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Where did 'Love Local'​ go wrong?

Travel like a local. Live like a local. Visit like a local. Love local. How many times have you come across this phrase?

'Love local'​ seems to have become one of these hipster tourism buzzwords, spawning a whole variety of travel startups. From AirBnB who claim to give you the opportunity to 'live like a local.'​ To a whole host of experience-based tour operators who claim to each give you the unique opportunity to have an authentic experience of this or that place 'like a local'​, or 'with a local.'​ Even sustainability experts have latched onto this idea, and 'travel local'​ is often touted as the antithesis to travelling 'like a tourist'​ and the saving grace of the evils of the tourism industry.

But what does that even mean?

It reads like a bit of a farce to be honest. You see we all become tourists (by definition) when we step out of our homes, even when it is to experience something in our very own city. It leads me to wonder why the word 'tourist'​ has been vilified so much? Why should we be ashamed of being a tourist? Why should we be made to feel as if pretending to be a local is something far better to aspire to?

I remember my first trip to Rome and my first experience of a city awash in tourists, cameras and curio shops. After my first ‘tourist trap’ dinner, I remember walking miles across the city in my mission to hunt down a more authentically local experience. Only to find myself sticking out like a sore thumb in a quiet neighbourhood joint, as the only bumbling tourist in miles.

This memory leads me to ask whether being a tourist is the real problem? Or is it all of the 'tourist traps'​ that have been created to cater to the 'imaginary international tourist'​ who is seen as being ‘the other’, and wanting otherness. We often speak of 'Disneyfication'​ as a derogatory term for these artificial bubbles with their array of curio shops that have been invented for tourists. We look down our noses without understanding that in reality, we actually should be taking notes from the way Disneyland has created an integrated and immersive destination (but that is a story for another day).

I hope you are not under the impression at this point that I am anti the 'travel like a local'​ movement. For that is not the case at all. I am in fact a huge supporter of the movement Bruce Poon Tip brought to the fore. However, I do disagree with how the term has morphed over time into a pure marketing ploy. For as much as its proponents vilify tourism, they are packaging products designed almost exclusively for international tourists under the guise of localism.

If we remove these “love local” blinkers it is easy to see that the concept of “local travel” has far more opportunities to offer (and application) than the cookie cutter “travel like a local” product that we are currently seeing.

The concept of localisation actually has profound possibilities for destinations and entrepreneurs alike.

What do I mean by ‘localisation’?

Localisation means popping the artificial “tourism bubble” completely. So instead of focusing on developing the product we think ‘other people’ (ie: people not from here, outsiders, foreigners) want to see, we focus creating experiences that would entice and wow local residents.

Localisation is about understanding tourism has a multiplicity of layers that should be interwoven into a place, not applied as appliqué. Because it is those layers that create immense opportunities for entrepreneurs and businesses to thrive. Localisation is the fertile breeding ground for innovation.

Localisation, in its essence, is about adding to the ‘Sense of Place’ rather than cauterising it. It is about designing better places for people to live, and fall in love with.

What does Localisation mean for you?

For Destinations: Localisation unlocks competitiveness by opening the doors to create a thriving internal ecosystem that enhances a powerful ‘Sense of Place’ that services residents as well as visitors.

For Entrepreneurs: Localisation opens the doors to a myriad of opportunities that you actually have on your doorstep that you could unlock, without needing to be reliant on the elusive international tourist.’

For Tour Operators: Localisation believe it or not offers you the opportunity to plug into your city and to service it, rather than being solely reliant on inbound tourists.

For Hotels: Localisation offers you a roadmap to easily (out)compete with disruptors like AirBnB in a more powerful way than creating Millennial brands.


If this piece piqued your interest I can recommend reading:

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