Ever since the explosion of the internet, being an agent or international has received a bad connotation amongst the conscious travel community. After all, online platforms have made it possible for us to book directly with local guides. So why do we still need international agents? Here are five reasons why local tour guides cannot replace the role of international agents to provide responsible and safe practices for conscious travellers and local communities:
1. Limitations of individual guides
Independent guides are often not legally allowed to provide tour arrangement services for you (read about legal requirements to operate tours here). You might think that’s unnecessary bureaucracy and the legacy of an outdated system. While that might be true in some cases, there’s often very valid reasons for such regulations. They may exist to protect us as travellers, for example from financial scams or fraudulent activities, or when undertaking inherently more dangerous activities or travelling to remote regions. They may also exist to protect conservation areas, national parks or other places of natural or cultural significance. An independent guide, no matter how well intended, often simply doesn’t have the education or resources to take care of your physical and financial safety, or the sustainability of our planet. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a team to provide conscious travel services.
2. Benefits of specialization
Division of labor is a commonly accepted principle in modern economics. It suggests that we’re all better off if everyone does what we’re best at, if each companies focuses on its core strength. That’s become standard for almost any industry. Car companies don’t manufacture motors, banks don’t mine gold, and hospital don’t produce pharmaceuticals. However, car companies, banks and hospitals all provide very important services to you, and so do travel agents: They educate and advice you, they can speak your language, and – ideally – they are duly registered and regulated to protect you as consumer. Even if a local operator could be providing all of those services to you, it simply doesn’t make sense for people who are good at guiding and logistics to hire specialists for marketing, client service and sales.
3. Skill gaps take time to fill
It will take a long time until all the functions traditionally provided by international agencies can be provided locally in lower income countries. Certainly, our goal should be for local people no matter where in the world to have all the education and training they need. However, such a fundamental shift cannot happen overnight. It’s taken China decades to re-position from a low-cost manufacturing hub into a high-tech power house. Similarly, we expect that it will also take many, many years to fill the skill gap for digital, marketing and other experts in lower income countries to directly serve international travellers.
4. Cultural differences
Even when the above skill gap has been filled, and assuming all countries have well-functioning legal systems that make it easy for travellers to obtain any due compensation or assistance when required directly from local companies, cultural differences remain. For a high-end advisory service, do you prefer to be served by someone like you who fully understands your needs and speaks your language, or someone who can only second-guess your requirements and doesn’t communicate well in your language?
5. International sustainability leaders
Last but not least, travelling ethically and sustainably is an international trend that’s predominantly driven by organizations and consumers from higher income regions, such as Europe and North America. People in lower income countries who are still struggling to catch up and provide decent education, health care and housing for their own families don’t have the luxury to worry about the sustainability of our planet, or social justice. When local operators have adopted responsible tourism practices, it’s more often than not due to the demand and educational efforts undertaken by international agents.
Unfortunately, online platforms have played a major role in creating confusion and promoting the exploitation of human labor. Read more about digitalization & the exploitation of human life here.
Fair Voyage is a hybrid between an agency and a platform. We hope to combine the best of both models for your benefit as traveller, and to sustainably promote responsible travel practices. Read more about our business model here.