Small World

2 minute read
Jo Baker

The Internet, it was once supposed, would provide a level playing field for businesses big and small, giving each the opportunity to reach a global market. But we know that isn’t always the case. Driving large volumes of traffic to a website has become a complex marketing challenge requiring lots of time and money. Seeking to redress the balance — at least as far as the travel industry is concerned — is Originating in 2002 as a project conducted under the auspices of the World Bank, to help small and medium-sized hotels in the Mekong area access the Internet, the site now provides booking services for locally owned accommodation in around 30 countries. Uniting the hotels — apart from the fact that most are modest in size — is a commitment to sustainable tourism and environmental responsibility. If they stick to these principles, they’ll continue reaping the benefits of an “e-marketplace” every bit as slick as the big booking engines.

Within the site, each destination page is run by a local tour operator with firsthand knowledge. In the case of Limassol, Cyprus, for example, the father-and-son team of Tommys and George offer not just hotel tips, but restaurant suggestions and car-hire advice. Discovering hitherto obscure accommodation can also be a real joy. In Luang Prabang, Laos, the booking service run by expat and tourism consultant Lee Sheridan lists, among others, the charming Le Tam Tam Garden Guesthouse, owned by the avuncular Nouanta Sayyabouasi and offering rooms from $15 a night. (Not all of the properties are undiscovered — some big, high-end hotels are on the site, giving users a genuine choice, but the stress is on lesser-known ones.)

Another laudable feature is the site’s dual-grading system. The first rates a hotel’s overall standards, the second grades commitment to the community — be it through hiring practices or energy conservation. But best of all, the site gives deserving operators a heftier online presence — and that should get every traveler’s tick of approval.

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