Travel tour companies are everywhere. Literally. Whether you want the camaraderie of a Contiki Tour, the rush of a G Adventure or the curated portal of a Viator.com, there is no longer an excuse to be stuck in a room when you’re on the road.
But a true traveler doesn’t just want a tour; they want immersion into the culture. While many put a premium on “exclusivity” in their travels, the real international snoop is looking for authenticity. Which is why Backstreet Academy, not even two years old, is already making some pretty groovy inroads in Asia.
The core of the concept is to connect travelers with people. Not companies or guides or groups, but people who live and know the backstreets and who are in a position to provide tourists with a unique informative and emotional experience.
From their website:
Where most see a souvenir, we see a personal story…
In addition to artisans and craftsmen, we’ve discovered that the backstreets also hold innumerable home-based workers who have amazing cooking skills, some with recipes that have not changed for countless generations. Often times, our cooking BA hosts are housewives who’ve mastered the art of cooking but don’t have an avenue to monetize it.
Most of our BA hosts have been found by reaching out to various NGO’s and handicraft organizations. This is the first step where we give priority to those artisans and craftsmen who are underprivileged and struggling. Not only do they get a platform through Backstreet Academy to earn additional income but getting to teach their skills to others also validates their efforts and gives them a renewed sense of self-confidence.
So instead of scrolling through tiles of manicured tours that are “provided by World Expeditions” or “operated by Goway”, you’ll a find a Balloon Flight by Theerayuth Kongsuwan, or a Cambodian Cooking Class by Vannak R., or a $36 Bamboo Paper Art class guided by Ngo Dinh Bao Vi.
Yes, there are companies sprinkled in the mix but it’s clear that the emphasis is on connections and experiences memorable for a personal touch, not a branded feel.
It comes across in their search filters too; the “Max Price” on the cost slider is $500.
Beyond the concept, another impressive thing about Backstreet is the strong user experience of their website alongside the engaging content offered through their blog section, from city guides to traveler stories. While they may be a startup propping up a mish-mash of other startups, one layer of their business that is far from immature is their online marketing. Undoubtedly a deliberate effort given the inevitable anxiety of some silver-spooned travelers navigating international options outside their comfort zone.
Currently operating only in Asia, Backstreet has neighbors in the space, like Vayable and BeMyGuest, both having secured over $2 and $3.5 million in funding respectively over the last few years. Triip is another competitor without any funding but already a global reach with local guides in places Montréal, New York and Tazmania.
Perhaps the “backstreets” pitch loses its lustre in the dark alleys of an A-list metropolis, but the model of the hyper-local host certainly seems to hold its appeal regardless of geography. With a much more adventurous and trusting Uber-to-a-Couchsurf travel culture, a travel niche like this is likely to have a long runway. The next tour in Backstreet’s itinerary may just have to be a trip overseas.
Ben is a Toronto-based writer and public speaker with more than a soft spot for 90s hip hop. He has spent over 10 years in business & tech, more than 20 in the arts, and an entire lifetime in a state of perpetual judgment (highly recommended). He is the author of the blogs This Is Your Brain on Dating and Love Gone Cray and can be found pontificating on Thought Catalog, Notable.ca, The Toronto Standard, Offline Magazine, Gasm.org and Huffington Post.
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