MANILA, Philippines – We millennials and our wanderlust have long been the subject of much flak.
We've heard it all before. How we, in general, prioritize the here-and-now instead of planting seeds for the future. How we look far off into the distance, dreaming of adventure, because of our discontent for the responsibilities we can’t wait to get away from.
Our travel has become the symbol of this much-maligned millennial flight response. It is the goblet holding the malaise, entitlement, and escapism of today. It’s not so surprising how it has become the go-to example of older generations in pointing out how the young put ephemeral delights over actual “adulting.”
YOLO, The ME Generation, Narcissists.
But millennials are also known to be a socially conscious bunch (sensitive “snowflakes” even — there’s no pleasing anyone is there?). Self-awareness grounds us. We know of what privilege entails; we know of systemic prejudices and discrimination; and what we don’t know of, we try to learn about.
Us being awake to these various realities leads us to dream. We dream of purpose, of not just being cogs in the system. It is this purpose that we imbue into travel to elevate it.
Enter social tourism
Social tourism has been in existence for quite some time now, but the whole movement has just started taking off —at least locally—more recently.
Social tourism, by definition, is a form of tourism that brings travelers to local communities with the goal of not only gaining pleasure from the experience but also contributing to the places they’re visiting.
This help can come in the form of volunteer work, such as planting with locals or house-building; skills sharing, via the learning sessions between communities and its visitors; donations, through whatever the tourists bring; and/or income generation, as many social tourism organizations allot part of their tour fees for their partner community.
This immersion is as much as a helping hand as it is an authentic experience.
So why does social tourism resonate with millennials?
Millennials embrace being known as the travel generation. In a 2016 report, AirBnB predicted that by the year 2025, millennials would comprise 75% of all travelers.
The same study also showed that amongst those interviewed, more than 70% of respondents identified travel as being an essential component of their being. And it shows – the average millennial takes approximately three or four trips a year.
But as these numbers increase, the consumer landscape and their preferences also change.
More and more are craving a deeper authenticity rather than trips that bring back mere souvenirs or photographs. Millennials choose to experience and learn about their destinations by getting close to the locale as possible. And this means getting more personal, going off-script, and not visiting worn-and-torn tourist spots.
Social tourism takes this insight and doubles-down on this undressed approach millennials seek.
With social tourism, you go down another layer. Beyond staying in a rented home — which is already the alternative to older generations’ choice of hotels — you stay in a local community, maybe even live with a host family.
More than local restaurants, or fast food chains you’re familiar with back home, you get to sit down and eat home-cooked meals you know money cannot always purchase.
These choices appeal to the millennial’s craving for discovery. In the same AirBnB survey above, it was noted that a majority of young travellers seek these hidden hotspots on purpose. Destinations are now the adult equivalent of those childhood secret nooks or off-the-path clearings one would guard against the rest of the world when they were young.
Wanderlust with a cause
Complementing authentic experiences is what is at the core of social tourism— social consciousness.
Millennials grew up in a world of globalization, economic disruption, and the internet. This gives us a different worldview from our predecessors, one that is more aware of our place on the global market and the social responsibility that comes with our consumption.
In Stefanie O’Connell’s book The Broke and Beautiful Life, she mentions how millennials are killing the diamond industry. This correlates to how millennials are aware of how problematic that industry could be — with issues of conflict and slavery.
The same sense of consciousness is what’s now being applied to travel. When we go on a trip, we’d rather share the fun than enjoy at somebody’s expense.
In social tours, that sharing is with the community itself. It’s less about exploitation and more of community empowerment.
‘Eat, Pray, Love-ing” is no longer enough, we want travels that are transformative not just for us but also the people, places, and the environment around us.
Sustainability and social tourism
It’s easy to dismiss the experience of social tourism as a mere oversell or blowing out of proportion the impact of spending a few hours, weeks at most, with a community. But these relationships started can go a long way, especially in the Philippines where social enterprise is a booming industry (some even hailing it as the “Silicon Valley” of social entrepreneurship).
Social enterprises that have been making waves include: Kandama, which creates fashion that incorporates the hand-loomed fabrics made by the indigenous weavers of Kiangan, Ifugao; as well as social tourism enterprises like Make a Difference Travels (MAD Travels) and Meaningful Travels PH who have respective partner communities around the country.
For many indigenous communities, it is this forming of sustainable relationships with social tourism groups that enable their day-to-day lives even more — from the skills sharing to the income generation.
“Voluntourism,” responsible tourism, transformative travel; as the practice grows, so do the names it goes by. But at its heart, the idea remains the same. Social tourism is about making travels much more meaningful. – Rappler.com
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