I know I’m coming up in the world when I’m invited to judge a travel contest! I’ve just agreed to be a judge for the $1,000 Splits Competition hosted by Leap Local, the service that puts travelers in touch with recommended local travel guides. BUT – there are only three days left to enter for your chance to win. Entries must be completed by midnight in your time zone on September 30, 2012.
The winning travel writer will split the $1,000 prize with the local guide, driver, tour operator, homestay owner, guesthouse owner, teacher, or expert they recommend on Leap Local’s website (a local is an individual who lives and works at the point of destination). The recommended local service must be new to the website and there is no limit to the number of entries travelers may make. As judges, we’ll be looking for a recommendation that makes us want to go on the adventure safari, or take the exact same eco trip, or stay with your favorite nomad family, based upon nothing but the power of your recommendation.
So why, with my very busy schedule, did I agree to judge this competition? Simple. I always seek to connect with local individuals who can provide me with an authentic cultural travel experience. In many, if not most cases, these are solo operators who do not have the benefit of a big tour operator behind them, yet they provide a richer experience than any tour. These folks struggle to earn a living, just as I do, so I’m really thrilled to be able to help one of them out (and maybe learn about a new culture in the process).
One former winner, Gerson Pizango, is a young man from a small village by the name of Puerto Miguel, on the bank of the Ucayali River, about 156 miles south of the city of Iquitos, Peru. He grew up there with his family working for many different organizations, all of which were run by people from outside of the jungle. He moved to Iquitos and began offering tourists an authentic jungle experience, which includes a visit to his hometown. Clients are in good hands, but there are no jungle lodges; participants camp outside, away from where most people live, up to 180 miles away from Iquitos. By booking with individuals like Pizango, you support local people who often struggle to get by. Kirsten Koza, executive director of Leap Local, told me what a difference winning the prize made to Pizango:
“We have this jungle guide in the Amazon who was one of the winners a couple years ago and he’s always flashing around his winning certificate on Facebook and he made a lanyard out of it for when he goes to the airport in Iquitos to try and find clients to guide up the river to his village. You’d think he had won an Olympic medal, or a Nobel Peace Prize. It gives travellers confidence to use his services, that’s for sure. He’s had a lot of work out of it. Before he won he was always emailing me about how everyone would arrive at the airport with their Lonely Planet which recommended they use a German operation up the river and they’d pass him by. I can’t imagine passing him by – he has the cheekiest little face and speaking of which, I’m laughing”
Keys to making a great recommendation:
Pg. 1 of your recommendation is where you supply the outline of the local and services they provide, plus their contact information and a photo. Make sure your information is accurate and detailed. Photos really help make a recommendation come alive.
Pg. 2 of the recommendation is when you have an opportunity to get personal when you describe what you did with the individual and will be asked to give examples of the best bits and worst bits of your adventures, the local, or accommodation, and will be required to rate your experience.
To enter, go to this page to begin the process. It will guide you step-by-step through searching to ensure the local has not already been recommended, after which you will be asked to fill out the entry form. This is a win-win situation – a chance to win $500 for yourself and to provide a $500 prize for your favorite local travel guide. But you’d better get cracking – there’s not much time left!