[Guest Post] The Audacious Promises of Sustainable Tourism

This is a guest post by my friend, Jamon Mok, founder of http://www.backstreetacademy.com

The promise that was never lived up to

Don’t we all wish we could do more good while having the time of our lives travelling? Years ago, when I was still a student, a big part of my travel memories were filled with little children tugging at my jeans for a donation, the homeless out on the streets or seeing the local people do amazing crafts but only finding out after that they are extremely underpaid.

Voluntourism, as most forms of sustainable tourism call themselves, have absolutely not lived up to its promise. Many of these well-intentioned organizations simply end up in one of the 3 following states:

  • Losing sight of the initial social goals (e.g. well-intentioned orphanages turned poorly run tourist traps or overpriced ‘work experience programs’)
  • Lots of handicraft shops and restaurants that make social impact their only selling point (versus food or quality of products)
  • Simply don’t serve the needs of the community

raj bbq

Backstreet Academy: Building the solution we wished for ourselves

Which is probably the reason why my team and I decided to start our own company with the vision of providing a truly enjoyable experience for travellers, independent of whether it’s a social enterprise. We also sought to build something that would be ultimately impactful to the people and communities we wanted to help.

Backstreet Academy is the form born to this vision. Whilst traveling, I’ve always yearned to know local people, to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of their culture and traditions through participating in some activity. Whether its learning muay thai in an authentic training camp, a trip with desert nomads across the Gobi, or hunting with handcrafted crossbows in Laotian mountains, I’ve long wished to have a safe and convenient means to experience all of these.

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Wood carving in Vientiane

This sort of experiential travel is beautiful, intimate and one of a kind. Every single experience a traveler signs up for is different from the last. And through a careful design of the business model, we are able to match the a sophisticated traveler looking for a unique and customized experience to hosts who are not only well equipped to deliver the experience, but benefit from it as well.

Masters of their craft, struggling students looking to practice English and earn a part time income, champion boxers who fight week in week out for a few hundred dollars a month, these are the people who make up the community at Backstreet Academy. Besides the 2-3 times in additional income, they work shorter hours, gain experience in hospitality, meet people from everywhere and above all, gain respect for what they do.

Bokator 2_1417619577_1304_477

Of course, this model is not perfect yet. We will be constantly improving with feedback from both our host and guest community to build the next great travel platform to create the most memorable travel experiences while making a difference to the communities we work with.

Let us know if you have any feedback – We’d be delighted to hear from you ways to make this better for everyone!

by Jamon Mok

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