Close to home: PH startup taps locals to promote sustainable tourism
MANILA, Philippines – Do you want to travel like a local? A Philippine startup is striving to offer this experience to travelers while helping local residents promote sustainable tourism in their communities.
Tralulu is a digital booking platform that connects travelers around Southeast Asia to "quality local guides" who can provide them with an authentic travel experience.
“Behind every responsible adventure, jobs are generated, and nature is further protected.... Tourism, if done hand in hand with communities, is one of the best ways to redistribute wealth from higher income cities globally to the lower income countryside,” said Tralulu CEO Andrew Cua, who stressed the importance of local residents in promoting sustainable tourism.
Tralulu provides an avenue for tourists to immerse in a community’s traditions and culture. It aims to promote communities that are not well known for tourism, especially in countries like the Philippines more popularly known for beach destinations.
Tralulu offers different travel experiences in several locations in the Philippines including Binondo, Poblacion, and Quiapo. it also provides tours in indigenous peoples communities such as the Abelling and Aeta tribes in Tarlac. These tours give the tribes another source of income, further sustaining the livelihood and culture heritage of these communities.
Empowering local guides and communities
Quiapo resident Dennis Barcelo is one of the local guides tapped by the startup. Barcelo gives tours like food crawls around Binondo and Quiapo, and knows the best spots for local delicacies and cultural heritage spots with the help of Bukas Quiapo, a group where he is also a member.
Barcelo said that the digital platform helped give a boost to tourism in Manila by offering tours in underrated tourist spots. One such destination is the Muslim quarter of Quiapo, where one can find the Manila Golden Mosque and Cultural Center. There are many Muslim eateries around the area, as well as small shops .
“Dati, puro students lang ang pumupunta rito, para sa mga school projects nila. Pero ngayon, pakonti-konti [the Muslim community is] accepting tourists here. Mas kumikita na sila sa pagbebenta ng mga pagkain at souvenirs,” Barcelo said.
(Before, students were the only ones who came here for their school projects. But now, the Muslim community is slowly accepting tourists here. They are earning more now from selling food and souvenirs.)
The tours serve as a way of preserving and sharing the communities’ culture. Barcelo pointed out that the rich culture of Manila should be kept alive through tourists’ authentic experiences from the tours.
A tour guide since 2017, Barcelo shared how Tralulu helped not only in showing the beauty of Manila but also in giving local guides a steady source of income.
“It brings food to the table,” he said.
Cua explained that the company currently operates through profit sharing with tour operators and partners. Local guides and operators can equitably share the rewards with the locals and the communities. Unlike popular travel agencies, local guides can eventually earn a bigger share of the fees from travelers.
“With this new model, there is enough for everyone with each individual rewarded based on one's contribution and effort,” Cua said.
Through the digital platform, Barcelo obtained regular customers for his tours. He was also able to establish long-lasting connections with his customers through the platform's feedback form.
“Ang saya ng feeling 'pag bumabalik ang mga tao sa 'yo. Sila pa 'yung nagcocontact sa akin pero nakikilala muna ako sa Tralulu so nagpapasalamat ako sa Tralulu,” he said.
(It feels good when people go back to you for more tours. They directly contact me but they first knew about me through Tralulu so I want to thank Tralulu.)
Local restaurants are also benefitting from the Tralulu tours. Cua said that one of the staple tour experiences are food crawls in Binondo and Quiapo. They currently aim to co-design food experiences and community-based ecotourism experiences closely with heritage neighborhoods.
The future of sustainable tourism in Manila
Barcelo said much can be done if local communities work hand in hand with local governments to promote tourism in their areas. He highlighted Manila Mayor Isko Moreno's plan to develop a “tourist circuit” that links the cultural heritage sites across the city. Such efforts, coupled with digital platforms like Tralulu, might help showcase the amazing tourist sights in communities. (READ: Isko Moreno wants to develop 'tourism circuit' in Manila)
“They should expand the idea of Manila to the international community and more foreign tourists can come here. We will do this to bring Manila back on the map,” Barcelo said.
“Manileño ako at proud ako maging Manileño. Sobrang mahal ko ang Manila na dapat malaman ng mga tao ang kagandahan ng Manila (I’m from Manila and I’m proud of it. I love Manila and people should know that this place is beautiful)," he said.