Have you ever dreamed of getting a glimpse into the life of a villager in a far off place completely off the grid? Duara Travels is a social impact tourism enterprise that connects travelers with the opportunity to experience village life, living alongside locals in villages in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tanzania, Ghana, Nepal and Kenya. When you book a village experience through Duara Travels, you get to visit places out of reach for most travelers affording a unique opportunity to meet local people and see real village life. Furthermore, these visits are a great way to support local communities and provide a sustainable income that helps the entire community while supporting sustainable tourism.
I learned about Duara Travels by fellow Impact Travel Alliance media network member of The Altruistic Traveller. Reading her beautiful article on her homestay experience in Manikhel, Nepal through Duara Travels, inspired me to learn more about their work. I had the opportunity to interview Annika Järvelin, one of the co-founders of Duara Travels, and here is what she has to say.
When were you founded, by who and why?
Duara Travels was founded by three women from Finland in 2015. We were inspired to start Duara Travels after doing a fair amount of travel to Asia and Africa where we realized it was challenging to get to know locals and understand their everyday life, especially if we didn’t share the same language. The concept of providing village stays was our way of connecting tourists with this unique way of travel that otherwise would be almost impossible to find. We also wanted to ensure that the money spent on travel in developing countries would benefit locals – and not some wealthy expat. That is why we founded Duara in 2015 after an impact startup hackathon which we participated in and won. We realized we would make a good team as we had backgrounds in design, marketing, tourism, business and development organizations.
Where did you get your name Duara Travels?
Duara is from Swahili and means circle. That is exactly what we create in our villages by connecting families with each other, to offer tourists experiences that last for a lifetime. We currently have 28 villages in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tanzania, Nepal, Kenya, Vietnam and Ghana.
What is your mission?
Our mission is to raise the income levels of rural, underserved village communities around the world. We hope that by bringing villagers new economical opportunities they can employ themselves off the harvesting seasons and at the same time maintain their current livelihood whether it is farming, fishing or handicrafts. If remote villages could benefit from sustainable tourism it would also give the youth the possibility to stay in the villages where they have born (if they wish to do so).
We believe that we can value destinations as they are, not as they are built for visitors. We want locals to be involved in producing the service themselves and want to make sure they make a reasonable profit from hosting travelers.
Not all community members are able to become host families, but we want as many of them as possible to feel involved with Duara. When you stay in a Duara village, 10% of the payment is directed to a local community organization. We believe that distributing income within the community is fair and also enhances your security in the village and makes you feel more welcome.
The groups supported vary from village to village but usually they save money together for common purposes, such as giving micro loans to each other, helping the poorest families in need or organizing village festivities. In many cases the group is lead by women. In some villages the community share goes to a nursery school, a youth organization or a handicraft producer group.
Tell me more about the village experiences.
When booking a Duara stay in a rural village you can expect the following:
- Stay in a homestay in the house where the local family lives. They provide you a private room and all the meals. You eat with the family.
- Get to join the everyday life of the village and participate the daily activities in the village such as farming, cooking, handicrafts, ceremonies, playing games with locals etc.
- Experience what the locals want to show you. There’s no ready-made package, nor have anyone told villagers what to show.
- Are usually the only tourist in the village and can really see the life as authentic as it is. We don’t serve groups.
- Can have an access to villages otherwise difficult or impossible to reach.
What makes you unique in the field?
We have a solid and tested concept and we operate directly with the villagers without any middlemen. The concept works in the similar way in all of our 28 villages around the world (at the moment in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana). Because we have several hosting families in the village and we give 10% share for the whole community, we benefit the whole village, not just one house.
What makes you a sustainable, responsible tour company?
60% of the money that the traveler pays goes directly to the locals. This is how it is divided: 40% goes to the host family. We have several host families in the village who host travelers in turns so that as many as possible can benefit from Duara’s concept. 10% goes to local, English-speaking contact person and 10% goes to the village savings group that benefits the whole village. The locals produce the service themselves, but we keep 30% to promote and maintain the service. The remaining 10% goes to money transfers as we want to pay each one directly. We don’t make any profit but all the revenue is directed into developing and marketing the business.
Want to learn more? Follow Duara Travels
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