Philippines Autrement for an authentic meeting with the local communities
From the beginning of our trip, we have heard a lot about the concept of “authenticity” from the different tourism actors and from the mouth of the tourists. We must be honest, when it comes to travel, we are all looking for some authenticity. But what authentic things are we searching? What is an authentic trip? We found some answers as we interviewed Rodolphe and Bruno, the two founders of Philippines Autrement: a tour operator based in the Philippines specialized in the a-la-carte tours in the Philippines and member of the network “Un Monde Autrement”.
Rodolphe and Bruno know the Philippines very well as they have lived here for more than 10 years. Rodolphe used to work in a transportation company and then in exporting Filipino products. Bruno has always worked in tourism as a diver instructor, then as a travel agent specialized in diving tours in Asia and Africa. With their passion for travel and adventure, they decided to create a tour operator called Agila EcoIslands in 2010 but generating awareness was a hard task for this small entity. They thus obtained the franchise “Un Monde Autrement” to benefit from their network and their expertise in marketing.
The recipe of Philippines Autrement: trips off-the-beaten track in small groups (2 to 8 persons), an alternative to mass tourism which tends to alter destinations and inexorably modify the behaviours of local people. Going off-the-beaten tracks, it precisely gives opportunities to find this glimpse of authenticity. But going off-the-beaten tracks does not mean to go sleeping in huts or dirty hotels or eat on the ground in the middle of the jungle. It is possible to find some authenticity in staying in quality hotels and in eating in “normal” restaurants. Just go out of the hotels and away from most touristy destinations to get a better overview of culture of the country by observing people, and better, by talking to them.
And the secret of Rodolphe and Bruno for meeting local people and discover alternative destinations is to provide a Filipino guide taking care of the group throughout the tour. These guides are experts in the chosen destinations and in the Filipino culture. They are the intermediary between the travellers and the local populations, allowing to exchange with them, to adapt to the local culture and to understand them better. A second advantage of having a guide, crucial to the success of a trip, is the capacity to be flexible to the clients’ requests and needs which can evolve throughout the journey and to adapt to the unexpected which always happens. Finally, the guide enables to be flexible to opportunities: local events, fiestas, activities… which interest the clients. The two guides working for Philippines Autrement have been both trained by Rodolphe and Bruno to fit to their concept and are continuously learning French.
Finally, in addition to the authenticity, a critical focus of Philippines Autrement is the concept of responsible travel. By creating partnerships with local service providers, hotels and families, it encourages a redistribution of revenues. By going away from the common destinations, more people can benefit from tourism. By providing fair prices to partners (guides, local guides, transport operators…), meaning paying them above the minimum rates, it helps to create sustainable partnerships with local people and to build more authentic relations and exchanges.
But providing these a-la-carte tour services involves high resources, thus high prices which are affordable only for the high-end market.
Bruno and Rodolphe are now creating tours including homestays. They have identified several families in different cities with whom they are building partnerships. It will help finding even more proximity and sharing with local people. However, in the long term, it might create some jealousy among the local communities. Our two interviewees answered that due to the low volume of visitors, these risks have a low chance to appear. But if so, it might be interesting to implement a rotation between different families in order to make more families benefit from these homestays. It would encourage a more comprehensive responsible tourism.