By Marzia Zunino
We continuously try to make ourselves stand out from others — even in the most meticulous of ways — such as in the movies we watch, the music we listen to, the clothes we wear, the locations we go to on a trip, and even the attitudes we have towards life. But there has to be some sort of psychological schema that can guide us towards the “right decisions” for the unique personality we try to strive for, and that is where the term “hidden gem” comes in.
The definition of a travel “hidden gem” does not lie in its description but rather in its opposition: locations which are touristy and overrated. A study has found that 81% of travelers consider it “very important” for brands to provide personalized experiences to their customers and 34% of American travelers said it’s more important now than before the pandemic that they choose a destination where they can immerse themselves in “authentic local experiences.” However one should question the intention of such a request. Is it truly for the desire to completely immerse oneself in the culture they are visiting because there is nothing more authentic than experiencing a location in the eyes of the local community; or does it come from an infatuation with being the first to step foot somewhere, the first to experience a scene? This echoes somewhat similarly a colonialist attitude. Undertaking a voyage off the beaten track sounds exciting and can often lead to spectacular views but the consequences it introduces to the local community, who often situated themselves “off the beaten track” for a reason, must be realized. Tourism is a driving force for many countries, but for others, who before the recent exponential growth of tourism and the sudden attention to the secluded locations, were simply not prepared for the rapid overflow of people.
However, the tourism tide is changing as “hidden gem” destinations are employing new tourism policies to catalyze a “high value, low impact” approach. A prime example of an off the beaten path location is in the Himalayan kingdom, where the landlocked country in Southeast Asia, Bhutan, has employed a minimum daily fee of $250 per person which includes some bare necessities such as a minimum 3-star accommodation and all three meals each day. As stated by the local government, this approach promotes the destination as unique and exclusive, yet also safeguards its rich culture, heritage and natural landscape.
Nevertheless, these tax policies should not be the sole solution, as it benefits elitist travel. There should be a more impartial distribution of cultural resources and benefits. For example, places such as Lord Howe Island, in Australia, have recently adopted a “first come, first serve” policy, ratified by UNESCO, in which the number of visitors for this island cannot exceed 400 people and all visits are guided and regulated by the local community. Surely, local governments that are starting to administrate and successfully implement limitations to “hidden gem” and authentic travel should continue to be cautious as population growth will only make this process tougher to keep in check.
Every corner of the planet should be considered a “hidden gem” and despite the amount of money one pays for their vacation, it is our duty to regard travel not as an event that lacks mindful thought towards the culture and environment we are stepping in, but it should, on the contrary, be a chance to respectfully learn and experience something that lies on any point of the new and unfamiliar spectrum. This, and this alone, will make us undoubtedly unique.
- 81% of travelers consider it very important for brands to provide personalized experiences to their customers (Travolution)
- 34% of American travelers said it’s more important now than before the pandemic that they choose a destination where they can immerse themselves in “authentic local experiences” (Trip Advisor)