Is It Time to Start Putting the Community Back into Tourism?

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February 14, 2020 – Long-standing relationships between hosts and guests used to be a hallmark of tourism on the . Is it time to bring back the relationship between tourism and the community?

A few years ago, I was contacted by an Englishman living in requesting a meeting about promoting a project he was involved in. 

We met in and soon realised that we had a love of one thing in common – Jelsa, that lovely little town on Hvar that I then called home. As the drinks flowed, it became apparent that our joint love was a bit more personal. 

He went on to explain that for more than 15 years, he had holidayed at the same apartment with his wife, a lovely spot with a gorgeous view overlooking the Adriatic, with the most exceptional hosts, Franko and Zorica. They watched Franko and Zorica’s four kids grow up, and the relationship built up between the two families became almost as important as the holiday itself. 

And then one day, sadly, the relationship ended. 

Apparently, because of me. 

HIs hosts of many years informed his that their daughter was moving into the apartment with her English fiancee, and it would no longer be available for renting. And here we were, in a pub in Zagreb, meeting each ofher for the first time almost 15 years later. 

It wasn’t the first such strong bond I came across between people I met, who had been guests of my in-laws. A Belgian guy told me about his family holidays in Jelsa which were the highlight of his childhood, until his mother tragically died when he was about 8. We did a feature story on his new some time ago and included a photo of his mother. When my mother-in-law saw the article, she reproduced exactly the same photo of his mother, along with letters that were exchanged between the families in between visits.  

When I first moved to Jelsa, these relationships were the norm, not the exception, and I would often learn interesting and fun facts about my future wife and her family, who had known them for decades. 

That was then. This is now. 

While it is undoubtedly true that such relationships continue to exist, they are only a fraction of what they used to be. With the surge in private accommodation, as well as Internet booking, often tourists do not even meet their hosts, accessing their accommodation via keypads and the like. It is a fundamental shift in the tourism experience, which is a little regrettable if understandable. Modern tourism has moved on to the Instagram pose and seeing as many places without actually taking the time to enjoy the experience. 

I was reminded of all this in a meeting about a digital nomad project we are engaged in, where I was talking to co-working specialist Tanja Polegubic from Saltwater Split. 

“Digital nomads love the idea of a home-cooked meal, a simple but fantastic experience.”

Imagine grandma making her best sarma for 8 nomads. A really authentic experience for which they would probably pay less than in a , and some money would go into grandma’s pocket. 

It me thinking to some of my most memorable experiences all over the globe, and that interaction with the community was the runaway winner in my memories. Experiences like being invited into the home of an Afghan refugee in southern Iran for lunch and a game of chess, that kind of thing. 

When I first arrived in Jelsa for that initial weekend in peak season August 2002, we went to an accommodation agency to find a place to stay. One phone call later, and two 5-year-old girls turned up to take us to Grandma’s apartment. They sat on our knees in our car as they guided us through the back streets. Grandma was waiting with a welcome rakija and a chat. These are the only memories I have of my stay that first night. About the accommodation itself – nothing. 

The concept of tourism and community is under attack from overtourism in general, but I wonder if a little more attention and initiatives to strengthen the relationship between tourism and the community might yield a better tourism experience for both sides, as well as reigniting that loyalty which was the hallmark of tourism here. 

After all, Grandma’s sarma is hard to beat. 

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