“Appreciate the wonders of the world, hands-on.” It’s a pretty beguiling call, you’d have to admit. While plenty of tourists are content with just getting that Instagram-worthy photo from their traipsing across the globe, it’s safe to say that most of us desire a more enriching experience; how better to learn about a place and culture than to interact with its locals? With Backstreet Academy, an online platform that Forbes.com has described as “the Airbnb of unusual travel experiences,” you can learn how to make knives and crossbows in Luang Prabang, Laos; practice your calligraphy in Hanoi, Vietnam; momo (dumpling) cooking classes in Pokhara, Nepal; and many more.
Avid travellers Anil Gurung, Jamon Mok, and Akash Gurung wanted a way to connect with locals while making a positive impact in tourist destinations, which is how they came to create Backstreet Academy, a social enterprise that aims to enable local artists and craftsmen to earn additional income and gain recognition. “We noticed that locals who had the potential to offer unique experiences to travellers weren't able to do so either because of language barriers or the lack of access to technology that can be used to market to tourists,” explains Gurung. “Poverty was also a problem because they did not have the resources to create a good experience or train themselves to do so.”
So far, Backstreet Academy has a presence in almost 40 locations across 10 countries in Asia: Nepal, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. The company is quickly expanding across the region, and as it does, so do the experiences it has to offer. “For a lot of the activities that we offer you will find that they are all indigenous to that specific community,” says Gurung. “You will not find these travel experiences anywhere else.”
Backstreet Academy is a travel platform that empowers locals to create their own tour, workshop, or activity, resulting in unique and authentic experiences and cultural exchanges that cannot be found anywhere else. The best part of it is that anyone can use the platform without the need to know English or access to technology. “In a way, we built this product for ourselves to discover new and interesting people and experiences and enable us to travel responsibly by sharing revenue directly with the locals,” Gurung continues.
Recently, Backstreet Academy has expanded to the Philippines—Cebu, in particular, with activities ranging from street food tours to eskrima classes to even ukulele making. “We're continually looking for new activities for travellers to participate in,” says Gurung. “Essentially, we envision a future where travellers look for and prioritise amazing local experiences such as these as much as they would the attractions of the place. And from that we hope that people can feel a sense of connection and appreciation wherever they travel, bringing the world closer together while keeping old traditions and its people, not just alive, but celebrated.”