The Challenge


What global challenge do you think innovation leaders should work to solve right now? read the brief


Rethinking Tourism - tourism as empowerment

How can we use tourism to empower local communities and improve visitor experience?
On a recent trip to Marrakesh I experienced a new sense of disillusionment (read more here: Every corner I turned - and trust me, there were a lot in the medina souks - I felt like I was being taken for a ride. 9 times out of 10 when I asked for directions (it's particularly easy to get lost in the souks, and having a map will do you little help), the local was more than happen to take me where I wanted to go, BUT then they wanted something for it. 2Euros please. Don't they realize that's more than a single metro ride in Paris?? And if someone were to ask you directions in Paris, you would never in a million years think to change them for your service. In shops I thought I was having meaningful experiences until I realized it was all a hoax and luckily I'd done my research, and knew the prices they were quoting were absurd. One taxi driver asked me why all foreigners were so quick to jump on them about prices - I said it's because we've had unfortunate experiences where someone tried to take advantage of us, and so now we're forced to be more antagonistic. I told these to story to a professor when I returned. Despite spending a lot of time elsewhere in Morocco, my Marrakesh tales of interactions of locals (who deal with tourists on a daily basis) was quite a surprise to him - it's not like that in Fez he told me. While the increase in popularity in tourism was clearly a good thing for the economy in Marrakesh, the attitudes of locals have clearly shifted with it.

I found it interesting to see the emphasis the Moroccan tourism board puts on the idea of interacting with locals and experience though their advertising (, but clearly if something isn't done to help the local mindset soon, the word of mouth that travels by visitors is going to be a negative one. It is these mundane interactions that often make a trip most memorable and have the potential to be a great asset to tourism, both empowering local people, while at the same time improving the experience of the visitor.

While in Morocco, I met with someone who works with the Morocco tourism offices. She acknowledged what a problem it is becoming. She shared some illustrated posters that are designed to teach and educate locals about certain issues. There are "official" tour guides in Morocco, but are these guides helpful or just part of a cookie-cutter book they've memorized? In more developed countries, tours such as Context Travels, use local experts to in small group tours to help provide an educated alternative to mass tourism, offering specialized thematic tours. How can something like this be translated to other parts of the world? What are alternatives to tour guides or ways to experience a place? How can cities be/provide better hosts? And what can we do as travelers to be better visitors?


Join the conversation and post a comment.

Anne Ditmeyer

November 21, 2010, 22:03PM
Another interesting example I just heard of: visiting the townships of South Africa via bicycle


November 16, 2010, 12:35PM
I like the idea of both parties mutually benefitting. I work with an organization that tries to bridge both local and international community and enrich the lives of all participants in what they call "social sculptures" based in Italy. It is recent in the past three years, but I think they are on the right track. It is an interesting model.

Arjan Tupan

November 16, 2010, 09:03AM
Hi Anne, I agree that it's definitely a worrisome development, especially the begging for money. But it is often a matter of opportunity. If you are in a place where locals ask for money for directions, you sort of know that there have been tourists who give that too easy. I think tour operators have a responsibility here. It's often not the travelers like you and me who create these opportunities :).

Anne Ditmeyer

November 15, 2010, 22:41PM
Hi Ashley! Thanks for that! I think it's really interesting that the Pachamama Alliance is a U.S. based non-profit, and that it was the indigin elders and shamans themselves who initiated the relationship. It's definitely a key factor to have both parties involved.

Ashley Jablow

November 15, 2010, 19:41PM
Anne, I really like this idea (although it's too bad it's inspired by a negative experience!). I think looking at tourism as a way to empower local communities and economies is a really terrific idea - and not just because it leads to improved cultural understanding and increased education and sensitivity. Tourism can also be an incredible tool for expanding awareness of ecological/environmental issues while also helping local economies flourish. One organization that's doing this is The Pachamama Alliance ( They have worked directly with the Achuar Tribe in Ecuador to develop sustainable/eco tourism experiences for travelers who want to both learn about new parts of the world and help protect this tribe's cultural ways for future generations. Definitely one group to check out!

Anne Ditmeyer

November 15, 2010, 16:52PM
Arjan - Yes, I agree. It's definitely part of many cultures to negotiate prices, and part of the fun of travel. However, I felt like in the instance [post] I linked to this game of negotiation had been taken to a new, more negative level. It was the paying for directions that worried both me (and alarmed my prof) the most. I still wonder what more we can do beyond just doing our "research" before we go a new place. Language barrier can also complicate things too.

Arjan Tupan

November 15, 2010, 07:09AM
It's always a bit difficult. On one hand, the culture of negotiating a price is different than people are used to in Western Europe. But, it's an integral part of doing business in shops in North Africa. So over-pricing is part of the game. They normally don't expect you to pay it all, they expect you to come with a counter offer. Knowing this, and using this, helps a lot to have a great tourist experience. About the asking for money for directions, that's indeed a sign of things going wrong. Years ago, in Cuba, I experienced the same thing in Havana. Everybody was holding out their hand for some money. In other places, however, where tourism was less, people just wanted to talk to you to learn, share and practice their English. To me, this indicated also that the problem is on both sides. It's not only the locals that ask for money, but it is some tourists that like to play Santa Claus and show off their wealth by giving money to the 'poor locals', only to feel like a wealthy good person. Education is needed for tourists as well.

Sean O'Neill

November 14, 2010, 20:57PM
Love this. You're not alone in having these thoughts!
Login to OpenIDEO