’Vaolo.com’ is a new booking platform developed by the Canadian NGO Village Monde, which is active in over 45 countries in the field of social innovation. Village Monde supports the development of a network of sustainable tourism initiatives in remote communities. ‘Vaolo’ is meant to provide these initiatives with an alternative to mainstream booking platforms. Its founder Charles Mony is a sailor, explorer and technological entrepreneur. We asked him about the emergence of ‘Vaolo’, the standards applied, and the benefits for the initiatives involved.
TW: How did your new booking platform ‘Vaolo’ come into being?
Charles Mony: ‘Vaolo’ is a contraction of the Malagasy expression "vao vao loharano" which means “new source”. It is about transforming the intangible wealth travellers may experience even in communities with rather precarious living conditions into new income opportunities for these communities. It was from this approach that the concept of Village Monde was born.
85 percent of all travel and destination choices are made on the web. The tourism industry spends fortunes to be visible. How to help small tourism initiatives poorly connected and without means to get visibility and access to the traveller market? The initiatives of Avlo in Benin, Tuyuk in Kyrgyzstan, Libertad in the Amazon, Tsaravahiny in Madagascar and Chambok in Cambodia all offer special experiences in small corners of the world, but unfortunately they are difficult to find. Today, almost 500 of these initiatives can be found on the ‘Vaolo’ platform.
‘Vaolo’ allows to connect these communities, who are ready to host travellers, and offers unique travel experiences: journeys based on encounters and discoveries at the heart of the planet and authenticity in small remotes communities off the beaten track and industrialized tourism. For the communities, hosting guests is a source of livelihood and brings benefits at social, economic and environmental levels.
TW: How do you identify projects to be included?
Charles Mony: Since its launch in 2017, vaolo.com has been growing fast and quickly became known, mobilising a whole community of explorers, travellers, bloggers, hosts, villages, NGOs, trainees and committed citizens. All of them are involved in developing this new network.
Every week we receive many proposals for new destinations. Once identified each initiative is evaluated, visited and validated. We are exploring country by country, region by region, and community by community to validate these tourism initiatives and invite them to join our network. Every initiative that fulfils the requirements is certified and receives a label. It's hard legwork, but we are lucky to receive a lot of support and help.
Village Monde has developed a label and a frame of reference offered free of charge to accommodation providers and communities. The Village Monde label is based on eight global criteria covering not only tourism standards but also the quality and authenticity of the experience, and also and especially the positive effects of the initiatives on the community:
- Quality of accommodation and infrastructure;
- Respect, protection and quality of the environment;
- Quality of reception, authenticity and sharing of village life;
- Improvement of living conditions, accessibility and remoteness;
- Possible activities;
- Socio-economic benefits;
- The Index of autonomy, pride and equity;
- Reception and management of accommodation.
Every year, we also support programmes for sustainable exploration to enable young travellers to help us develop the network and certify new initiatives
TW: What does ‘Vaolo’ do for community based tourism initiatives in practical terms?
Charles Mony: Once validated and certified with the Village Monde label, these initiatives are connected free of charge to the ‘Vaolo’ platform. Village Monde ensures promotion, digital marketing and a very active presence in blogs and social media with nearly 150,000 subscribers: citizens, hosts, supporters, and travellers.
Village Monde also provides remote communities with support programmes for entrepreneurship, training, improvement and development of the network.
To maximize impact, the platform is free of charge for accommodation and remote communities. A donation of 12 percent is requested from the travellers for each reservation. This contribution is used for the development of the network, the improvement of the ‘Vaolo’ platform and its promotion.
Each traveller can make a difference by their choice of destination. A guest who stays two to three days in a community will generate benefits for ten to 20 families. Our biggest challenge now is to continue to grow the network and to make this way of travelling become a new trend.