The point of authentic experiences in responsible tourism

Published 13/10/2023

The point of authentic experiences in responsible tourism

Published 13/10/2023

In an age of mass tourism and superficial encounters, authentic experiences have become a buzzword in the travel industry. These experiences are not about checking off a list of tourist attractions but instead about delving deep into the heart of a destination, connecting with its culture, people, and environment. It’s said to be the difference between a tourist and a traveller. But authentic experiences aren’t just a trend but a crucial component of responsible tourism, as they foster a more profound understanding of the places we visit, support local economies, and promote sustainability.

What are “authentic experiences”?

To be fair, the real definition on authentic experiences is a bit personal and still up for debate. But generally speaking:

authentic experiences in travel are experiences that allow visitors to genuinely engage with a destination, gaining insights into its unique identity, history, and traditions. They offer an opportunity to interact with locals, savor local cuisine, and immerse oneself in the customs, arts, and activities that define a place.

It’s the experiences that will teach you something and allow you to connect with the locals. It’s diving deeper than just sticking around the tourist attractions, Instragrammable places and city centre restaurants. It’s not an either-or situation, you’re absolutely allowed to do both and still get the authentic experience. However, it usually requires a bit of a slow travel pace, where you add a few days for the deep-dive experiences on top of the highlights.

For example, you could plan a 3-day city trip to Rome, where you run around to see the stunning highlights, and then go home again. Or you make it a 5-day trip, including a cooking class from an Italian “nonna” (grandmother) and a day trip to a local vineyard. These are experiences with people who were born and raised in Italy, who can also tell you a lot about their country, what it’s like living there and anything else you want to know.

De relevance of authentic experiences in responsible tourism

Authentic experiences are fun and upcoming. More travellers are searching for those authentic experiences, so more get offered as well. But it also actually has a positive impact on the local people and economy, to choose authentic experiences. Here are a few reasons for that.

Promoting cultural preservation

One of the key aspects of responsible tourism is the preservation of the cultural heritage of a destination. When travellers engage in authentic experiences, they become advocates for preserving local traditions and customs. By participating in cultural events, supporting local artists, and learning about historic traditions, visitors contribute to the preservation or sustainability of these cultural elements. Even if some of these practices aren’t that commonly implemented anymore, they will be kept alive through these authentic experiences. This, in turn, helps maintain the authenticity of a place and prevents it from being diluted or homogenized by commercial tourism.

As an example, in The Netherlands you can dress up in old-fashioned clothing in the city of Volendam and do a little photoshoot. As far as I know, nobody actually wears these clothes anymore. But with these experiences, its cultural history is kept alive and well.

Supporting local economies

Authentic experiences often involve interactions with local communities, businesses, and artists. This engagement supports the local economy, creating jobs and income for those who call the destination home. Opposed to pre-booked trips with travel agencies. Not saying this goes for all of them, but many tourist agencies simply work with anybody. They hire staff in their own country, to work abroad for the company (for example, so you have a local contact that speaks your language). And on-site they might work with tour organisations and accommodations that aren’t managed by the local people.

Authentic experiences encourage tourists to put their money into the hands of the people that actually live there. This way, their income is put back into their own economy, when they do their shopping for example. Choosing local experiences therefore helps with a circular economy, where the money flows around in the country instead of towards the rich (often “Western”) owners abroad.

Read more about making a positive local impact

Sustainability and nature

Responsible tourism goes hand in hand with sustainable travel. Authentic experiences often take travellers off the beaten path and into natural environments where they can appreciate and learn about the local ecosystem. When done correctly, this kind of tourism can raise awareness about the importance of preserving the environment and minimizing the ecological footprint of travel. The benefits of local experiences into nature, is that they usually make an effort to preserve their homeland. They’ll be respectful to local wildlife and ecosystems. Whereas big international tour operators just want to show you the pretty places, without fully understanding the impact of tourism.

Cultural understanding

Authentic experiences provide travellers with opportunities to interact with locals, listen to their stories, and understand their perspectives. This, in turn, promotes cross-cultural understanding and empathy. When tourists return home, they’ll have a better understanding of the local culture and how the local people live there. This generally makes for better stories, broader experiences, and longer-lasting memory than a rushed trip past the highlights.

Reducing mass tourism

Mass tourism is a growing concern in many popular destinations, leading to environmental damage, overcrowding, and the blurring lines of the local culture. Encouraging authentic experiences spreads tourists across a wider range of activities and locations, helping to lower the strain on heavily visited areas. By diversifying the tourist experience and spreading crowds, responsible tourism can reduce the negative impacts associated with mass tourism.