There is always more to a city than its main tourist attractions and peer-to-peer services such as Airbnb and EatWith have had a huge impact on the tourism industry, enabling travellers to source their accommodation, meals and more from local people. Backstreet Academy is the newest of these marketplaces to enter the fray. It aims to trade in authentic travel experiences — enabling locals to offer one-of-a-kind tours or activities to visitors who want to experience their destination’s true culture.
Backstreet Academy is looking to democratize travel in developing countries by helping the disadvantaged communities in South East Asia to access the tourism market previously monopolized by tour agents. The online platform is a for-profit social enterprise: they source local masters of crafts such as fishing, boxing, weaving and knife-making, as well as knowledgable hosts who can give unique and memorable tours of Asia’s bustling cities.
All independent tours and experiences are curated and tested by Backstreet Academy before being included on the platform. The company also work with local NGOs to select and train BA Hosts — these are usually underprivileged craftsmen, artisans or housewives. Oftentimes, BA Hosts don’t speak English very well or are unfamiliar with the internet, so they are accompanied by trained facilitators — mostly local students — who serve as guides and translators. Everyone involved receives payment for their services and the organization are transparent about each party’s earnings. Backstreet Academy retain approximately 10 percent of each payment.
To take part, visitors simply search the online platform for activities in their desired city. Once they have chosen one that appeals to them, they make a booking, pay a deposit and arrange a time to meet their host and/or facilitator. Hosts can specify group size, available dates and cancellation policies. Visitors pay the remainder of the cost, in cash, to their host on the day.
Backstreet Academy has already seen great success, with 97.6 percent four and five star reviews on Tripadvisor. Are there other areas of the world where a similar organization could thrive?