Local communities are at the heart of immersive travel, says Insight Vacations chief executive Ulla Hefel Böhler

Over the last few years, our industry has been abuzz with consumers seeking ‘authentic experiences’ over tick-box travel, and now at the start of this new decade, we’re seeing that further evolve as travellers look to make those experiences ever more meaningful and mindful.

Not only do our guests want to really get under the skin of a destination, but they want their travel to make a difference to the environments and communities that they visit. In a climate where there is urgent need to protect the planet from further destruction, but in which we also need to safeguard the 1 in 10 people globally whose livelihoods depend on tourism, we all need to work harder than ever to ensure that when we do travel, we do it consciously and with respect to the destinations and the people that we visit.

It’s not just the right thing to do from an environmental or ethical standpoint, it makes total business sense as we see increased consumer demand for community-based tourism. For many years we have taken great pride in introducing our guests to local people, hearing their stories, sharing food with them and learning about their cultures. And, time and time again, it’s these encounters that are cited by guests as the most memorable, engaging and in some cases life-changing part of their holiday, having an effect long after their return home. In many cases it’s what inspires them to travel with us again, so it’s a win-win for everyone – for our guests, for the people in the communities in which we visit, and for our valued travel agent partners whose clients’ lives have been unforgettably touched by these experiences.

So we are constantly striving to build more of these in to our trips, enriching the lives of both guests and local communities. In partnership with our not-for-profit foundation TreadRight, we take our guests to meet the people behind a number of projects that we support. For example in Jordan, where unemployment for women is around 33%, we take our guests to visit the women working at the Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Cooperative, an amazing project that has been empowering women by providing training, premises and commerce strategies to enable them to make and sell heritage handicrafts. Not only does the cooperative transform lives, but it also preserves valuable cultural heritage for future generations. And we don’t just simply call in, we have a meal with the women there and share stories.

We have a similar project in Perugia supporting Marta Cucchia who is singlehandedly preserving an ancient weaving tradition in Italy. And I am especially excited that, new for 2020, guests on our Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold trips to Seville will visit the Cristina Heeren Flamenco School, a foundation that aims to promote the teaching and conservation of traditional flamenco dancing. We support a number of scholarships to promising students which will help ensure that flamenco lives on for future generations. And what do our guests experience when they visit? Well, they get to have a go at flamenco dancing themselves, and then take a front row seat at a live performance.

We really believe that the local community is at the heart of immersive travel and we want agents and their clients to come on this journey with us. As part of The Travel Corporation we have all made a pledge to make our travel matter, and I would encourage our agent partners to read it and join us. It’s a powerful message and one that we should all get behind. And I believe if you can show your clients that you care, it will show them that you’re the kind of agency that they want to do business with.