By Emily Boone
Meeting professionals are well aware of the impact their events have on local communities, especially when it comes to economic impact. Aside from room nights booked, money spent and taxes earned, there are other ways to positively impact a destination that are often overlooked or forgotten.
Going local—in other words, sourcing and staying local—is a popular concept, but how can the meetings industry go above and beyond common practices to positively affect a destination? It starts with taking a step back and looking into the neighborhoods to which you travel. How can you help support small, local businesses and organizations?
One fun way to positively impact the destination, enhance the experience you and your attendees have, and practice social responsibility is to become a voluntourist at your next event. Voluntourism is the act of volunteering while being a tourist or visitor, and it can inlcude any variety of activities in virtually any community, from cleaning up local walking trails or parks to helping local children’s organizations or nonprofits. Being a voluntourist is an enriching and fulfilling opportunity to experience a destination in a unique light. This is rewarding for both the community and the traveler; you are rewarded with a one-of-a-kind destination experience that isn’t available through typical visitor activities and the destination sees positive social, economic, physical and emotional change. You can look back on your trip and remember the good deeds and know they made a positive impact on the local community and environment.
Different people get different benefits out of staying local. For many, voluntourism is about making a difference. These voluntourists have altruistic motives and want to help influence change by positively impacting the day-to-day life of the local community. For others, voluntourism is about becoming immersed in the local culture. Cultural immersion is great for people seeking to do something to gain a new appreciation for the flavor, characteristics and people of the area. Voluntourism goes beyond the destination itself and into the lives of the people who live there.
Another way to experience cultural immersion is through agritourism, or agricultural tourism, which allows visitors to enjoy the local flavors that surround them by discovering, celebrating and savoring local farms, foods and chefs.
Farm-to-table experiences are a widely growing trend. Give attendees a true taste of the local community by visiting a farmers’ market, or go as far as following the life of food from the ground, to the farmer’s hands, to the chef’s kitchen, to the fork. Most people don’t realize many communities have strong agricultural ties and that farms often aren’t far from urban areas.
Agritourism provides attendees authentic interactions with farmers, growers and chefs and allows for the discovery of geographically distinctive food and drink. Attendees can indulge in farm-fresh produce, shake hands with the growers and learn where their food comes from with these experiences.
Supporting local food does more than fill your belly—its benefits go beyond what you can imagine. It’s like a chain reaction: your contributions to the agricultural community go right back into the restaurants, farms and soil of the community you’re in, ultimately supporting countless local jobs. Many small, local farms practice environmentally friendly ways of farming, so going local with agritourism is a great way to benefit the physical location of the community, too. Connect with local convention and visitor bureaus to learn more about opportunities for voluntourism and agritourism at your next meeting.