Colin Nagy, head of strategy at FFNY, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel. "On Experience" dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond. You can read all of his columns here.
The idea of “living like a local” has been core to Airbnb’s value proposition for some time. Also, the content streams and feeds for many traditional hotel brands around the world have centered on this, giving insider tips intended to make you feel like you live there.
Given that the recurring rallying cry for the travel industry is authenticity, this fact is ironic. Pretending to be a local when you are not is inherently inauthentic.
For too long, the idea of being labeled a tourist has been a no-go. It is a loaded word, laden with images of Americans in fanny packs and lawn-stained New Balance sneakers, speaking clunky French in a Parisian cafe. Or just generally the idea of being not “of” a place, and thus not attuned to its inner rhythms and behaviors, sticking out like a sore thumb.
So, it is time to reclaim the word tourist and embrace the idea of being an outsider. To me, it means being able to see the world with fresh eyes, unencumbered with any preconceived notion. Seeing a place for the first time, without the accumulations or weight of daily life (commute, emotional history, frustrations) can be one of the best things about travel. To view the world as a tourist means you’ve sloughed off any mental callouses blocking your perspective, and you’re taking things in anew.
Scott Stedman, an entrepreneur, and hotelier agrees with this idea so much he named his new property “Tourists.” The hotel is a partnership between several interesting co-conspirators including developer Ben Svenson, John Stirratt from the band Wilco and noted chef Cortney Burns, among others, and was put together by cobbling several parcels of land together and retrofitting some old structures just off the Mohawk Trail. The initial vision was a simple and necessary refurbishment of a roadside motel, but it morphed into something bigger and more culturally significant, culminating with 55 acres in North Adams, Massachusetts, a stone’s throw away from MASS MoCa.
The property resembles a red, traditional camp compound with refined and tightly edited tastes out of a noted design journal like Apartamento. There’s a saltwater pool, hiking trails, trees, and a “chime chapel,” or playable art installation in the woods and plans for a Burns-helmed restaurant soon. There’s an emphasis on connecting to the external community: MASS MoCA, the largest contemporary art museum in America, as well as nature like Mount Greylock, The Appalachian Trail, as well as the local Bright Ideas Brewing company.
Stedman is obsessed with the idea of reclaiming the word tourists.
“We acquired an old farmhouse that was a part of the historic Mohawk Trail where modern American road tourism began. We found this old sign that decades ago hung outside that just said, ‘Tourists.’ It summarizes everything we love about removing yourself from the routines of your regular life through travel.” he said.
While living like a local would mean trying to chameleon around and figure out the in-the-know things, Stedman thinks that “the idea of tourism at its purest form is to profoundly interact with what is exceptional in a region and engage with it honestly.”
He says this concept of embracing the beauty of tourism has been pulled through to every element of the hotel, ranging from the architecture to the amenities, to what is served for breakfast as well as the furniture.
He’s also keen on the idea of fostering community to help creatives and creative-minded teams tap into the North Adams scene as a way to stimulate their work and envisions everything is from private tours of the MASS MoCa to tapping into inspiration from their network of amazing creatives involved with the project, to just more time in the outdoors.
To live like a tourist is to travel more deeply, without being concerned with pure harmony and fitting in. Often, locals don’t even acknowledge what is exceptional about where they live, even when it is under their nose. Tourists, especially the new wave of thoughtful, educated and self-aware kind, can double down on the moniker to unlock better and more meaningful days on the road and in the world.