Want to travel mixing useful volunteering with vacations? Welcome to Hopineo! For nearly two years, Florie has traveled throughout Latin America swapping her time and skills in exchange for accomodation and food (doing HopTrips) with tourism initiatives committed to a responsible tourism approach. By listing these initiatives encountered (the HopHosts) and best practices (the HopSolutions), she actively participated in the development of Hopineo collaborative platform. She shares with us the secret details of her great adventure.
Hopineo : Who were those responsible tourism initiatives that you were looking for ?
Florie : I tried to meet these tourism initiatives led by all these beautiful people throughout Latin America who have chosen to work in tourism, not for the sole purpose of earning money (by pure opportunism), but with a love for their region, its natural treasures, its culture, its people (read article «Who are the true providers of responsible tourism? » ).
Specifically, I visited for example:
- 45 ecolodges / hotels 3-4*
- 14 receptive travel agencies
- 13 hostels
- 12 community-based tourism associations / rural tourism
- 11 bed and breakfast
- 6 luxury hotels
- 6 tourism boards / non-profit regional foundations
- And also other kind of tourism services providers: boat trips, hiking guides, Spanish school, restaurants…
H : How were you doing to find those responsible tourism initiatives ?
F : My approach has evolved throughout the trip after testing different techniques of approach. The one I retain, because working best, is to look in each country for those receptive travel agencies which are the true experts of the destination, as well as for university professors and consultants, sensitive to sustainable tourism. I looked for them on Google, but also using LinkedIn (thanks to the “advanced filters” function). I was then sending them an email and asked them for help to identify the key actors in responsible tourism in their country. Throughout the journey, I slowly built a network of tourism professionals passionate about the suject. It’s a small world and they often knew each other from one country to another. The further I went into the adventure, the easiest it became.
And I was trying, if possible, to start my route in each country with a two-week stay in the capital city. I then took the time to meet in person these key people. I offered them sometimes to make an interview video with them in orther to present their travel or consultancy agency vision for responsible tourism. It happened also that I sent them, at the end of my journey through their country, a selection of photos for them to use, royalty free, on their communication media.
I also sometimes took part (when it worked out with my dates of stay) to professional conferences and tourism fairs: ANATO in Colombia, ESTC in Ecuador, ATWS in Chile, WTM in Brazil. I also tested in Brazil, my last country, to publish a post on the Hopineo – Latin America Facebook page. I “boosted” the post (by paying $1) to bring up a sponsored link in the Facebook news feed of people who didn’t follow the FB page yet but who were living in the visited country and who had an interest in responsible tourism / ecotourism. The action was successful as I did make some new pertinent contacts thanks to this very short campaign. But it would have been even more successful if I would have shared it also on Facebook groups about sustainable tourism in Brazil (groups that I got to know later on).
H : How were you contacting them ?
F: Once the responsible tourism initiatives were identified, I sent them an email explaining how I had found them, mentioning the person who had recommended them to me, and presenting briefly my approach and HopTrip offer.
I believe that it is very important to try, at first, to make the shortest possible email and clearly presenting what skills you offer and what you would ask for in exchange. Also, be careful not to include too many links in the text of the email, this could land your email automatically in the recipient’s spam folder.
Click here pour voir un exemple d’email que j’envoyais durant mon HopTour d’Amérique Latine.
H : What were their reactions when you would send them your HopTrip proposal ?
F : When the research work of responsible tourism initiatives had been well done upstream, and I was writing naming someone, I received in 80% of cases a response to my email, and rather quickly. Depending on the availability of management team members of the hotel / association / agency, I received either a favorable response asking for my visiting dates, or at least an invitation to visit them even if it was not possible to host me. It was much easier to make HopTrips in low period than in high period: hence the importance to informe yourself upstream on the visited destination seasonality dates.
H : How were you planning your route ? How much time were you staying in each tourism initiative ?
F : I planned my itinerary slowly step by step along the journey and according to confirmed HopTrips. Depending on the responses received, I positioned the potential HopHosts on an interactive map (using Google MyMaps) to better visualize the location of each and the distances between them.
I stayed on average from two to five nights at each tourism initiative. I rarely confirmed a date well in advance. I explained them that I could confirm the exact date just a few days before, because I wanted to keep some flexibility and that I was still awaiting responses from others. They generally responded well to the proposal. I was also quite flexible between the visits of two different HopHosts as I could always improvise some “break” in hostels if necessary.
H : How was the HopTrip taking place once you arrived onsite ?
F : On arrival they usually started by settling me into my room. Then we met, a little later, talking about the purpose of my visit. I asked them what they understood about Hopineo and my visit to ensure that their expectations were in line with what I could offer. We then reached agreement about what the schedule for the coming days could be. They took me to visit the lodge, introduced me to the team. We then began to discuss the tourism context of the place, the major issues and challenges, best practices for responsible tourism. The first days I focused on the marketing part. Once I began to know a little better the structure and its managers, we were doing the video interview. And having worked hard the first days, they often said to me, ‘Go Florie, enough worked, you must enjoy too! “And they accompanied and/or helped me organizing some activities!
I was on a “work hard, play hard” pace. I worked a lot, but once the work was finished, I was usually doing amazing activities, making great friendships. There are many activities that I had the chance to make free and for which I would not have had the budget if I had traveled on a more traditional way with my backpack from an hostel to another. That is also the magic of doing HopTrips!
H : Were all the experiences always positive ?
F : The intensity of the human experience was very different depending on the type of facilities visited. For luxury hotels, I had usually an appointment with the communication department on my arrival, I was given a room, doing my part of the job and then I was among hotel guests with few interactions with the team. This sometimes felt good to have more time for myself and enjoy a good internet connection: skyping with friends and family, planning onward travel, catch up with overdue blo articles…
But what I liked the most were the experiences with community-based tourism associations or smaller hotels / ecolodges. I spent there much more time really alongside the managers and their team. We became quickly friends. I was often invited to stay longer, to return. Based on the recommendations they left me afterwards, it seems that the experience was positive for them as well. Moreover, I am still in regular contact with many of them. Some of them also offered me to work for their ecolodges: taking care of their digital marketing.
H : A last word for travelers who are also thinking about going in such an adventure ?
F : Swapping your time and skills while traveling, especially to give a boost to responsible tourism initiatives, is a really fun experience! This is a unique opportunity to build great friendships and discover the “backstage” of the country or region visited.
When it’s low season, tourism businesses are generally happy to receive volunteers. They are open to receive over short periods (a few days) if volunteer offers his help on a specific topic, providing particular skills (as in my case). Otherwise, more “general” volunteers, without specific skills, are also welcomed but rather over longer periods of time (over three months). It takes time and energy to welcome someone along their sides for a few days, they need this investment of time and energy to be worthwhile for them too.
We all have skills that we can offer. The important thing is to build your own project based on what you really like to do. The goal is to enjoy the HopTrips experience to further develop these skills (for me it was the digital marketing and video for example). This will allow a true win-win relationship where each is enriched humanly and professionally.
Want to go travelling and do some HopTrips? To contribute to the development of Hopineo by listing new initiatives and solutions for responsible tourism in your area? To help with translations in English / French / Spanish? There are many ways to take part depending of the specific wishes and availability of each. Contact us!