Interview with Step Up Travel co-founder, Trip Sweeney

Online travel communities are great trip-planning resources, so it’s cool that new ones are popping up, like, every other day. Last week we got a note from Trip Sweeney, co-founder of the new travel community, Step Up Travel. We asked Trip to tell us about Step Up Travel, and what it has to offer for the independent traveler. Here’s what he had to say:

What is Step Up Travel?

Step Up Travel is a travel classifieds site, established to allow local small enterprises and individuals to publish web-page advertisements of their own unique cultural activities and services so that travelers can connect directly with them as an alternative to larger more commercial options. The emphasis of Step Up Travel is on the traveler-local connection and the mutual experience.

How did Step Up Travel come about?

Scott and I (co-founders) met volunteering in the Emergency Department of the largest, most chaotic public hospital in Rio de Janeiro, Souza Aguiar. We both agreed that our commitment to the health of people extends far beyond bodily ailments–it extends to socio-economic factors that impact the physical health, mental health, and well-being of a person, even their sense of self-worth.

We purchased a property together in Brazil and began to rent it out to travelers and give the proceeds to local, community development projects. To empower local people, We also connected visitors with local people we knew who offered something about their culture that they thought would be of interest to a traveler.

Each guest gave excellent feedback for the experiences they had the local people and added how special and unique the opportunity was. Then one guest proposed, “How great would it be if we could travel this way everywhere we go?” . . .This type of comment led us to search for ways to bring this person-to-person, community-based tourism to a larger audience. In developing our model, we researched sustainable development policies, reports, initiatives, and learned from leaders in the field, all of which has influenced our final product–

How is Step Up Travel different from other online travel communities, like BootsnAll or Travellerspoint?

Many online travel communities are traveler-centric and similar in that they emphasize the destination itself and the traveler-to-traveler connection for advice, travel buddies, discussions, and stories. They do an excellent job of this. Step Up Travel was designed to help create a movement in travel that emphasizes the traveler-local relationship in the destination and connecting travelers based on the common interests to meet, empower, and respect local people, and to get “off the beaten path” and experience the more personal, local paths.

In many other online travel communities there is little involvement by local people who are not travelers, but who are interested in cultural exchange; and, commercial postings by local service providers are often prohibited. Step Up Travel, on the other hand, welcomes local people and service providers to offer their culturally-rich talents, activities, and even services, as freelance employment. Travelers can immerse themselves more authentically in a culture with the local people and then empower them, rather than feeding the commercial tourism industry, by leaving feedback that recommends them to future travelers, which allows locals to grow their small business.

How can using Step Up enrich someone’s travel experience?

Step Up Travel can enrich travelers’ experiences in three ways:

1) Travelers can have richer, more authentic and cultural travel experiences by directly contacting, meeting, and engaging on a personal level with the local people who make their culture what it is.
2) Travelers can help local people they meet along the way connect with other travelers by recommending that they post on Step Up and then leaving feedback to support them. Through Step Up Travel, travelers can help local people build small, reputable travel/tourism businesses to earn supplementary (or even primary) income.
3) Joining and participating in a network of socially-minded travelers who are interested in travel that emphasizes importance of personal exchanges, genuine benefit to local people and their communities, and ultimately building a more peaceful and equitable world.

What is your vision for Step Up Travel? If realized, how would it help both travelers and locals?

Our vision for Step Up Travel is more a vision of how the tourism industry might change, altogether.

We think there is currently too much “tourism” in travel. That is to say, “tourism” is a word and experience we’ve all learned to loathe, because it brings to mind a commercial and branded way of traveling that is ironically so far removed from the culture it seeks to explore. But it’s not just big tourism that is insular; we’ve also seen (and experienced) how easy it is for even the “off-the-beaten-path” backpacker to travel in a cultural bubble. For instance, it’s easier for you to learn about other foreign travelers while traveling than it is to learn about locals. This may sound familiar to many of us who have eaten with, chatted with, swapped emails with countless other foreigners along the way. It’s not so easy after all to get immersed in a foreign culture.

As founders of Step Up Travel and as travelers who are dedicated to learning languages, enjoying cultures, and digging for a deeper and broader understanding of the world, our vision is to facilitate cultural immersion and help redistribute wealth in more equitable ways. We envision a world where big-brand tourism is increasingly abandoned by travelers (and tourists) in search of more unique, authentic, and person-to-person experiences with few (or no) intermediaries that commercialize the process.

Through our website we ultimately hope that people will be having interactions that lead to deeper understanding of diverse cultures, human values, and ways of thinking and living.


Thanks, Trip.

Step Up Travel’s ads include listings for the usual suspects like lodging and restaurants, but there are some for more offbeat services like cooking lessons, and grassroots democracy-building efforts. The bulk of the listings are from South America – no surprise since the idea for Step Up Travel was born in Brazil – so many of them are in Spanish or Portuguese. Step Up’s homepage includes links to online translators to help you with that.

If you find Step Up Travel useful, you’ll also want to check out recent posts on the Travellerspoint and Tribewanted online travel communties, IgoUgo, and our member network, BootsnAll.

Posted by | Comments Off on Interview with Step Up Travel co-founder, Trip Sweeney  | February 21, 2007
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind

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