Night ceremony

A scented candle. A personal city tour. An airport pick up. A special playlist. A great dinner. A new friend. Good hospitality makes a difference. We all know that.

But what if good hospitality – sharing our place, way of life & favorite things could do more than simply make people smile and add an Instagram memory or two?

For the last 10 years or so I’ve been part of, witnessed and learnt about hospitality experiences that have done more than just provide good memories. Hospitality thats changed lives. Guludo Beach Lodge in Mozambqiue, for example, has only 10 rooms but has already impacted over 25,000 local people’s health or education.

But as inspiring as places like Guludo are, they are only individual examples in isolated places. They have not scaled. The ‘responsible/eco/community tourism’ movement is still only on the fringes of mainstream travel.

Recently, however, something has changed.

The Sharing Economy. 

We’ve started sharing extraordinary hospitality through a new open, online peer-to-peer economy. In hospitality terms first there was Couchsurfing – stay on a couch anywhere for free; the hippy travelers ultimate online community. Then there were smaller projects like ours, Tribewanted, which focused on one or two locations by crowdfunding their development and engaging people online as well as locally. Now, of course, in Airbnb we have perhaps the most disruptive and fastest growing hospitality business ever. Watching Airbnb’s Open Live event the other day and listening to the team talk passionately about how they see themselves enabling a global army of amazing hosts to share their talents, homes and generosity with curious travelers AND make money – it became more and more obvious that this is just the tip of the iceberg for hospitality with impact.

During Hurricane Sandy in New York, Airbnb host, Shell, decided to let her apartment out for free to victims of the storm. 24 hours later 400 more Airbnb hosts had done the same.

Imagine if that started to happen in places where food, water and shelter are needed more than just during a one-off crisis? How far could an army of networked hosts go?

Could global communities like Airbnb bring their equity spread and host empowerment model to the people and places that really need it, and would there be a demand in such places?

Smartphone access is clearly key – Airbnb has recognised this – but then barriers to entry are low both for potential hosts and guests.

Extraordinary hospitality is about sharing the best of you. Could this action of peaceful giving be a more powerful act than we could have previously imagined?

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This has been on my mind for a while. Jo Confino’s blog today about communicating the reality of climate change might be best done not through facts and figures but by telling people – as artist Stephen Fairey suggests – ‘to stop being dicks.’ In other words if you don’t connect with people emotionally they won’t pay any attention. Or as Fairey says: “Sometimes the most powerful weapon against propaganda is absurdity, creating images that are funny.”

Looking from a start-up point-of-view it seems to me that there is some truth in this, not so much in ‘selling climate change’, but in getting people engaged in tackling abstract, distant (for most us) problems, the best approach is to try and get authentic emotional buy-in.

Thinking about the projects I’ve worked on over the last few years reflects this and why I continue to drawn to the storytelling, positive visioning, what-makes-me-care, approach to insurmountable problems over the ‘I’m going to drown you in a tsunami of data and then tell you buying a different detergent will solve the problem.’ No it won’t.

THNK: Creative Leadership school in Amsterdam. After being given a challenge (what do we do with big data, solve climate change, provide clean water for everyone etc…?) participants are encouraged to go on a ‘wild safari’ to gather inspiration, stories and facts about the subject before a ‘visioning’ phase of generating ideas concludes with the sentence: ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if…(big data ended malaria etc…)?’ before prototyping these ideas. By reframing a huge challenge as an amazing opportunity that matters personally a whole new raft of ideas surface.

Tribewanted: eco-tourism and community experiences. We’ve learnt by going slowly the ups and downs of building ‘sustainable’ communities. The open-minded spaces at Tribewanted projects free people up to think differently and creatively about big issues. The solar panels are really just the backdrop to what really matters: the cross-cultural living experience.

Escape the City: Inspiring frustrated corporates to ‘do something different’ is a brilliant way to get a talented resource (clever graduates) to move into careers they really care about. No wonder the community is 100,000 strong already. 

Right to Dream: Africa needs more role models. A sporting leadership academy in Ghana recruits talented, young people and gives them a world-class education. The graduates with a golden ticket then spend their next 15 years ‘giving back’ credits to their community and country in the form of fundraising, business start-ups, and international representation. The future Black Stars (Ghana’s national team) will likely be loaded with talented, smart, leaders.

Projects I’m a fan of that aren’t writing strategies but doing…

Hunter Gather Cook: Adventures in Wild Food. I took my brother on this for his stag do. Going wild in the woods topped any embarrassing night out on the town.

Project Wild Thing: Taking on the small challenge of getting kids off their iPads and into nature because it’s more fun. See also Camp Kernow

Jamie’s Farm: (Not *that* Jamie) Sharing wonders like where the ‘egg’ comes from by getting city kids down on the farm, often for the first time.

Roost: on a mission to get people into trees by showcasing the amazing treehouses of the world.

Microadventures: No more time-money excuses for going on adventures – you can have one between 5pm and 9am. I tried this.

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I was part of a class at Oxford Brookes university last week. These were some of the trends and ideas I shared from personal observations over the last 12 months.

1. Community Experiences for All

Ok, so this is nothing new but are community tourism experiences now finally building up a head-of-steam? At Tribewanted we’ve seen an increase in the number of young families wanting their children to have authentic cultural experiences as early as possible in life, rather than simply resort recovery-time. This also seems to be happening alongside the reaction to the ‘McDonaldisation of Tourism’ (Golf-courses everywhere) that Leo Hickman argues convincingly in his book The Final Call. This is happening in the tourist guide space too – Tripbod offers ‘your friend at the other end’.

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2. Digital Detoxing

We all knew this was going to happen. Right? Silicon valley uber-geeks heading to the hills at the weekend for an iLife amnesty, for a few hours at least. In reality this deliberate ‘disconnect to reconnect’ trend is something we’ve seen in our mirrors for a while. The number of surf n yoga retreats on offer shows this. But it feels like the need to hand-over our techno tools in order to relax and revive means we’ve reached a new point where a health problem at work is now an opportunity for travel and tourism.

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3. Pop-up Hotels

Ok, it’s just glorified camping or Glamping as we know it. But by reframing and marketing as ‘pop-up’ alongside the trend in retail, are we likely to see this grow especially at events and festivals? This year we’ve seen it at Glastonbury and with urban pop-ups.

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4. Home is your Hotel room

One name has dominated them all – Airbnb – who have successfully monetised the trend that Couchsurfing was the first to explode online. This year Airbnb is expected to book 55 million ‘bednights’. That’s 50% of any of the major hotel chains and the company isn’t even a decade old! As with the trust in crowdfunding their seems to be a growing acceptance of ‘staying with a stranger’ and the businesses that provide a great online user experience are profiting. See also: One Fine Stay, Housetrip, Sleepout, Kippsy.

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5. The End of the Stars

Could 2013 finally be the year when industry-led star ratings are overtaken by peer-led reviews? Tripadvisor has been disrupting this space for a while. With the rise of guest and host locked-in review systems like Airbnb (you review each other) are we going to see less bitchin’ and more honesty? Do hotel stars still matter?

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One of my favourite emails I’ve received in the last few years said:

‘Tribewanted is the only place you can go on holiday and feel homesick when you go home.’

Seven years into our journey to build a collection of the very best eco-tourism and community experiences available we’re ready to take that feeling of belonging to some more amazing places by launching an exciting crowdfunding campaign (video)

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Coming Home

Since 2006 we’ve been funding and building our eco-tourism communities – first on Vorovoro Island in Fiji, then on John Obey Beach in Sierra Leone and this year we opened Monestevole, in the hills of Umbria. Each project has had its successes and challenges.

But what has connected them all is a sense that, together with our local partners and supportive members we’ve created places where we all feel at home. Like a part of us has always belonged there – even though the language, diet and culture may seem very different to the place we might normally call home. And because we feel ‘at home’ we’re open to engage with different ideas, foods, experiences, and people as well as rejuvenate and play. With the leadership of our local teams and communities we’ve been able to reinforce the importance of protecting cultural heritage as well as the natural environment and resources.

It’s one thing to feel and experience this. Its quite another to bottle it and build a sustainable business model around it so you can grow what you and others believe in.

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Shifting our model towards Partnerships

Moving ‘doing it from scratch’ to partnering with those that already do it to a high standard will be a slightly new approach for us. But it is something we feel strongly about. First, because the market conditions are right – responsible and eco-tourism is finally on the verge of going mainstream – it’s growing a lot faster than other parts of the industry. Secondly, because we’re ready – we’ve learnt through 7 years of prototyping our models on the ground what works well (eating together, open participation in projects, private accommodation, creative space, sharing our story and cultural immersion) and what doesn’t (short-term partnerships, depending on local government support, under-pricing, trying to do too much).

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Our stronger, more experienced leadership team

I’ve been working with Filippo for four years now. We lived in Sierra Leone together for a year on the beach where we built our partnership. Since then Amy & Neal Carter-James have joined us (now living in Umbria too with baby India) as leaders in sustainable tourism. Amy & Neal’s success with Guludo Beach Lodge in Mozambique has proven that the holy grail of social business in tourism is possible: that the more successful your tourist product the larger your community impact. We’ve spent the last year getting to know each other at Monestevole and planning what would be an important next step for Tribewanted.

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Crowdfunding our Tribe

We’re going to carefully select a collection of the very best eco-holiday destinations on the planet.

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Our new Partner Locations will provide exceptional holiday experiences with inspiring community projects that visitors can choose to get involved in. Potential Partner destinations include: Guludo Beach Lodge Mozambique, Laos, Nicaragua, UK, & Bali.

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These independent Partner Locations have an urgent need for support in marketing, sales, web-presence, online booking facilities and funds for local projects, all of which Tribewanted will supply for a booking commission.

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30% of all membership fees will go to community projects at our Partner Locations which significantly improve local inhabitants quality of life (health, education, conservation, enterprise, clean energy). At the same time we aim to inspire our members and visitors to engage in these issues during their stay and when they return home.

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Through the crowdfunding equity platform Crowdcube we’re seeking an investment of £200,000 for 20% equity in Tribewanted Ltd with three reward levels. We will be investing these funds into our online product, our team, developing our location partnerships and marketing our business.

I hope you can join us on the next step in our journey!

Ben

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“Congratulations you’re the first class to finish this course. You’ve made it through the challenges and hurdles that we’ve thrown at you. You’ve become true creative leaders and are ready to be released into the wild. Remember to come back someday….”

That’s how it should have been right? A rousing graduation ceremony. Hugs and handshakes. A perfect piece of embossed paper inscribed with our names, todays date and a distinction to frame proudly on the downstairs loo wall for the rest of our lives.  

But that’s not what happened this weekend at THNK: The Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership. Yes, we were the first class to complete the 18 month part-time programme that began with a walk across water to a misty island. But graduate with honors? Nope. Join the illustrious alumni? Nada. Update our linked-in profile with a gargantuan new bullet-pointed achievement. No chance. 

Instead, in the middle of the Acceleration Festival weekend, twenty of our class snuck into a small room, sat round a table and looked each other in the eyes. No challenge tools, no post-it note piles, no whiteboards, no macbook pro line-ups. We simply asked how each other how we were doing. Not with our projects or businesses so much, but how were we really doing.  

And then something special happened.

One-by-one we quietly started to share our stories from the last year or two. The stories that mattered most. The insights that uprooted our long-held assumptions about how the world works and our roles within it. We shared our perfect moments, deepest anxieties and dreams. We cried. A collective exhaling of life poured like a waterfall from one-to-another around the room and beyond as we shared our absent classmates stories too. 

We know we’ve been the lucky ones. To have been part of this brave new school of creative leadership just as it has been born into the world. The funny thing was, that sitting there quietly in that room together, the big goals, accelerations, global challenges that we all care about didn’t seem to matter as much. What mattered was that we got to share this. And we wouldn’t change it for the world. Which is why we decided we’ll be back in six months time, to do it again.

We didn’t graduate. We didn’t want to. We’re going to stay in this class, forever. 

A soulful, wondrous weekend. #greenman #chaiwallahs

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Dom and I took a train from Clapham Junction to Dorking. Quick shop then cycled up Ranmore Hill before ducking into the silver birch woodland and finding a secluded spot to bivvy. Cold but clear night (one season sleeping bag perhaps not quite enough for the fresh spring night temps) made more comfortable by bacon sandwiches for breakfast with birdsong. We were back in London for 9am.

Excellent few days of coverage since our launch of Tribewanted Monestevole.

‘Tweet Retreat’ – my thoughts on online/offline balance in Huff Post

‘Earthy Delights’ – Emine’s experience at Monestevole in The Guardian

‘In the name of Mother Nature’ – Enrico’s story, pics and video in La Stampa

Happy Easter!

Here’s my favourite picture of life at Monestevole so far – Andrea in his apron, on his vespa, doing his thing.Image

 

Q&A with Emma about importance of community…

Emma:  Community is at the heart of Tribewanted, but what does it mean to you?

Ben:  It means looking out for each other and learning about how to live in a certain way. It means what comes naturally to most of us but we don’t necessarily focus on or make time for. It means leave no trace, getting off-grid, off-line and indulging in nature, ideas, health, good food and creativity.

Emma:  How do you work with local communities in Tribewanted locations to ensure that their interests are at the heart of the project?

Ben:  It’s a partnership, both in Sierra Leone and Italy. We’re dependent on each other – for jobs, for food, education, for development. We try to let the local culture lead the way we operate. We meet regularly in open forums.

Emma:  Why is it important for Tribewanted communities to be 100% sustainable?

Ben:  Sustainability as a word has been twisted and regurgitated in so many different ways. Our goal is to show that living within our means, sharing success and failure, and being closer to nature – wherever we are in the world – is better for ourselves, our communities and society. We want to kick-start livelihoods and experiences that last because they prioritise the well-being of the people involved (local team and visitors). To achieve that we need to make sure that we make a financial profit, create and sustain jobs, and protect and enhance the local environment and biodiversity as much as we can. If we do, we can flourish – as an organisation, as individuals and as a way of living. 

Emma:  What can tribe members learn about ‘community living’ from spending time on the projects? Can this be incorporated into their own lives?

Ben:  This is what we really want to develop. The feedback we get is that people are often inspired by their experience, especially around food (importance of local and seasonal), waste (composting), water (catchment and re-use) and local cultural traditions. Our plan is to develop an incentive model that help members ‘earn’ Tribe Credits through green actions and therefore get more time staying at our communities. To build this model will take quite a few more members to join…

Emma:  When Tribewanted first started, it was pre-facebook in the UK (!)  How have the developments in social networks affected the tribe?

Ben:  Big-time. It was almost easier pre-facebook, definitely simpler. Now your story and content is competing with so much noise. Standing out and connecting with people takes a lot of effort and creative thinking, but when it clicks it’s great. We’re working hard at our social media and love feedback.

Emma:  How will the new Community Interest Company (CIC) model enhance the community aspect of Tribewanted?

Ben:  The idea is that it will give our members and communities a leadership stake in the organisation, not through shares, but being able to vote on where we go next, how we spend surpluses and by building Tribe Credit. With momentum it can become a genuinely sustainable finance growth model and we can start to partner with communities all over the world.

Emma:  What role does community have to play in our future as a world?

Ben:  Big question Emma! Clearly cross-cultural or global communities are going to be crucial in tackling the big challenges this century. Without real collaboration between start-up networks, big organisations and governments we can’t change things like over-fishing, deforestation or un-fair trade. What most of us probably miss in our day to day lives is that connection to projects, people and ideas where we feel like we can take on these challenges and improve our own well-being. Personally what matters is that we act, and act positively. That’s what we’ve been trying to do at Tribewanted for the last few years and if we can get the CIC model to click, we’ll be able to scale our actions and adventures as a community which would then become really exciting.

What do you think?

IMG_3272Music is at the centre of life at Monestevole