By Robert Blessing
I like to connect with local people: to talk about their points of view, thoughts, customs and culture, and to experience the local culture as it is and not how mass tourism companies masquerade it. The best option to do this for me is to hire a local private guide who is knowledgeable, easy-going and likable. Private tours last at least a couple of hours and if the local tour guide isn’t likable and knowledgeable in my fields of interest, the encounter won’t be of much value for either of us.
So, how to find a local tour guide and get in touch with him or her before travelling?
Of course you can go to your travel agency around the corner and hire a private tour guide. But that’s not satisfying.
First of all you won’t get to know more about the guide than his first name. And you probably won’t be able to contact the guide directly ahead of time to inform him about your travel interests and wishes. So the local guide can’t customize the tour for your special interests because he doesn’t know them. The encounter at the meeting point is then like a blind date. You do not know anything about each other: what kind of person he is, what are the expectations, etc.
But thanks to the new possibilities of the internet there are some good websites helping travellers and locals connect with each other. Tour guides get their own profiles with information about themselves. (And, on some sites, there is also information about guiding experiences, guiding education, unique tours offered, etc.) User reviews show the service quality of the local tour guides.
These websites help local tour guides to make themselves and their unique adventures public to a broader audience and to get direct market access. Therefore the local guides get higher wages than those typically paid by mass tourism companies. As there are no middlemen the prices are still lower than what travellers normally pay at their travel agency. Other industries (for example, the coffee and chocolate industries) are calling this approach fair trade. The travel industry is calling this approach local travel. The key values of local travel are:
— Respect the local culture, local heritage and local people.
– Make unique experiences together with local people and save money by spending it locally.
– Be sensitive to the local environment.
One site where you can connect with local, independent tour guides in a more personal way is LocalGuiding.com. You’ll find personal tours around the world and get to know the local guides behind each tour. Tours are linked to the guides’ personal profiles. There you’ll find reliable information about the person guiding the tour.
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