A friend recently told me I “straddle paradigms.” Never thought of it that way but my wordsmith friend elegantly captured a fuzzy notion that’s been floating around in my head for years, I was just never quite able to articulate it. Thanks for crystallizing that idea, my friend! (You know who you are.)
Indeed, straddling paradigms is what I do. It’s the essence of cross-cultural communication. And while today’s theme is clearly outside the murky boundaries of the Intercultural Twilight Zone, it’s all about straddling paradigms.
The On-Line Social Media Boom and Grassroots Tourism
Love it or hate it, on-line social media looks like it’s here to stay. Most folks I know seem to be passionately for or against: got some friends who believe Facebook is the Devil (digitally) incarnate, and others who swear by it (my two sons included).
My somewhat neutral–dare I say ambivalent–stance in the middle puts me in minority territory. Such is the life of a straddler of paradigms.
I’m a good example of someone who isn’t an online-social-networking personality. Sure I’m on Facebook–didn’t get the concept at first but after tinkering with it for a while am starting to see the value. Still, don’t spend much time there.
And I’ll fess up here and admit that I’ve even “tweeted” half a dozen times. But for the life of me I still don’t get it, at least not the value of using it on a personal level. Can’t imagine why anyone would be interested in reading about the mundane details of my life. And can’t believe anyone would “follow” me as my tweets are rare. If you’ve read other posts on this blog then you know that I share personal stories on occasion, but only if there’s a message, lesson or “moral” to the story. But the pointless, mundane details of my life are, frankly, no one’s business but my own. Folks don’t need to know what’s happening in my life real-time.
Conversely, I absolutely don’t care to hear about the mundane details of other people’s lives either, even if (no, especially if) you’re Brittany or Paris or Ashton. Got my own life to worry about thank you very much.
That said I do see twitter as a potentially powerful marketing tool, although I haven’t taken the time to make it work for me. But I can see how big-time social-networkers could revolutionize marketing, even capitalism itself. Precisely because of the relatively small investment in capital that it takes to “socially network” on-line, it seems to me that this is the ideal tool for driving grassroots capitalism. It’s actually perfect for the average Joe with limited resources since little investment in capital is required: to effectively “socially network”, all you need is a computer, power source, internet connection, and the motivation to put in the time and effort.
So getting to the meat of this post, a few months back Big Island blogger Damon Tucker started promoting the idea of bringing more tourists to Hawaii. We had a gentlemen’s disagreement on how dependent our community should be on tourism. For the record I’m all for tourism. But only if it fits into a comprehensive plan designed to make our communities sustainable long-term; and only if it makes our communities a better place.
So I got to thinking…
Before attempting to find answers, I pondered the following questions:
1) How might we “straddle” these paradigms? In other words, how might we take matters into our own hands and “redistribute wealth” (there’s a lightning rod expression if you ever heard one) through grass-roots capitalism, still be friendly to the a’ina, and in the process maintain our sense of place?
2) How might we bring tourists to our island without lining the pockets of middlemen whose added value is not commensurate with the compensation they typically receive? (You know, the cattle herders, sub-par hotels and such.)
3) How might we put this money directly into the pockets of the local populace and local businesses instead?
4) And most important, how might we put to work Damon Tucker’s on-line networking talents to create opportunities for our community and maybe even a job for Damon himself?
By all appearances Damon is the quintessential on-line social networking dude of all dudes. It’s his passion. So I say, let’s leverage Damon’s passion and talents to help our community!
Wanted: Big Island Locals for Grassroots’ “Adopt a Visitor” Program
Want to give “tourism” a unique Hawaii-Island twist? I’d like to see someone set up an “adopt-a-visitor” program based on the tried-and-true home-stay model.
The idea came to me after I started thinking about what added the most value to my vacations in Puna prior to moving here. It wasn’t the amenities of the rental unit; it wasn’t the weather, the palm trees, not even the scenery. It was the experience of interacting with local folks, sharing a small slice of their lives and forging new friendships in the process. And it hooked us after our first visit. So much so that we came back five more times on vacation. It was only natural that we eventually moved here.
Google tells me that the notion of “adopting a visitor” is not original. But I love the concept! And it seems to me that with the right strategy and coordination it’s something that could be promoted directly through on-line “social networkers” who could act as go-betweens in connecting visitors with local host families. The idea would be to sell our island as a “retreat” destination where visitors can live like a local, mingle with locals, and do it all in an a’ina-friendly way at a bargain price. Packages could include actual “home stays”. But for hosts uncomfortable having strangers in their homes the service could be scaled down, for example, a local person could meet at the visitor’s hotel or vacation rental, and act as a “local friend” on an agreed upon day or days. In the spirit of sustainability, host families and other local entrepreneurs would get fair compensation for their products and services.
Some might argue that legal issues and quality control concerns make this risky business. To give an extreme example, what happens if a visitor is inadvertently hooked up with a meth-head? It’s a valid concern. But I would counter that such a program could be modeled after existing cultural exchange/home-stay programs. The go-between would be responsible for “quality control”–easy if you’re introducing visitors to family and friends, much tougher when you’re dealing with host families you don’t know. That’s why doing it grassroots would seem to be the way to go, perhaps even work under the umbrella of local non-profit institutions.
The notion of “adopting-a-visitor” is not so farfetched. We’re currently working through several local educational institutions to promote something similar (education-themed programs for Japanese visitors that directly involve local residents). Our business currently doesn’t reach clients through on-line networking, but it’s a viable possibility in the future.
There’s absolutely no reason I can think of that the same concept couldn’t be applied to mainland visitors, or folks from just about any foreign country for that matter. And the beauty is that it breaks the traditional tourism mold by focusing on education, authenticity, sustainability, social consciousness, even community enrichment.
How It Looks Through the Pono Prism
How does the adopt-a-visitor idea fare under the scrutiny of Peter Apo’s Pono Prism? Let’s ask the 5 key questions:
How does the activity make Hawaii a better place?
It promotes human interactions that deepen relationships, encourage community-enriching activities, and brings money directly into the community.
How does the activity create opportunities for prosperity for all segments of the community?
It maintains our community’s “sense of place” since bulldozers are unnecessary. It involves the host community directly in commerce. If done properly it would also promote respect for local customs and the a’ina
How does the activity help connect the community’s past to its future?
A key role of local members of the community actually “adopting” visitors would be to educate their guests on the history, customs and traditions of native Hawaiians, as well as other ethnic groups that call Hawaii home. (Training would be required.)
How does the activity bring dignity to the community and the people who live around it?
It promotes local culture and local pride. As mentioned above, host families get paid sustainable wages (assuming a reasonable fee is agreed upon by both parties). And by circumventing big business, participants in the host community would receive substantially better compensation than minimum wage, since you cut out middlemen who line their pockets without adding value.
How does the activity insure that the people who live in and around it can continue to live there?
It offers host residents a means of earning reasonable compensation for services rendered, and taps into our sense of place.
The Bottom Line
Looking at it from a business perspective:
- It creates tremendous value for the customer but doesn’t cost host families a penny since they would (in theory) factor costs into their prearranged agreements with visitors and receive compensation for their time, knowledge and (ideally) aloha
- It’s an attractive, low-cost vacation alternative in a down market as it helps visitors offset the rising cost of airfare and lodging
- It would distinguish our community from other travel destinations and travel packages, by cutting out the middleman and connecting folks directly with real people who live here
- It taps into the value of Hawaii’s authenticity
- It holds great potential for eco-tourism and education, even volunteer activities that could help the community
- It bypasses the low-quality hotels and tour companies, and instead funnels money directly to the local residents who have the most to offer–and who could really use the money the most
- It creates ideal conditions for authentic human interaction, a powerful driver of repeat business
So Damon…you ready to rock-n-roll?
Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2009