Over the past decade, one of the key trends impacting the travel industry has been an increase in travelers’ demands for authentic experiences. As a result, an increasing number of companies have been created with the sole purpose of immersing travelers in the local culture.
Couchsurfing, one of the first such companies to reach a wide audience, offers a platform for members to arrange homestays (sometimes on couches) with hosts within the community. By avoiding large hotels and staying with a local, travelers claim to feel more connected to the pulse of the city. Similarly, AirBnB connects travelers with hosts that have houses, apartments, rooms or couches to offer. Both Couchsurfing and AirBnB build trust through reviews and verification systems. Each site now claims over 5 million members.
Sidecar and Lyft both offer travelers alternatives to taxis. Residents of San Francisco, Boston and a host of other cities can sign-up to become drivers in their own personal cars. The companies encourage riders to sit in the front seat and engage in friendly conversation (and in the case of Lyft, a fist bump greeting) with their driver. Without the built-in trust of a taxi association, the companies build trust through a mutual rating program between drivers and riders.
Vayable targets travelers that shy away from big-box tour operators and instead, prefer a local’s perspective on their destinations. Vayable ‘insiders’ can offer tours on any topic that they are passionate about, such as graffiti in San Francisco, or a midnight street food and photography crawl in Berlin. Like the aforementioned companies, travelers and tour guides mutually review each other to build trust and ensure quality.
Traveling Spoon provides travelers with the opportunity to eat home-cooked meals prepared by local hosts in India, Thailand and Vietnam. For an added fee, the host can arrange a cooking lesson or local market tour for the traveler. Traveling Spoon’s vetting process includes a series of interviews, home visits, and sample meals with hosts.
In the past, travelers often relied on large, trusted companies for their travels. Those who sought authentic experiences conducted extensive research to find locals or unfamiliar local companies (at the risk of being put in uncomfortable or unsafe situations). However, many companies now attempt to bridge the trust gap while still offering travelers the opportunity to engage with the local community and get a glimpse of life beyond the major tourist attractions.