A growing number of globetrotters are breaking from the cookie-cutter travel experience by looking to locals for unique and authentic adventures. Traveler-to-local pairings are an attractive option, since they promise a bespoke experience that no Lonely Planet Travel Guide could provide.
With local guides, travelers shed the tourist label and become privy to local haunts, lifestyles, slang, and issues. The traveler-to-local model thrives on serendipity; visitors can relish quotidian routines, experience a traditional wedding, collaborate on magazine publication, or even learn about what it’s like to homeless in a city. In ideal, connecting travelers to locals enables a cross-pollination of ideas and cultures and allows visitors to leave more open-minded with new friendships.
While Couchsurfing and Airbnb may have spearheaded the traveler-to-local model, hotels and a number of startups are ambitiously trying to better service the trend. The Plus One Berlin Hotel complements room bookings with the choice to “book a local”, who can give you insider travel advice or whisk you away on a local adventure, depending on how much you choose to pay. Triptrotting (now relaunched as Wist) used an algorithm to match travelers and hosts based on their interests. While Vayable and CanaryHop offer a marketplace for unique experiences led by locals.
While all sound pretty attractive in writing, a majority of the traveler-to-local startups have failed. Here are the issues traveler-to-local platforms must be conscious and ultimately address in order to succeed.
- DIFFERENTIATION — With a slew of traveler-to-local platforms available (BeWelcome, Hospitality Club, Tripping, Toursbylocals, just to list a few in addition to the aforementioned), it’s difficult for travelers to choose a platform. Traveler-to-local services must distinguish themselves in concept, design, and UI. Home dine and eat with occupy a very specific niche by pairing travelers with locally cooked meals.
- POSITIONING — Traveler-to-local platforms can become strained and fragmented when operations grow multinational. Platforms must be savvy when choosing age groups and geographic regions to target. Some traveler-to-local models are region specific, like #LiveStockholm and Aspen’s adopt a tourist initiative.
- FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY — Many of the community-based platforms don’t charge for their services, forcing them to rely on venture funding to stay afloat. While financial burdens have weeded out a number of traveler-to-local platforms (Tripl), other platforms are struggling to maintain their honest roots while barreling towards multimillion dollar valuations. Couchsurfing has been met with criticism for their transition from a nonprofit to a for profit B corporation with $22.6M in funds (B stands for Benefit).
- VETTING SYSTEM — Choosing a host or guest is a daunting process. Risks range from a lackluster pairing or something downright scary. While Triptrotting attempted to counter the first concern by using a interest-based mathematical algorithm to ensure traveler-to-local compatibility, I’m more concerned about the latter risk and proper safeguards against unsavory characters.
- GIVE ME A TRAVEL APP, NOT A DATING APP — With Couchsurfing now better known as the best-hookup app ever, instead of a platonic traveler-to-local app, travel apps are gaining a seedy reputation and drawing an audience primarily looking to woo strangers. Even the mathematical algorithms behind Triptrotting were developed in consultation with former eHarmony chief scientist. Let’s not misinterpret the meaning of intimate when I say want an intimate travel experience.
I look forward to seeing how traveler-to-local platforms will whet the growing appetite for local knowledge and how they will evolve in response to these challenges.
ABOUT US – Criterion Global, is an international media planning and buying consultancy specializing in travel/hospitality, retail, and luxury consumer brands worldwide. With offices in New York City, Miami Beach, and Mumbai, Criterion Global has executed campaigns across 37 different countries.