Why working closely with local small business suppliers is the right path for destination management companies to deliver responsible tourism.

In every DMC’s lifecycle there comes a time when you need to make the decision between using a large, well-established supplier against a friendly but small and relatively inexperienced operator trying to make their way.

We took a calculated risk, based largely on our belief in the manager as a person, and boy did it pay off.

Bruce Haxton

Managing Director

Small Supplier v. Big Supplier: The Stakes

The large well established guys have their booking processes refined (at least in principle), they’re used to dealing with customers and it ‘feels like a business’. Which makes you think you can organise the activities and not worry about it. On the flip side, is it supporting people in the local area? Are you going to be just another number? Do they care passionately about the customer anymore?

You look at the smaller operator. They’re passionate and working 24/7 to get their activity off the ground. They’re integrated into the local community and you enjoy working with them. However, do they have the right processes in place to reduce complexity? Do they have the right experience with customers? Do they understand and follow the right Health and Safety procedures? Are they still going to exist by the time the brochure goes to print?

None of these points are exclusive to either large or small operators, but I’d bet every DMC Product Director has been through this multiple times and each one will wish they’d made a different decision – hindsight being the wonderful thing that it is. The easy option is to go with the large, well-established provider. They’re experienced, their procedures are clear and easy to see and, whilst you won’t be unique, you know pretty much exactly what you’ll be getting for your, and your customer’s, money.

But imagine the day when you get the opportunity to do something totally different. You throw your trust to a small local supplier and then get to see incredible outcomes. This is what happened in early 2016 with PATH and a very small operator of elephant activities in Mae Wang, Chiang Mai province.

Our Customers Win, Our Supplier Wins, We Win

All the developments (accommodation, roaming areas for the elephants, etc.) were finished ahead of schedule. The whole nature of the elephant interaction was changed, the mahouts ‘bought into’ everything and suddenly an activity which was starting to damage business become the highlight of a four week trip. And the home went further than we imagined. Having been given the opportunity to rewire their activities, they started pushing on in their developments and allowing travellers to see their part in a longer journey – something one simply can’t and won’t receive in a large, impersonal environment with hundreds of daily visitors and where any one DMC is just another number on a spreadsheet.

Writing today, the little bit of faith we showed in a small local supplier has paid off a hundred fold. Our partners’ travellers have an exclusive and incredible opportunity to experience an activity which feels like it’s ‘theirs’. Our supplier has not just stayed in business, but has prospered and now has double the number of staff (all recruited from the local community) and the travellers continue to spend money within the village and local area, spreading the benefit yet further.

Now, of course, this isn’t always possible or even the right thing to do. After all, customers have to come first and the experience on offer has to be right. But, we’ll never regret the day we took to difficult path and supported our policy of sourcing local, high quality suppliers. Surely this is how ‘adventure’ travel works best – local ‘entrepreneurs’ able to develop and grow, jobs created and visitors spending money in the local community, and travellers accessing a unique and very personal experience. What we think of as responsible travel at its best.

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