Why local experiences are key to authentic travel

Expert Opinion
Why local experiences are key to authentic travel

Authentic travel is all about authentic local experiences, says Didier Scaillet, CEO of SITE.


It’s almost a year since I grasped the reins at SITE, aka Society for Incentive Travel Excellence, and it’s been quite the ride. As I look back at 2018 I can say: “A lot done, a lot more
to do!”. 

In 2018 SITE reached its biggest ever membership number. In our 45-year history we’ve never exceeded 2,350 members but this year we did. There are many reasons for this, not least an amazing team at SITE Global that takes care of membership and ensures that everyone is getting value for money. But it’s more than that. To explain it I need a German word – zeitgeist! Zeitgeist means, “The spirit of the age” and I think this is the overarching reason why SITE’s membership is growing. 

Basically, we’re living in an age that “gets” what incentive travel is all about. Travellers today, whether they’re leisure or business travellers, want authenticity, local experiences, meaningful destination connections. They want to travel but they don’t want to be tourists. They want to participate, be involved, experience in the first person. They want to be inside, not outside, the velvet ropes. They want to get behind the scenes, dive deep, go beyond the surface. They want off-piste encounters, unique experiences, they want to be off the beaten path.

But isn’t this what incentive travel professionals have been endeavouring to deliver for decades? Incentive travel, if anything, has always been off piste, off the beaten path, off menu. By definition it’s a kind of priceless thing, not something that you could ever find in a travel agent’s catalogue. It’s customised, bespoke, personalised just for you. 

Maybe for the first time since travel became a sought-after leisure pursuit there’s a perfect match between what general travellers want and what incentive travel delivers.

I recently led a delegation of SITE & SITE Foundation volunteers to Rwanda for what we call the SITE Executive Summit. The Executive Summit was devised by SITE to provide networking, education and advocacy for new and emerging incentive travel destinations. We bring a high level delegation of buyers and global influencers to a location with promise and potential and deliver best-in-class education while immersing ourselves in the destination and providing feedback and perspective to the local hosts.

Rwanda was an unforgettable experience that perfectly chimed with the zeitgeist being authentic, local, unique, extraordinary. We immersed ourselves in the country’s bitter past by visiting the Genocide Museum in Kigali. Then we embarked on an exploration of the countryside, enjoying traffic free roads while meeting up close and personal with the locals. 

We spent a morning gorilla trekking in the Virunga Mountains and, for an hour, were accepted into the fascinating intimacy of a gorilla family. It was a truly unforgettable experience. 

If I have learned one thing over the past year it’s this: incentive travel is about creating authentic local experiences that often, in their purity and simplicity, can capture your heart and transform you as a human being.

Stuart Wood is a news reporter across the Mash Media editorial portfolio. He writes for CMW alongside sister publications Conference News, Exhibition News, Access All Areas and Exhibition World.