Travel is a relatively new phenomenon, something that only became mass market and accessible to the majority of humanity because of the industrial revolution and the subsequent technology leaps in transportation. Before that, it was restricted to explorers who had the backing of entire empires, and even then some were bankrupted by these expensive activities.

Now everyone can travel, and it is no longer enough just to see a place. Sustainable travel is the new buzzword, and here at Backstreet Academy, it is a key principle in our vision to connect locals and travelers for authentic, unique and memorable experiences. Here’s examining the evolution of sustainable travel from then till today.

Sustainable travel was more or less coined when people started noticing the adverse impacts their travel had on the environment, the resident population and the seismic shifts that came along with it.

1) Reducing the Footprint

Therefore, the first wave in the evolution of sustainable travel was simply reducing the impact and footprint of travel. More sustainable ways to travel, lower emissions, lower carbon footprint, less towels, less bedsheet changes, bring home your rubbish, etc these were all part of the version 1 of sustainable travel. A simple reduction of the negative impact.

Save our planet.. Or save their expenses? C'mon it's both..

Save our planet.. Or save their expenses? C;mon it’s both..

2) Fair Trade, made locally labels

After that, people realize that it wasn’t enough. In supporting a burgeoning tourist population, imports were jumping as locally made products are usually lower in quality to international products. The increasing consumption of such goods and the increased footprint of importing these products brought even more detriment to the local population. Sweatshops, child labour and a whole host of other concerns also came to light as businesses sought quick and easy ways to satisfy the demand of the tourists.

All the fair trade symbols

All the fair trade symbols

A number of standards, the most famous being fair trade, then began to gain popularity. Local governments also started creating their own labels, ‘made in X town/ Y Village’ started to proliferate and push tourists towards the consumption of these locally made products with environmentally and socially acceptable standards.

Handmade in Luang Prabang Label

Handmade in Luang Prabang Label

3) Cooperatives & Competitive social enterprises

In the last few decades, cooperatives and social enterprises became a new frontier for sustainable travel. Cooperatives of local farmers, local tour guides, restaurants, all benefited the people directly through distribution of revenue through the cooperative. Social enterprises, once simply NGOs with an alternative revenue stream, started understanding business and became more competitive while keeping their social mission in sight. People were then able to enjoy products and services of great quality at competitive prices. SouthEast Asia has been quite a leader at this, with many notable examples including:

A) Hagar, a multi-million dollar F & B Business run with victims of human trafficking

B) Phare, a multi-dimensional organization with its most famous being its entertainment division where beneficiaries are trained in circus arts, putting up a very popular show in Siem Reap. They help street children and vulnerable young adults

C) Friends International, a restaurant chain in Indochina rehabilitating street children through F & B

D) Hope Center Hue, an organization creating activities with disabled craftsmen

E) Angkor Handicraft Association, an exemplary organization and cooperative supporting craftsmen and artisans in many ways

F) Kilt Jewellery, an association teaching landmine victims to create jewellery and run jewellery workshops

and many others. Backstreet Academy hopes to help highlight their work through more intimate experiences directly with tourists to not only provide them with a great memory but also learn about the great impact these organizations are making, as well as build a system of network impact to propagate the rise of sustainable travel.

4) Network Impacts

And the future is network impacts. The sharing economy and the peer-to-peer model now allows endless connections between people and significantly bring down the cost of matching. Tons of platforms now offer an opportunity to dine with locals in their homes, drastically increasing the amount of restaurants in any city and the amount of unique experiences one can have. Airbnb connects tourists and locals with unique rooms, enabling people to increase their income by utilizing the spare capacity. On the tours and activities side, Backstreet Academy hopes to propapagate the idea of peer-to-peer impact travel. While such platforms are not new and are present in every geography, the ability to focus a network on the social impact is very new and not implemented in any place.

With the Backstreet Academy model, we hope to bring entire communities in poverty to increase their income through directly accessing the tourism industry. Previously inaccessible due to the lack of education and access to technology, Backstreet Academy bridges this with our innovative model of local language notification systems and local on-demand translation networks, bringing a modular capability to their ability to serve tourists of different languages and cultures.

The direct impact, the ability to be empowered to run their own sustainable business, and the model of connecting people for a sustainable travel experience will be the future, and people don’t even have to be conscious of travelling sustainably, just like how people dont have to consciously seek out reviews and media acceptance to decide on whether to do something anymore, it’s all integrated on site with ratings and aggregated with the listing on platforms like Tripadvisor, Agoda and Airbnb.

Platforms will rule the game everywhere, and sustainable travel will be similarly ruled by a platform with the mission to create social impact through a limitless peer-to-peer model.


The rider of ox-carts, tarantula-eating, giant crossbow toting founder of Backstreet Academy. Let me know if you have a challenge to add to that and I'll gladly oblige! :)