Having an authentic travel experience is becoming more and more important to tourists. For most people, the point of traveling is to feel like you really experienced a new place to the fullest, without a manufactured experience that you paid too much for or that just didn’t feel real. Two of the most mentioned reasons by travelers seeking for authenticity are:
- People are unsatisfied with their society or their routinary life. Having an “unspoiled” experience, either culturally or naturally feels like an escape.
- People are eager to learn and explore new things and they think that an authentic travel experience can provide just that.
Despite being the most talked about trend in travel, authenticity is the thing tourism marketers are most nervous and unsure about defining.
Our fear is that marketing people are abusing this word and turn it into a buzz to attract the attention of new travelers to consume their products. Marketers afterall are not new to have invented traditions or dishes just for the tourists.
WHAT IS AN AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCE?
When I hear the expression “authentic experience” I imagine something, being a place or a job, a hobby or a celebration, that is still original or done in its original and traditional way. I am also expecting some elements of unicity and a strong bond with the territory.
In order to see whether my definition would hold up, I have made an experiment together with some of my family members. We have tried to use my definition to categorize some random activities I have recently experienced and to our surprise we could not find any consensus in the room. The truth is, when you try to resonate or rationalize around what makes an experience authentic you run into a conversation that unfolds so many different aspects, opinions, feelings and interpretations that it is difficult to have a round agreement.
As an example,we argued about what is the ‘original’ way as changes with every generation, at least. So how do we know which one is authentic?
Being the first is also sometimes confused with being the most authentic. Verifying what is ‘traditional’ or not also creates problems. The obvious pitfalls are again, traditional at what point in time? It has become traditional for some people to eat a Big Mac in New York, it feels very American, but believe it or not it was not always that way.
So, is there something else besides the words “original”, “first”, “traditional” etc… that can define authenticity?
A recent research has shown that Chinese tourists are driven by a desire to see what is “normal” at the destinations they travel to. This is one reason why more Chinese tourists are organizing and travelling independently as opposed to being solely reliant on a travel agent or prepackaged holidays. It seems that authenticity is constructed by a person’s interaction with, and interpretation of, the social and physical environment.
Since it seems obvious that what is an authentic travel experience to you might not be to me, I am taking the risk of cutting corners and oversimplify matters: authentic travel experience is more about how you feel than something you can define.
Authentic is what you feel is authentic.
AUTHENTICITY LOOKS DIFFERENT DEPENDING ON WHERE YOU ARE
Authentic travel experiences can be different depending on the place and situation.
For instance, in urban areas authentic experiences tend to be related to entertainment, art and architecture or social gatherings (I can think about the amazing culinary offer of Madrid or the experience of a late Museum in London or visiting a modern art gallery in Stockholm).
Whereas in the countryside authenticity is often expressed by the artisanal local businesses, hobbies, farming or culinary traditions, nature or outdoor sports. Think about a tour to experience the rural life in Romania or about a walk through the dynamic and untouched nature of Slovenia or joining a mountain community in Southern Tuscany celebrating the arrival of autumn).
Urban areas and countryside alike offer something amazing and authentic in many different ways.
When you’re the open-minded type of person who takes an interest in things that other people can feel and see is real, your world literally opens up and you will stop being an egalitarian traveler, but an overall kind and genuine person.
We invite you to grasp a bit of both worlds, whatever your personal preference, current needs or desires are, as they are complementary to each other and in many ways strongly interconnected.
IT COMES DOWN TO YOU
In any case, I always appreciate to experience what local people share and foster every day and to see how their lives and local behaviors have been largely influenced by it.
We argue that local people and businesses – rather than the tourism industry or marketers – should be the custodians of what is ‘traditional’ and authentic.
So, you will definitely enjoy a new travel experience if you travel with an open mind and connect directly with the local people or small businesses in the region. Just learn to recognize (and stay away from) the marketing traps.