Alongside the SXSW Conference in Austin, smart opens its house of smart in the Texan capital this week. Focusing on urban change and digital innovation, one of the topics is tourism, serving as catalyst for positive impact for the cities of tomorrow. Gilad Goren, co-founder of travel community platform Raleigh&Drake, is one of the speakers.
With Raleigh&Drake, two famous explorers are part of your company name …
Gilad Goren: As a teenager, I fell in love with the concept of exploration, on the drive to seek out the unknown. Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake embody both facets of exploration. They took part in mapping the world with their expeditions, while also spending their time writing prose and poetry. Today, the magic of exploration and travel is often lost within an increasingly commodified travel industry. Raleigh&Drake seeks to bring back that sense of magic.
How did you get to this point of wanting to revolutionize the travel industry?
Gilad Goren: You can say I was born into the travel industry. My dad founded an outbound tour operator. I personally always had a passion for traveling – but when I joined the industry myself, I very quickly fell out of love with it. I didn’t feel represented by what was being offered.
How did Raleigh&Drake come together?
Gilad Goren: My co-founder Patrick and I both have a passion for travel impact. We realized that in order to make this enormous industry better for the world on a monumental scale, you need to mainstream sustainable travel. Raleigh&Drake is a discovery platform powered by your own community, giving you easy access to the travel knowledge of your friends, networks and the creatives you follow. This puts the spotlight on meaningful travel – everyone can potentially be a sustainable traveler.
How do you define sustainability?
Gilad Goren: Environmental sustainability is just one third of the impact triangle. There’s also the economic impact – where is your money going? Only 10% of every dollar spent abroad goes to the local community. The third aspect is respecting and preserving the local culture.
What is unique about using Raleigh&Drake, as compared to using other travel sites?
Gilad Goren: Currently, you have to spend up to 30 hours doing research while planning a trip. You have to collect information, and then match it with a map. But isn’t the most important source of information friends and people you relate to? If somebody recommends a kebab shop in Barcelona – it’s not necessarily relevant to you, right? Anonymous reviews cannot take your own taste into account. Raleigh&Drake does away with irrelevant reviews.
How do you go about this?
Gilad Goren: On the tech side, we’re building a way to transform people’s social media posts and check-ins into individual travel recommendations. Individuals make cities – without them, a city is just a collection of bricks. We also create events in unexpected places to get people off the beaten track. Raleigh&Drake is all about discovery and exploration – the beauty of travel.
How do you ensure that cities, their people and businesses, keep their unique character?
Gilad Goren: The platform is constantly calibrating itself to be relevant to you – not just the demographic you happen to be part of. Nobody gets the same experience. By definition, meaningful travel doesn’t happen in places like Times Square – it happens in the less-known neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have become destinations in a way they never were before. By putting the spotlight on local shops, we at Raleigh&Drake are enhancing local businesses as well as creating more authentic experiences.
Does tourism always translate into a better quality of life for residents?
Gilad Goren: There’s an intrinsic link between quality of life of residents and tourism, especially if that tourism is authentic or meaningful travel. Tourism done right means that money stays in the community. This eventually leads to better infrastructure. You can see that in neighborhoods which the sharing economy has made accessible.
Which cities are winning at tourism?
Gilad Goren: Singapore is a good example. People used to go there for business, not for leisure. They did something really cool: Their board of tourism focused inward, on creating events for residents – events that were so cool that they attracted visitors, too. Together with the great infrastructure, this meant that travelers would stay longer, exploring for a few more days. Also, take the Highline in New York, originally a private citizens’ vision. It’s now one of the top three visited sites in the city. It has transformed an entire neighborhood.
Was there a pivotal event that sparked your personal passion for meaningful travel?
Gilad Goren: I once helped out putting together a trip to India. We got in touch with a non-profit organization and traveled to a fishing village quite off the beaten track. Many of the kids there were dropping out of school to help with their parents’ work. One of the nonprofit leaders had arrived 12 years ago, with a surfboard in hand. Seeing interest from the kids, he built a surf school whereby the kids can take out boards, but only if they had perfect school attendance records.
Did it work?
The unforeseen byproduct of this connection is a nascent surf-tourism economy – tourists actively seek the opportunity to visit the town, catch waves and support the cause. For the first time, the kids of the village were able to connect with the world. They can see a future beyond subsistence fishing, gain pride in who they are, and what they can achieve. Money is coming in to build up the infrastructure and a new life for the community. This kind of impact represents everything I want to achieve with RAD. It is where the largest industry in the world can really go.