Skift Take

Join Rafat Ali, Colin Nagy and our special guest Geetika Agrawal as they explore the value of souvenirs in the modern travel economy, and the emerging trend of shifting towards meaningful experiences over physical possessions.

For many of us, souvenirs play an integral part of the travel experience, allowing us to bring back physical mementos from our journeys. However it’s common for these keepsakes to end up forgotten on shelves or stored away in boxes.

As awareness of the impact travel can have on the environment grows, travelers are increasingly looking for ways to adopt more sustainable practices, and there is an emerging interest in finding alternative ways to commemorate trips without relying on physical mementos.

In episode three of the Skift Ideas Podcast, Rafat and Colin are joined by Geetika Agrawal, Founder and CEO of Vacation With An Artist (VAWAA), for a conversation on the evolving role of souvenirs in the modern travel economy. They delve into the increasing trend of people choosing meaningful experiences over physical possessions, the benefits of backing local artisans, and the significance of storytelling as a form of souvenir.

Listen Now


Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Overcast | Stitcher | Google Podcasts | YouTube | RSS

Episode Notes

Rafat Ali: Welcome to the Skift Ideas Podcast, A biweekly discussion with the thinkers, craftspeople and operators that are moving the travel industry forward. This is me Rafat Ali along with my co-host, Colin Nagy. I’m so glad that we’re doing this again. Welcome back, Colin.

Colin Nagy: Thank you. Nice to be here.

Ali: And thank you for carrying the load solo, in the last episode. I was just not able to do it, so thank you for doing that. I appreciate it.

Nagy: Appreciate it.

Ali: So in this episode, we’re looking at the value of souvenirs in the modern travel economy and the reason why we’re trying to scratch this itch, this topic, if you will, is about four months ago I randomly posted on LinkedIn this post, which I’m going to just quickly read. Nine out of ten tourism souvenirs lie unused, ignored, underappreciated in people’s houses. And yet we always forget the lesson and buy them whenever we travel. How do you reinvent this industry to prevent this waste, which likely runs into billions of dollars? 

So innocent enough, but provocative enough. I got so many dozens and dozens, 51 if I see this right here, comments on it. Hundreds of likes on it, and various different opinions on what people are asking, well, how did I get the nine out of ten souvenirs? That was just a random number I pulled out of just my own personal life, I guess. 

In a world where everybody is rethinking their carbon footprint, their general footprint environment, the footprint on the world, these mass produced relatively cheap trinkets that we always buy in our travels, how come they have not been reinvented?

And how do you make this practice, this industry and practice more sustainable? Yet at the same time, the people that are at the front lines of this, people who sell these souvenirs to people that really in many cases at the margins of the society that are in these destinations that we go, how do we make sure that their livelihoods obviously are not affected, so we’re not going to solve all of these issues on this podcast.

And when I posted this, somebody who commented on it is somebody who we have guests in the show, Geetika Agarwal, who’s the CEO and founder of Vacation With An Artist. It’s a service that does exactly what the title says. You can do mini apprenticeships with artists in 27 different countries, I think right now at this point. 

So I want to welcome Geetika. Thank you for joining us, and we’ll talk about sort of how you’re rethinking the souvenir world, if you will.

Geetika Agarwal: Thanks for having me, Rafat.. I just absolutely love this topic. And I also love that you’re asking this very important question because it’s only when we think about these questions can we actually innovate and move forward because we’re living in a different time and it is time to rethink about some of our own behaviors and the industry and how we can kind of change them for the better.

Ali: Just quickly explain Geetika your company and what it does and then we’ll jump into the souvenir discussion.

Agarwal: Sure. So as you said, it’s called Vacation With An Artist and it’s exactly what it is. It’s a way for you to spend up to a week with a master artist or maker, anywhere around the world, learning their craft, immersing into their day to day lives. Spending almost half a day every day for a week in their studio, learning the skills acquired over the years, getting to meet the community, doing the things that they do on a day to day basis, and coming back home with a new skill or also a better understanding of the place.

It’s all one on one. So imagine learning calligraphy in Kyoto for a week with a master calligrapher or learning how to make your own bespoke shoes in London for a week. Or learning natural textile dyeing in Mexico or with a Zapotec weaver. So we’re in 27 different countries, and the art forms vary as wide as this world. You know, there are so many crafts, you can’t really put a number to it.

I actually tried doing that once, trying to count how many crafts there are in the world, and it’s impossible to do that. But yes, the world is filled with crafts and our global culture is super rich. So the idea is to be able to learn those cultures through craft and understand the place better.

Ali: And so the reason why I wanted you on is because as part of this apprenticeship, people typically create something physical, right? They come out with something physical, correct?

Agarwal: Yes, that’s correct. So you end up making hands on, you are in the studio. So let’s say you’re making pottery. You have your hands in clay. You’re getting dirty. You know, you’re making things. It doesn’t matter what your skill level is. You could be a beginner, you can be an advanced, it doesn’t matter. You have your hands in clay every day for a few hours.

Ali: With the idea that the souvenir, if you will, that comes out of this is a lot more meaningful to you than just a mass produced one. So that’s why we wanted you there and we’ll get a little bit into that. I wanted to start with both of you, Colin and Geetika. 

Colin, you travel a lot, fair to say globally, you are a super traveler. You’re you’re super traveler, super traveler. What’s your personal souvenir buying philosophy, if you have one?

Nagy: You know, it’s a really good question. And I think for me and this really maps nicely to what you guys were just talking about is when something is imbued with emotion, when there’s a certain level of craft and touch, I think that that’s kind of the criteria. Oftentimes, it can be something that’s like given you know, I had a friend from Bhutan that gave me something small and relatively inconsequential, but because of the thought and the care, it was a beautiful woven item.

And you know that, that kind of remains with me. But I think that, you know, everyone’s got a drawer of the items that have been accumulated over time. But I think for me, the stuff that has pride of place is the stuff that is, you know, that has a great story behind it. It has a little bit of emotional resonance or in some ways just kind of brings the mind back to a moment.

Like I have a print that I bought in Chamanix on my desk here. And if nothing else, it kind of brings me back to that high altitude, sort of beautiful, thin space that seems very close to the heavens. And as I’m like working on writing or on Zoom calls, it’s like when my eyes wander to that, I have a little bit of like peace.

And I think that that’s the good criteria that comes with something that you bring home, home with you.

Ali: Geetika, what’s your philosophy when you travel? I’m guessing you’re traveling a lot. You travel a lot because not just you’re building your business around this.

Agarwal: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. I traveled a lot even before I was building this business. And I think one of the constants for me always has been for me that souvenirs are stories. Kind of like what Colin said. I call myself a story collector. Whether it’s the story of someone else, a person I met or place, or if it’s a story I co-created or if it’s a story that I created for myself.

And so to me, it’s about collecting those rich stories that create some kind of an inner transformation within me, whether it’s like just pure a moment of joy or it’s a memory, or it’s opening my mind to something new or, or whether it’s making a new connection in my mind, I might have seen something in India. And then when I go to Mexico, I see something and it reminds me of something I saw in India and that connection that I make, to me, that is a story as well.

Ali: Give me an example of of like the souvenir that’s around you or in your house that you like that sort of fits into that rubric.

Agarwal: Well, I mean, food is something that everyone understands, right? So I have a lot of different kinds of chili peppers from Mexico. I was just in Santa Fe and I picked up a lot of chilies there. They are dried chilies from the market. And then I have my own Kashmiri chilies from India. And I just love that when I’m cooking, I make a conscious choice.

Do I want to be in Mexico today or do I want to be in India today? And and then I also see similarities and I just go into that mode of connection of connecting the cultures. Why were we growing chilies? And it just evens out everyone at the same level. And it constantly reminds me that we’re all just the same everywhere.

We eat beans, we all eat tortillas and we all eat chilies. And so it’s just a constant reminder for me, like these things that tell me boundaries don’t exist. We are all the same, but we have different flavors to our own stories. So that’s one example.

Ali: Fascinating. So my philosophy is actually a little bit similar to yours Geetika, which is that for me, I love going to local bazaars like any country has their local whatever, whatever word they use. Obviously in different countries, bazaar means different things, but it’s a local market. And typically I buy edible things, mostly spices. So we just came back, our whole company came back about a month, month and a half ago from Iceland.

Iceland is not known for spices, but they’re known for their volcanic salts. And so for me, in fact, I’ve been using their black lava, they have like different types. But this is the black lava, volcanic one that I’ve been using either in my salads or on actual food. And I  bought spices and local teas.

So I think ten years ago, maybe 11 years ago at this point, I went to Comoros Islands, east coast of Africa, and they had this particular comorian tea, which doesn’t have any caffeine in it. It’s sort of eucalyptus and a bunch of other things that are mixed together and 11 years later I actually still have a little bit left.

I don’t know how great it is, but I still have a little bit left to drink. So if I can use it in cooking or drinking or if I can wear it. So this is not a video podcast, this is an audio podcast, but I’m wearing this thing from Senegal, my wife and I went last year to Senegal.

And this is a prayer bead, you know, a Muslim prayer bead. A specific Sufi Muslim prayer bead. That is put together differently than regular Muslim prayer beads. I wear it pretty much all the time. And so it reminds me of Senegal constantly, to do that. So that’s my personal, I try to steer my family away from fridge magnets, but I’ve not been totally successful on that part.

So let’s come back to the question, which is the mass. What’s the fate of the mass produced fridge magnet, trinket here and there that you buy for yourself and you buy for your friends and family? What’s your sense of what can be done with that Colin? Colin do you want to start and then we’ll back to Geetika.

Nagy: Yeah, I think that I was walking around Guadalajara over the fourth and what’s actually kind of interesting about the place is it’s not as much of a hyper tourist centric economy as maybe you might find in Mexico. But regardless in certain areas you have the obligatory sort of things. And I think that a lot of that is going to kind of continue to happen simply because it is a reliable economic generator, kind of a small business generator.

You know, I would like to wish that the output and the craft and the creation sitting in some of these things was better and more thoughtful. But I do think in many places you’re going to have a group of tourists that want the figurative postcard or the fridge magnet. And I do think that some of some of that is just always going to be there.

But what I like about this conversation and what I like about being more mindful about it, is how can there be economic opportunity that’s mapped to craft, that’s mapped to what I think people are wanting out of travel is like betterment or self-actualization or learning a new skill, and that’s kind of where where the most fruitful territory is in the in the kind of triangulation of those things.

So that’s my non-committal answer.

Ali: Geetika, would you still, would you still buy those mass produced trinkets or at least fridge magnets?

Agarwal: I actually have never bought one. Yeah. Like I said, I’m truly like a story collector in general. Also, as a traveler, I think I live a very minimal lifestyle. I don’t like collecting things. It’s almost like I never want to have a checked bag. So any, you know, everything has to be and I have to live a life so I can just pack up my bag and go anywhere.

So I think part of it is just how I live, but also I think, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trinkets and small things. I think it’s more the story behind it. If it is meaningful, if it has a story behind it, if there was talk behind it, then it does become meaningful. So for example, like I have this coaster from Turkey again, it’s not a video podcast, but this is ebru painting.

It’s printed by water, in water. And so I do have this at home, but there’s a big story to it because I was with an artist, who is an ebru artist and she made this. I saw it being made. I was part of that experience when she was creating it and now I have it on my table.

So it’s not just a decorative piece, it also has a function. I use it on my table, so I could have had a random plastic coaster on my table, but now I have a coaster that actually has a story to it. So I would say trinkets can also have that meaning. I mean, that’s if you go back into the history, souvenirs were stories.

That was a way of taking a piece of that place with you. They were just more crafted. If you really go back hundreds of years, it’s just once they started getting mass produced, they lost the connection to the people who made it, how they were made. So if we can bring back that connection to those trinkets, I think that, you know, they could still have a place in the travel industry.

But that is not the only way to have a souvenir, I guess.

Ali: Yeah. And we’ll come into that in a second. One of the things that I look for even in the mass produced ones, is a sense of design. And one of the things being living here in New York, you’re exposed to obviously a lot of New York based souvenirs. You can’t step foot within midtown Manhattan without coming across a souvenir shop, it’s just how badly designed they are.

And this is 2023, where supposedly design is a lot more, where good design is a lot more accessible. Actually, let me add this. One of the things when I first went to Iceland back in 2010 and when I was first buying, I’ve been seven times now. The first thing that struck me there was, yes, these are mass produced, but they have a good sense of for some reason they just have a much better sense of design.

So the local lava rocks that were very artistically sort of have an imprint of the Iceland map on it. These are mass produced. I’m sure they’re not there may not produced in the country for all I know, but they just have a sense of design. So I wonder if, you know, if you could talk about the value of design in these souvenirs, Colin from your perspective.

Nagy: Yeah, it’s interesting because I also just think that Iceland has a particularly strong design vernacular and that probably helps with a lot of that. I mean, they don’t want to be thrown in with the Scandinavians, but I do think that there is a sense of commonality in terms of, you know, minimalism, elegance, the juxtaposition of the beauty and the starkness.

Yeah, yeah, the starkness. And that translates to art, it translates to music, it translates to lots of things. And I think what you’re getting at, the subtext of this, is how to use design to be like, you know, small little ambassadors, small little representatives of your country in a meaningful way. Because the worst thing that happens is when you know, when you look at a caricature artist, you know, in Times Square, they’re basically just exaggerating everything.

And I think that that’s what happens with the worst kind of souvenirs and trinkets is that they take the one thing about the country and they just kind of blow it out. Right. So it’s like, you know, whether it’s palm trees, whether it’s, you know, and so the design, the soulfulness, the depth of the kind of creation can definitely help with that.

And it doesn’t surprise me that in Iceland you can find something that is a little bit more beautiful and crafted.

Ali: Yeah, I just wonder like, why are New York you know, I love New York T-shirts. I think we’re sort of stuck in that era still with a lot of the souvenirs that are there in New York. I mean, I try to buy stuff if I’m traveling somewhere, I want to buy a local souvenir. Actually, from New York to gift to someone, for instance, if I’m going to the Middle East or somewhere.

I just have not found at least a mass produced, i’m sure you can go to the mall, my store or etc. and find something there, that’s certainly high quality. But go ahead Geetika.

Agarwal: Yeah, I think it’s because I’m not sure if the designers are actually designing those souvenirs in most places. It’s some company who is in the souvenir industry that has really no connection to the design and art and culture of that place. It is creating something purely out of what would sell. So it’s purely design from that eye,  versus the design process. The creative process is different. 

It is always story led. It’s about representing the story of the people, the culture. And that’s what designers do, that’s what artists do, that’s what they’re really good at. And so I feel when I have traveled all around the world just looking, you know, just walking around in souvenir shops, I’ve seen some countries pay more attention towards, pay more attention to inviting the artists of their country, the famous artists of the country, giving them permissions to design the souvenirs of the country.

And I’ve seen, usually, that they are very well designed. I remember specifically this moment in Slovenia. Slovenia did such a fantastic job in commissioning local artists to design their marketing logo, their trinkets and their souvenirs. And you could see it everywhere throughout the city. So imagine thinking of the country as a brand and designing trinkets for that versus just a mass supplier and creating something that will appeal to the tourists.

Ali: Yeah, Collin, you had a follow up on that.

Nagy: Yeah, I wrote about something the other day where there’s a bunch of kind of traditional rugs from Afghanistan that have like images, whether it’s poppies, whether it’s AK 47’s, whether it’s just this kind of caricature of war and conflict. And it’s funny because on its face, you want to read into that. You want to read into it like trauma somehow being interwoven into the craft of the thing.

But then when you really double click on it, it’s like, that’s what’s selling, that’s whatever. When there was an NGO diplomat is like, oh, I’m going to put this in my den at home with some books and it’s going to look cool. And so like the commercial considerations and the data were driving that. But it was very tempting for people to, to read in, you know, the trauma and the obvious hardship that that country has seen for so long.

But it was basically like, oh, no, this sells. And that’s why we’re making more of them and that’s why you see so much of it. So there’s like the supply side and like the demand side. And I think that on the demand side, people are going to, you know, sometimes want something to, you know, something funnier that has a story behind it or some whimsy to it as well.

Ali: Yeah, I remember and I know you were I think, Colin, you were still living in New York back then when 9/11 happened. And if you remember, after 9/11, there was a ban on selling souvenirs, 9/11 souvenirs. I don’t know if there was a term for it. I guess they were called 9/11 souvenirs. Anything that’s celebrated is not the right word, but commemorated, even commemorated 9/11.

If you went downtown to the area to visit, people were caught selling some of these t-shirts or whatever. And there were stories and media, etc. around it. I remember. And I guess now 22 years later, it’s still being so I mean, now it’s I guess it’s fine to sell.

So I guess there’s a time value in these types of things, or time makes everything fine to sell.

Nagy: I remember that was so surreal because, you know, I remember walking up from Water Street or whatever, and a lot of these vendors selling illicit things and, you know, none of them were crass or anything, but it was still, you know, the wounds were pretty fresh. And it was interesting to see that, oh, from this tragedy is driving someone’s daily sales or livelihood, which is just kind of the way the world works if we’re being unsentimental about it.

But it was interesting to see how it was very closely monitored and policed in those early days.

Ali: In those early days, yeah. Geetika, coming to your company and the what do you call them, do you call them tours or do you call them apprenticeships?

Agarwal: Apprenticeships.

Ali: Apprenticeships. These 27 countries that I saw in the description. How do you, I mean you started with if I remember right when you first started, it was a few only a few tours and then you’ve obviously expanded that.

How do you go about selecting these and, and curating these? Because you could certainly have a marketplace and allow anybody to list anything. You haven’t done that, correct?

Agarwal: No. Yeah. So we’re a curated platform, which means we have artists from all around the world who apply to be part of the platform and then we can select which countries and which art forms we’re going to onboard first. And then we also do our own outreach and research and figuring out which ones to add. So it’s built up organically, a little bit.

But now as we have a better understanding, because there’s no other marketplace that exists like this, it’s been a little bit of a chicken and egg game of understanding where the demand is, but also understanding what are things we want to put forward into the world, what are the things that we want people to be more aware of?

So yeah, we started with 12 countries across Europe, Asia and South America, and now we are also in Africa. Australia is still kind of not on the map yet for us, but we will be adding that. And there are 27 countries. After the pandemicw e also added a lot of a lot of artists in the United States itself.

Ali: Okay. And has anything, has a pattern emerged on the types of apprenticeships that people are interested in, is it painting, category? Or you said the shoes I thought were fascinating. Making your own shoes category or something completely else? Like I remember, wasn’t there  like a bike making or something if I remember right.

Agarwal: Yeah we have bamboo bicycle making.

Ali: Yeah, I remember that even from your early days as well. So has a pattern emerged?

Agarwal: Yeah, definitely. It’s actually a very fascinating pattern because one is, you know, if you look at just the art world or just craft world, everyone is familiar with painting, photography, writing and, and, and those kinds of retreats experiences have existed even before us, like photography tours, painting or writing retreats. So that was kind of a no brainer. People are very familiar with it.

And then there are a couple of new categories of art forms which have been trending a lot lately. One is ceramics and the other is textiles. Both are very accessible art forms and you don’t need a lot of technical expertise. There’s a lot of room for error. They have kind of a wellness component to it. Wellness is a major component to it.

I mean, I live in Brooklyn and there are, I don’t know, like a at least 50 ceramic studios, they’re always full. There’s a waitlist of six months to get and get a spot there. So it’s just and Instagram has helped a lot too in making them sexy. And so we definitely see a huge trend in that. And then there’s a trend that I, I almost credit us for that, which is there are art forms that we have on there that people were not even aware of.

For example, rattan weaving.  I grew up in India. I’m familiar wiht rattan, but I didn’t realize that it’s a very fascinating material for people all around the world. So we have a rattan weaver in Malaysia. And and so, the  Netherlands, Denmark, a lot of the Scandinavian countries use a lot of rattan. 

I mean, wood in general is heavily used in those countries and interiors and wood is also used a lot in interiors, I guess all around the world. And with more and more people wanting to have interiors reflect nature, wood, different forms of wood, looking for things like their bamboo rattan. In other words, they’re making a comeback there. And rattan is kind of an easier material to work with.

Let’s say, than trying to cut maple with a table saw. So, yeah rattan weaving or we have art forms that have a little bit of a wellness component. So in Japan we have Japanese ink painting and the art of Japanese Ink painting is deeply connected to the Zen philosophy and mindfulness. And just to even start the act of Japanese painting, you have to get into the right posture, you have to get into the right mindset, you have to hold the brush a certain way.

And so there’s a deep, deep, deep sense of wellness and mindfulness to it. And the connection of mindfulness to your body. So I think art forms that help you get into that state, give you that opportunity for active wellness. So you have you have opportunity to go for a yoga retreat, you have opportunity to go to a spa, or you could do Japanese Ink painting.

And so people who are seeking more active wellness opportunities, any art forms that relate to that, they’re also kind of gaining a lot of popularity.

Ali: And what is the repeat customer like, and how do they explore that, that sort of thread that you’re trying to weave from one apprenticeship to another?

Agarwal: Yeah, it’s interesting. These people who are going on a vacation with an artist.

Ali: And these are single, solo person only. So like husband or wife can’t go or only can one person can go?

Agarwal: No, no, no, you can go. So we have couples, we have two friends. We have families too who go quite often, siblings. But quite often it’s solo travelers. I guess it’s hard to find another person who shares the same interest.

Ali: Yeah, very specific interest. Yeah.

Agarwal: Yeah. It’s not always. I mean, we do have a lot of people that, actually after the pandemic, we’re seeing more shared experiences because people are wanting to have more shared experiences. So they’re doing it with their parents or friends, couples. The common thread amongst all these people and age doesn’t matter. They’re like 18 year olds to 80 year olds.

The common thread is that they are all curious learners. They are people who are driven by curiosity. They just want to learn something new. They just want to get out of their day to day routine and try something else. And so they might go try ceramics one time, but the next time they might go do calligraphy. So for them, every experience is just a creative input to their life.So they just see these as different points of inspiration for their life. 

So I often compare it to how once you’re on the fitness app, you know, you just you just go, you do yoga, you go running, you have your strength training, and then fitness just becomes a way of life. And I think there are people for whom being creative is a way of life.

It doesn’t mean you necessarily have a creative profession, but they just see being creative and being curious as how they would exist in their everyday life. So they don’t care. So we’ve had one person, she learned how to do letterpress printmaking in Slovenia. Then she went and did to Katakami, Karakami sorry, which is Japanese style of printmaking, and then she went and did ceramics in Spain.

So, yeah, most people are just going there to learn different things. The other kind of people are actual artists and creatives. And they are going there to enhance their skills or they are going there because there are specific artists who hold the key to that art form. They have deep roots in the place. So for example, we work with the famous G Bend Quilters, who have deep history to Alabama through the slave history.

So these quilts were made as a way to capture memories of the slaves when they died. And it’s the biggest art movement in North America. All these quilts are in the Smithsonian and you know, all the big museums we received recently had a traveling exhibition. So people want to understand that story, that craft, that history. And so they go to learn from Loretta and Marleen, to Alabama, to learn how to make these quilts.

Ali: Fascinating, wow.

We brought up Instagram a little while ago, Geetika, and Colin I want to bring you into this as well. I was reading some material for this podcast, and one of the articles online said that there’s a possibility that people now, a lot of young people are not buying souvenirs. They’re taking selfies and or just photos themselves and obviously phone cameras, etc. are now have the best I’ve ever been, and that the value of the physical objects is becoming less important to them. 

I wonder sort of your thoughts on that and how much validity you see in there, Colin do you want to start with that?

Nagy: Yeah, I think the selfie factor is a pretty negative one in my opinion. I think if you are out in Kyoto kind of walking among shrines and kind of more spiritual places and you see a million people with the kind of selfie sticks, it almost is a bastardization of the experience. And I think there’s a lot of there’s a lot of things that we ascribe to Gen Z and there’s a lot of things that we tend to think and associate, and maybe one of them is being very digital and very social oriented. 

But I also think that gravitas, something that really knows what it is, whether it’s a place, whether it’s a hotel, whether it’s an environ, they actually really like that. Like, for example, like you can’t get into Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle because it’s like all the Gen Z kids think it’s like the deepest, most interesting thing.

So I do think that there is something interesting about, you know, physical objects being rediscovered. I tend to not want to characterize the younger generations as being purely digital or just being super selfie obsessed.

Ali: Or narcissistic, which is a word that people have used with some of the younger generation.

Nagy: Exactly yeah, maybe there is a way with these new types of experiences that are being created to almost recontextualize or reinvigorate what a souvenir or physical craft can be, beyond the fridge magnet into something that almost kind of stays in your soul. And I think when it has that sincerity of approach and that depth, whether it’s Gen-Z or young people, they can understand that, right?

So perhaps a reboot is necessary. And I think this particular project that you’re working on is a great example of that.

Ali: Geetika, how much are the people sharing this during the apprenticeship, social media, people taking photos etc. and what’s your philosophy on it?

Agarwal: It’s interesting, most of our guests don’t end up sharing much on social media. Part of it could be because they’re just so busy making, that their hands are in clay, who’s going to take a photograph?

Ali: But you are certainly using some of these to market through Instagram?

Agarwal: Sure. Yes, yes, sure. And so we sometimes have to remind them to take some photos. We have to sometimes remind the artist to take some photos, just for our purposes. If we if we had a choice, I would still prefer that that we don’t have to kind of suggest that to them, because I think it takes away from the experience we really want people to be in the moment, be present in the moment, and not be tied to the devices, because that is the whole point of this experience.

But I would say I am noticing a slightly different pattern regarding selfies. I find actually the younger generation is less tied to the devices, even though they are more digital, and I feel it’s because digital is such a given to them that it’s not anything special for them. So they, capture it, but like again, they use you know BeReel or Snapchat, like for them the digital stuff is about capturing a moment and then it just disappears.

Because we get people from all demographics, we actually see the Gen-X and the Boomers use selfie more and then the Gen-Z and the Gen-Ys because they kind of get creeped out by that because one, the selfie has been demoted, it’s not cool. So what, they don’t want to do it, but also because they grew up in the digital age for them, what is true luxury, what is actually cool are the stories and also the younger generation is more conscious of the planet.

They care more about the world they want to live in, so they try to be more ethical in their choices.

Ali: That makes sense. We haven’t solved any of the issues that we said at the start, the world’s souvenirs problem. But I think we had just a fascinating discussion. I think what we should leave this with is I think there definitely is a realization in general on travel’s weight in the world. And the hope is that as people realize that the weight of the objects, or of anything that they do in travel, that souvenirs become more meaningful, at least more sustainable from that perspective.

Colin, do you want to add to that?

Nagy: Yeah, I think this represents the kind of conversations that I’m excited to have with this podcast because on its face souvenirs are just a thing. But when you pull back the layers similar to your thesis with travel, it touches so many elements of economics, of social strata, of emotion, of mobility.

Ali: Of globalization, that we didn’t even get into.

Nagy: Yeah, I think it’s really exciting to look at a thing that might just seem, you know, like a thing that you have in your drawer. But, you know, we’ve really scratched the surface. And in showing how it can be much more than that, and also in the instance of this project, how it can be evolved in a really thoughtful way that actually has some soul and also creates a memory. So I love it.

Agarwal: I think I just wanted to leave a little comment and hopefully it’ll inspire people in the souvenir industry. 

Ali: Go ahead.

Agarwal: If we can start thinking of people as the biggest treasures of a place and start thinking about how we connect people, the tourists, to the people of that place, to their stories and bridge that gap. I think we can start thinking of souvenirs in a different way, because I think right now the souvenirs as objects are totally disconnected from the people at the place, whether it’s how they’re made, the stories they’re telling, how they’re made, why they are made, all those parts are totally disconnected from souvenirs.

So if we can start adding that and start making those connections, souvenirs will start becoming more meaningful.

Ali: This was fascinating because I was just reading I’m reading something in the history of travel and there’s a critique of museums there, where you’ve taken these objects from their original context and put them in a museum and they’re really objects, as in physical things, and you’ve objectified them outside of their context. So a tourist that enters a museum is very much in the objectification mode, versus sort of a deeply immersive people to people mode, which is what, what you’re saying, Geetika, which I thought was a fascinating argument, this history book that I’m reading.

Agarwal: Yeah, it’s exactly it’s like, how do we remove the multiple layers we have put between these objects and the people of the place? How do we remove those layers, peel that back and bring people closer to the people of that place. And I think the souvenirs will suddenly get more meaning. And that’s what we are doing, is people are interacting with the people for a week and really learning and spending time with them, and that’s what makes it so meaningful and magical.

Ali: Thank you that was fascinating. Thank you Geetika for your time. Thank you. Colin, I just want to wrap up by saying that this is our third episode in the Skift Ideas podcast. And if you like this podcast, please subscribe to it. Please share, please review it if you can. We have a lot more coming with our Skift Global Forum that’s coming up on September 26 to 28 in New York City.

If you haven’t registered for it, please go to to get your tickets. There are some of the biggest CEOs and creative folks in the industry and creative topics like these will come up as well. And the Skift Ideas franchise, if you don’t know this is a franchise that we have created to celebrate the innovation and creativity in the travel industry and talk about the topics in a creative way like we did with this podcast.

There’s the Skift Ideas Editorial Hub, the Skift IDEA Awards, and then obviously this Skift podcast as well. Thanks everyone, and looking forward to another episode with all of you. Thank you folks.


The Daily Newsletter

Our daily coverage of the global travel industry. Written by editors and analysts from across Skift’s brands.

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: experiences, experiential travel, skift podcast, souvenirs, sustainable tourism, tourism

Up Next

Loading next stories