If you live in a large, tourist destination or if you’ve even take a trip to, well, anywhere, something quickly becomes apparent: there is a huge divide between locals and those just visiting. It’s clothing, it’s language, it’s demeanor, and it’s very pervasive. Whether you’re walking down the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, buying a sandwich at a bocadillo bar in Seville, or sitting on the beach in Bali, sometimes it feels like the two groups might as well be the Sharks and the Jets.
The founders of this week’s Small Business Spotlight, Bridge the Gap Villages, thought that travelling could be more than that. It didn’t have to be us versus them, but rather a chance to get to know and understand a culture unique from your own. The organization has created a partnership with Vorovoro, a village in North Fiji. Participating travelers are welcomed into the community with open arms and asked to participate as locals. This means learning how to weave mats, spear fishing, and floating in the Pacific Ocean without a care in the world. You can check out their amazing and beautiful photos on Facebook here.
Founders Jenny and Jimmy talk more below about the business of bringing tourists and locals together:
How would you explain what you do to somebody’s grandmother?
Bridge the Gap Villages erases the line in the sand between locals and tourists, one village at a time. We’re starting in the “friendly North” of Fiji, giving travelers new, authentic, and magical ways to experience the world. By creating partnerships with the community, BTGV provides unique benefits to travelers seeking ways to relax, connect, and see local cultures from a different perspective – through participation and becoming part of a village. Additionally, in order to better ensure that the tourism dollars go directly into the community and fuel the experiences in a sustainable way (both economically and environmentally), BTGV includes a business mentorship program which is an integral part of training both primary and apprentice employees, to promote positive ways for them to utilize the tourism industry, diversify income, and engender cultural preservation.
What are some industry specific challenges you faced?
Communication. As we are a world away from our Fijian partners, communication has proven to be our biggest challenge. Email is not accessed easily in Fiji, and there is a slight but manageable issue of language barrier compounded by cultural differences. So things that might take just minutes or hours to discuss here in the U.S. may take days or weeks to discuss with our partners as we aim to evolve and launch the business with full transparency and collaborative engagement with our village partners.
Additionally, the eco-tourism market is overflowing with companies now green-washing their offerings. We need our web presence and materials to immediately convey the authenticity behind our principles and the very real village experience that is possible only through a partnership like the one we’ve defined through this unique business model.
What was your biggest learning curve/experience?
Realizing just how much time and energy it takes to start something completely new. Taking it from vision to reality has required more time and patience than we expected. Just when we think we are almost ready to launch, we realize something else needs to be developed or refined. To reach a point where everything is well thought out and executed properly has required time and energy that we never dreamed we even had in reserve.
What made you use crowdSPRING?
Kaz did! Kaz Brecher is a member of our Advisory Board, focused on Marketing and Outreach best practices. Given our budget limitations, and Kaz’s ability to act as a creative advocate on our behalf, we felt comfortable pairing the raw talent you can find on crowdSPRING with our vision and direction.
What’s the craziest story you have from starting your own business?
When we arrived in Fiji in August 2011 to present our partnership proposal to the Chiefly family of Vorovoro, we presented a traditional gift of kava roots to the chief, exchanged stories with our friends, and celebrated into the night. The next morning brought meetings and many conversations about the proposal, and within hours, a 4-wheel drive ambled up the road to the Chief’s home. It turns out the “coconut wireless” had spread the word that news was brewing and a reporter from the Fiji Times Newspaper had arrived to ask us a few questions. After talking for a bit, and sharing some kava, she bid farewell to the Chief and his family and drove off into the night. By morning, word had reached us that we were to be featured on the front page of the Fiji Times with an article about new plans for Vorovoro Island. While we were quite surprised by this, Tui Mali, the Chief of Vorovoro Island, simply stated, “This is VERY big news!”
If you could go back, would you do anything differently? If so, what and why?
It has taken quite some time to develop a comfortable balance between family life and working on our new project. Raising three busy kiddos can easily tip the scales in one direction! If we could go back and do anything differently, it would be to create a clear structure for family and work time and stick to it!
How do you see your company growing in the future?
We see ourselves eventually taking this business model to other under developed parts of the world or providing support to others who have an interest in creating a more positive and less exploitive global tourism landscape. By placing an emphasis on open source models and collaboration, we believe we can amplify our efforts and include more willing and able participants in the growing desire to both share our villages and participate in unique experiences around the world – thus our commitment and endeavor to bridge the gap in our global village!
Six words of advice to those looking to start their own company.
Self care and strong advisory team!
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