Salia Binaud, Chief of Operations for Finnish responsible travel company Duara Travels, speaks with Jeremy Smith about the company’s business model which seeks to connect travellers with local families.
JEREMY: What was the inspiration for Duara Travels? How did it get started?
SALIA: Duara Travels got inspired from the fact that the original founders were travelling in different parts of the world but they found it difficult to access the authentic local life. They also saw how money from tourism was rarely reaching the locals with a low-income level. Each on their side, the women they started to develop a business idea – and it was the Aalto University Impact Business competition in Helsinki which gave a push to the project. As the concept idea won the competition the company was founded.
Duara is from Swahili and means circle. That is exactly what we create in our villages by connecting families with each other, to offer the travellers experiences that last for a lifetime.
JEREMY: How do you select the people you work with, considering they may have little experience of tourism?
SALIA: We don’t need the local host families to have experience in hosting or in tourism, as it’s part of the concept to offer something authentic and non-touristy for the travellers. However, we give guidelines for the families interested in hosting travellers. For example, they should be able to offer a private bedroom with clean sheets, mosquito nets and a locker. The house should have its own toilet / bathroom which the travellers can use. We also wish the hosts are interested in meeting travellers and are available for spending time and showing their daily life for the visitors. We plan the activities and programs together with the hosts so that the experience is interesting and meaningful for the travellers, but at the same time the hosts can choose by themselves what they want to show and do with the visitors.
The local contact person, who helps the travellers to arrive in the village and with other small practicalities, needs to speak English and has access to the internet and social media for communication. The contact persons are usually originally from one of the villages they operate with and are working or studying in the city. They are especially interested in working with Duara for helping their village and for connecting with foreigners. Some of them also work in tourism, others not.
JEREMY: What sort of support / training do you give the families to help them deal with tourists?
SALIA: We give the contact persons and host families tips of how to communicate with the travellers and for that, we have prepared them guidebooks which include information and help for the hosting, communication, the distribution of the revenues etc. We are also constantly available for questions and for giving help if they need. I personally communicate with some of our contact persons almost daily, especially in the high season. We also ask them (contact persons and host families) regular feedback in order to improve the concept from the locals’ side as well.
JEREMY: What is the long term goal for the company?
SALIA: Our main goals at the moment is to increase the bookings through new sales partners and marketing operations, to launch a totally new market with Duara villages in Finland and to open new villages in the developing countries.
However, with 28 villages at the moment the most important goal is to increase the number of bookings, in order to help the villages to earn more incomes and to increase the awareness about socially sustainable tourism. On a long term, we wish to have enough bookings and incomes for becoming a totally profitable company.
JEREMY: What have been your biggest lessons so far? What would you share with others as advice who were thinking about a similar business in their own destination?
SALIA: When you do social business you have to do it by passion and because you believe in what you do. In our case, the fact that 60 % of the incomes go directly for the local villages, which we find very important, is not helping the team to earn incomes. Therefore, you have to be ready to constantly look for different funding possibilities in order to be able to continue with the project. It is also extremely important to be on the market on the right moment – if you miss your chance or start too early, you might struggle much more.