencia, Spain, and you’ll see why paella made there is unlike anywhere else in the world. Or visit the Ligurian coast to understand how true pesto genovese cannot be replicated by jars in the supermarket. When you’re done eating, buy some of the foods you love most and take them home as a souvenir to further support local farmers, shops, restaurants, and all those who work with them.
At Cohica we strive to better connect travelers to the places they visit through amazing cultural travel experiences that are socially responsible. We design all of our Custom Travel Plans, Designed Trips, and Guided Trips to include boutique hotels and activities run by small, local businesses, while emphasizing experiences that highlight food, culture, and the arts. After an enormously difficult year, there is at long last, a light at the end of the tunnel. We can’t wait to begin anew, helping you to explore and celebrate the myriad of beautiful places, and the communities behind them, throughout the world.
A travel design agency.
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