Discuss at the first group meeting what opportunities there will be for meeting/getting to know the locals. Encourage visitors to break the ice with locals and start talking to them first. Immerse themselves as much as possible in the local culture.
Lead by example
The guide/leader’s example and attitude is crucial. The more you make the first move and interact the more the guests will.
You should use simple local language in the guests’ presence to set an example, and give them confidence to give it a go.
Right from the beginning encourage people to learn words, broken down so it doesn't seem so daunting. Demonstrate that you can communicate with the local people even if you only know two words, hello and thanks. After they get past their initial fears of not being able to communicate, most people relax and their holiday becomes much more exciting and enjoyable.
Start the trip with a very 'local' experience - dinner at a back street local restaurant/market; buy snacks from a local vendor, etc. Use local non-touristy restaurants. Don't do all the ordering – have passengers do so at times. Go to places with lots of locals, market stalls, on the street etc. Avoid eating in formal air-con restaurants too often. Set an example suggesting places where you can sit outside, and be amongst the local activity.
Don't have too many group meals as there is the opportunity to meet more locals if the guests go off in smaller numbers and try places independently.
Identify ‘bridges’, special interests or activities that bring locals and travelers together e.g. playing cards, Mahjong, cricket. Start a game outdoors and you are guaranteed to attract local children and before you know it you've got an entire series on your hands.
Introducing travelers to our local operators/guides/friends
Our local guides are often the key that unlocks interaction...for many people the language barrier can be a real issue so local guides can play a huge role.
Be friends with the local people yourself. Know personal things about them and their family that you can impart to guests. This goes especially well for home stays etc. The best way to learn and achieve this is to spend time with them yourself. Visitors love to see you interacting well with the people that you work with, makes them feel safe and more likely to get involved.
Get to know the life stories of many of the people guests will meet: give them some of the info in advance to whet their enthusiasm to learn more when they meet – helps give a lead into conversation.
Handicraft or agricultural or other livelihood activities
Include first hand experiences of how locals make their livelihood. For example:
- learn a weaving technique
- paddy field – have a go at threshing machine
Get in touch with local NGO's, especially those that support local industries. Most of our clients do not have the time or skills to volunteer but they have the money and will be prepared to support if they know the money is going to a good cause.
Learn what the locals ‘DO’ in a normal day and go do same.
Go where they relax like the park, tea shops, have a beer, worship. Go on school visits.
Encourage groups to send back photos and always check if there are photos in the office for distribution. If guests have digital cameras, having them take photos of locals and show them the photo on the screen is one of the best tools to get locals and guests interacting.
Having visitors share their photos from home creates a great response. This is when local families bring out their photo albums of weddings and other important events and you get to know them a lot better.
The road less traveled.
Take groups on walks through city back streets, away from main tourist areas.
Just reminding guests there are other sides to the city is enough for many of them choose to go off and explore these areas, and often come back with stories about the people they've met and some unique things they wouldn't have seen on the main roads.
Take your group to the local market, buy some different fruits/snacks and then have a tasting afterward.