The audacious promises of sustainable tourism
The promise that was never lived up to
Don’t we all wish we could do more good while having the time of our lives travelling? Years ago, when I was still a student, a big part of my travel memories were filled with little children tugging at my jeans for a donation, the homeless out on the streets or seeing the local people do amazing crafts but only finding out after that they are extremely underpaid.
Voluntourism, as most forms of sustainable tourism call themselves have absolutely not lived up to its promise. Whether its an overpriced trip for you to experience village life and ‘building houses/roads/teaching English’ or overpriced food and activities meant to assuage your conscience with messages assuring you part of it goes to supporting a particular organization or cause, none of them are truly efficient in distributing resources, clean, or truly providing value to the customer beyond that of guilt-relief.
Beyond that, many of these well-intentioned organizations simply end up in one of the 3 following states:
- Losing sight of the initial social goals (Think well-intentioned orphanages turned poorly run tourist traps or overpriced ‘work experience programs’)
- Lots of handicraft shops and restaurants that make social impact their only selling point (rather than food or quality of products)
- Simply not serving the needs of the community
Backstreet Academy: Building the solution we wished for ourselves
Which is probably the reason why my team and I decided to start our own company with the vision of providing a truly enjoyable experience that tourists would love independent of whether it’s a social enterprise, and also something that is not only efficient, scalable but ultimately impactful to the people and communities we want to help – something we ourselves desperately wanted.
Backstreet Academy is the form born to this vision. Whilst traveling, I’ve always wanted to know local people, but beyond that, have a much deeper understanding and appreciation of their culture and traditions through participating in some activity. Whether its learning muay thai in a real training camp in the villages, a trip with the desert nomads across the Gobi, or see how people in Laos craft their own crossbows and go hunting in the mountains, its something that enthralls me and makes me wish I could have a service that allows me to easily book and experience all of these in a safe and convenient manner.
This sort of experiential, customized and intimate way of travel is beautiful and one of a kind. Every single experience a traveler signs up for is different from the last. It’s never the same experience and its always personal.
And through a careful design of the business model, we are able to match the above demands of a sophisticated traveler looking for a unique and personal customized experience to people who are not only well equipped to deliver the experience, but need help as well. Masters of their craft, champion boxers who fight week in week out for a few hundred dollars a month, struggling students looking to practice English and earn a part time income, these are all the people who make up the community at Backstreet Academy. This model is scalable with transparent and clearly divided revenue shares. Besides the 2-3 times in additional income, they work shorter hours, gain experience in hospitality, meet people all over the world and most importantly they gain respect for what they do.
Of course this model is not perfect yet, but we will be constantly innovating and improving with feedback from both our host and guest community to build the next great travel platform creating the most memorable travel experiences while making a difference to the communities we work with. Let us know if you have any feedback! We’d be delighted to hear from you ways to make this better for everyone.