How to be an Impactful Traveller: Fireside Chat on Purpose from an Influencer

Stockholm-based Lola Akinmade Åkerström is an award-winning author, speaker and photographer.

Lola's work has appeared in National Geographic Traveller, the New York Times, Travel and Lonely Planet guides. Lola is also the editor of Slow Travel Stockholm, an online magazine dedicated to exploring Sweden’s capital city in depth.

Stockholm-based Lola Akinmade Åkerström is an award-winning author, speaker and photographer. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveller, the New York Times, Travel and Lonely Planet guides. Lola is also the editor of Slow Travel Stockholm, an online magazine dedicated to exploring Sweden’s capital city in depth.

In this interview, Nick speaks with Lola about a range of issues ranging from the Black Lives Matter movement, Lola's work as a photographer, author and entrepreneur and lastly the recovery and why communities and purpose matter so much as we emerge from the pandemic.

Lola starts by explaining that she feels that with Black Lives Matter she can finally breathe: it is something which has been a long time coming. It has meant for her that she doesn't need to keep justifying herself and for the world to draw attention to unconscious bias and speak up for it. Lola explains that having to work twice as hard to achieve the same as someone who isn't black is something that shouldn't be happening in this day in age and this moment of reckoning has been a long time coming. In particular in tourism, where we should be the most open and inclusive industry out there, we still see a lot of bias everywhere and this is something that really needs to change.

"Diversity shouldn't be a bad word. It helps us enrich whatever we are doing with a more inclusive, a broader view of the world around us."

If we take on board the experiences and views of many different cultures, we become stronger and have a broader perspective and have a bigger and more complete picture of a place, an experience or a brand. It's always important to diversify the storytellers who paint the picture of a place or destination.

To travel as a black woman means travelling with two perspectives. Travelling as yourself and travelling through the image that society has created for you, the burden of that image and the challenge in terms of how it shapes people's perspectives. Lola explains that it is an unfair burden, something that she would love the privilege of not carrying, but there are differences too as it can sometimes get you closer to a culture or a society as people can also invite you in where they feel closer or more aligned. The burden comes from trying to change society's narrative but Lola embraces the opportunities that come with it.

Looking at the current pandemic, this is an opportunity for vendors to look at what's happening locally and reflect on how we can get to deeper storytelling around produce, culture, heritage and what is truly authentic in travel transitioning away from superficial approaches to storytelling. The opportunities we have as storytellers to keep focused on the people, their culture and what makes them unique helps us keep their story alive. We can't travel right now and that's just a reality, but when we can that authenticity of people and their culture will become the driving force of recovery.

Turning to the aspect of the community, Lola talks about a Nepalese homestay community where the women have empowered themselves to find additional sources of income by becoming hosts. It's a different way of looking at diversification and sustainability, whilst their husbands are away they host guests and make them part of their community. The internet and all the opportunities for strengthening and supporting each other as a community really come together.

Creating new experiences in light of diversifying out of the pandemic requires us to be true to what is at the root of our authentic values of who we are as people, culture and society. It requires as to be inclusive and not to design 'authentic experiences' but share real experiences.Speaking about Lola's own initiative to give back to local communities with her own startup, she talks about how important it is to think about the purpose and the impact we can create, through virtual guided tours, discovering experiences and cultures remotely and building connections digitally with real people wherever they are.

Closing off the interview, Lola responds to the move from Amazon to launch Amazon Experiences. The guise of launching something which truly empowers local communities and has this at the core of its value system is thinly veiled, where clearly they are responding to what they see as a lucrative opportunity. She explains that being a global brand isn't a problem, Airbnb, for example, has always had this transparency and belief system in their DNA about creating real experiences between travellers and local citizens, whereas Amazon moving into the same field is a move born purely out of opportunism, and ultimately, a pivot that Lola believes consumers will reject.

Key Takeaways

1. Tourism should be the most open and inclusive industry out there, but we still see a lot of bias and this is something that really needs to change.

2. The current pandemic is an opportunity for vendors to look at what is happening locally and reflect on how we can get to deeper storytelling around produce, culture, heritage and what is truly authentic in travel transitioning away from superficial approaches to storytelling.

3. Creating new experiences in light of diversifying out of the pandemic requires us to be true to what is at the root of our authentic values of who we are as people, culture and society.

4. It requires to be inclusive and not to design authentic experiences but share real experiences.

Published on:
November 2020
About the contributor

Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Award-winning writer and photographer Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström has photographed and dispatched from 70+ countries for various publications. She is the 2018 Travel Photographer of the Year Bill Muster Award recipient.