After hearing good things about sustainable tour company Lokal for a while, I was excited when I got to meet one of the minds behind it, Eytan Elterman, at the Women in Travel Summit in May (Yes, he was a very good sport about being surrounded by hundreds of women).
Since then Eytan has been quite busy promoting his passion project, 2.5% – The Osa Peninsula, an award-winning documentary he directed along with Marco Bollinger. The film takes a look at how the residents of the Osa Peninsula – the most biodiverse place on earth – have struggled to balance tourism and conservation. Recently, I spoke with Eytan to hear his thoughts on sustainable travel and learn about what sets Lokal apart.
A Conversation with Eytan Elterman
How do you define “sustainable tourism”?
Sustainability is all about getting to know people, which gives you an incentive to return. You want to go back to a place because you have deep connections there. It’s also about supporting local entrepreneurs and environmental conservation – in particular, it empowers locals to maintain ownership of their land.
What are the trends in sustainable travel?
There’s a strong desire for off-the-beaten-path travel and immersive experiences. Sustainable tourism is what ecotourism was 30 years ago – it’s still niche and not widely understood. Even though it’s at the beginning stages, all trends point to cultural immersion soon becoming the way to go. People want to give back and do good when they travel.
What is Lokal?
Our bread and butter is culturally immersive travel, working with businesses that provide services in meaningful and thoughtful ways. We work with providers that protect the local environment and support the local economy. Travel dollars are kept in local communities, which can be used to further conservation.
How did Lokal get started?
The film really started Lokal. The relationships we made showed what’s possible when bringing curious travelers to local communities and showing them what they usually don’t see. I noticed that local providers struggled to attract tourists and realized that tourism had the potential to provide a traveler with an amazing vacation while helping protect the environment. I saw a need and realized it would be a good business opportunity.
What are you doing differently?
Right now the industry is very fragmented. Tens of thousands of local operators are offering amazing accommodations and experiences. You can find them through Booking.com, Airbnb and a lot of other websites. But how do travelers really know what they’re getting? You have to read a lot of reviews, and you can’t always trust them.
All of our partners are vetted – we provide that trust. And we do everything – make all of the reservations, do all of the communication. We make the process as easy as possible.
What are your plans for Lokal in the next year?
We’re working on new projects and new partners. We’re planning to launch in the U.S. – our own backyard – and we’re scouting out the possibility of travel to indigenous communities. Our ultimate goal is to be the largest marketplace for sustainable trips and accommodations.
What’s your favorite destination?
The Osa Peninsula is a special place to me. It’s a home away from home. It’s been an honor to take travelers there, meet people and keep going back.