Today it’s the first day of spring, even though it’s quite grey out there. But the birds are singing, so that’s a good sign: no rain in the immediate future!
Over the last few days, I’ve had many interesting opportunities to think about the eternal struggle between what’s local and what’s global, interested promotion or objective commentary, etc. ;o)
I have joined the Local Travel Movement (and I need to thank Ethan Gelber of the incredible WHL Group), “a platform promoting the local way of travel – getting in touch with the local people, seeing a place like a local”, or at least as much as this is possible (there would be much to say about this as well).
Then this morning, I have had an interesting exchange (actually it was still going on now while I was writing, and I was loving it!) with the Lara Dunston and Terence Carter on their Gran Tourismo Project world tour, which I find pure genius (both on their part and on Home Away Holiday Rental group’s part).
They have Puglia (Apulia) on their list of places to go to, and they have chosen as their home base away from home a trullo, I guess in the area of Alberobello, but I might be wrong. I read this in one of their tweets, so I replied (all via Twitter) that I thought that that’s a very nice choice but a bit touristy. They disagreed of course and they replied that
what’s one person’s ‘hidden gem’ is another’s ‘local’.
My point was though, that of all the hidden gems for foreigners, they had chosen the least hidden and the type of accommodation that I am quite sure is the least popular among the locals (although I might be talking nonsense and for this we’ll have to wait for their certainly fabulous blog posts) and the most popular among the yet relatively few foreign travelers. The locals (meaning Italians) that I know (but there will be many others that I don’t know and who can disproof my words) would probably go to a hotel on the beach, foreigners will probably like the trullo more.
Whenever I read about Apulia (and over the years I have seen innumerable “new Tuscany” type of slogans, ads and articles), I always see this exact area mentioned. That’s all. Since the main thing on their blog is that “they’ll be travelling slowly, living like locals” and that their mission is “to explore more enriching and authentic ways of travelling, and make travel more meaningful and more memorable”, it just seemed the least felicitous choice, since trulli were progressively abandoned by the locals and are now mostly holiday accommodations.
They replied by asking “if Apulia is touristy then what is Tuscany?”. The numbers of both tourists visiting Tuscany and the number of accommodation facilities present in the region are enormously higher than the Apulia numbers. And they also pointed out that renting a trullo was like renting a countryside villa in Tuscany. And I totally agree. And that was also exactly my point (it was probably the “non-said” we were not quite agreeing on).
Tuscany is enormously popular. Yet in a tiny fraction of its territory, and there are many areas that are just “outside the Tuscan sun“, because the industry keeps pushing the usual popular spots. And again, my criticism was not in the choice of the Apulia region, but of the location or even the type of accommodation in Apulia.
I feel that if one wants to truly have the local experience, one should probably chose a less popular destination in Apulia (or Tuscany).
We exchanged a few numbers after I said that choosing Alberobello in Apulia was essentially like choosing Chianti in Tuscany, and they said that there was no comparison between the 256 properties in Chianti and the 41 properties in Apulia. But in fact there is: 5% of the total in both cases.
No surprise either: obviously people invest in renovating properties where there is a larger demand (or like in our case with Casina di Rosa because they are just plain crazy and it was my great-grandparents home, and it is my pension plan! LOL ).
They pointed out that theirs is, in the end, a marketing/PR exercise for Home Away, and that one of the major factors that determined their choice was that they had to find a place with internet access, which is vital for their project. I understand this all, of course. In fact, it was the fact that it totally shows that made me leave the first tweet. I would have never thought that a tiny comment like that would have started such an interesting exchange though! And I hope that Lara and Terence take it the way it is: just as as minor criticism (but I wouldn’t even call it like that) on a tiny part of their project.
And mostly some good food for thought for me.
This brings back the usual dualism of local and global, sustainability and promotion, etc. It is truly difficult to avoid a conflict of interests (for all of us working in tourism and living in a tourist area).
I had read with great interest the blog post Gran Tourismo: where to draw the line between travel journalism and PR on the Going Local Travel site. I always follow their blog posts and their tweets and I love them.
My question was essentially: I know they need to find accommodation among the options advertised in Home Away, but why a trullo, which is, in my very personal opinion, the least authentic way to experience Apulia, and why choose something in the most popular area in Apulia? Why not a vacation apartment in the Taranto area, or in the Foggia area, or anywhere else that is not one of the few parts of Apulia that is actually known to foreigners already?
And here there is the usual vicious circle: the area is the most popular because it’s the most beautiful. The accommodation was the most suitable because the owners had good reasons to give internet access and fix it up properly because they had a good demand. This type of accommodation is quite popular because it’s the most out-of-the-ordinary. It’s in Home Away because the area is of tourist interest already. And there we go again.
So the problem here is what is the local experience we want to look for while traveling and we want to offer to travelers?
Does it mean that they should have chosen a less nice place because more authentic? Probably not, but there were certainly less popular areas in Apulia and less out-of-the-ordinary types of accommodation that they could have chosen.
I am sure that as usual they will find good local things to do even in a relatively popular area, and they will write amazing posts as usual that will prompt us all to travel to anywhere they will choose to go.
Personally, I would have chosen either somewhere near Taranto or on the western coast of Apulia, or a completely different destination that really deserves being discovered and is still off-the-beaten-path like the Marches (getting there), or Abruzzo and Molise or Basilicata, or even Valle d’Aosta in Northern Italy, so as to stick to both the marketing/PR intent and the local travel promotion one.
They are right in comparing it with what happens in Tuscany (I can only really talk about the reality I know well). But if we are really to promote local travel, beside our promotional (or marketing/PR) exercise, then we should point out that there aren’t just countryside villas with swimming pool in Tuscany or trulli in Apulia. And actually few of the locals have access to either one of those… You can always rent a nicely done rental apartment in a village with real locals as you neighbours and go to the local public pool with them as it happens with the rentals at Casa Gigliola in Monticiano.
The internet access problem. That’s a bad one. You can always look for a local solution, though, for instance by asking the locals. In Italy, for instance, you can buy an internet usb keydrive with 30 hours of internet access for 10 euros or 40 hours for 9 euros. Of course 3G coverage is not always good. But, sorry to say, that’s what locals have to deal with.
A reality check for all of us, I guess.