Nathan Wiltshire and Baptiste Bachellerie know the importance of getting off the beaten track when travelling. The business partners are putting what they learned during their UTS masters degrees into practice with the creation of South of the Border – a new enterprise adding meaning to the way visitors experience Sydney.
Sydney Opera House, Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef; it’s iconic offerings like these that drew 5.9 million tourists to Australia in 2011. However, many, say Nathan Wiltshire and Baptiste Bachellerie, prefer to get under the skin of a city and into its communities, to find its pulse.
It’s this iterative, human-centred approach that Wiltshire (a Bachelor of Management in Tourism and MBA graduate), and former classmate Bachellerie, are building on as part of South of the Border’s mission to create a more holistic model of tourism. With help from Core Member of UTS’s Cosmopolitan Civil Societies research centre Simon Darcy, the pair is researching what people really want to uncover about the local environment.
“It’s about learning the types of experiences visitors to cities really want and developing empathy to uncover these insights,” says Wiltshire. “We’ve found they cherish interactions with locals as a means of better understanding community culture, and after experiencing a way of life beyond the tourism precincts, they come away with so much more.”
Paris-native Bachellerie agrees: “I’m a regular traveller and I’ve always looked for more alternative experiences to the mass tourism on offer. I’m always searching out information from locals when I visit a new place, and in some cities it’s easier than in others.”
South of the Border is using design thinking and its human-centered approach to explore the concept of ‘shared value’ – creating activities that are mutually beneficial for tourists and locals. Last month they launched a pilot project in Redfern, where small groups of tourists interact with grassroots community initiatives and are guided by local individuals who share their own enriching stories of the area.
The project aims to give visitors an understanding of Sydney’s urban culture and its history, while economically supporting community work and making personal stories a matter of local pride. The South of the Border website, which is still being prototyped, aims to enable the wider community to get involved by adding their own stories online.
“South of the Border is an example of innovative entrepreneurship based on cross discipline cosmopolitan research that values local communities,” says Darcy. “It seeks to include them as part of a co-creation process where they’re not only valued, but economically rewarded for their involvement.”
Bachellerie believes tourism is the ideal vehicle for creating shared value in communities. “The way Sydney has been built over the years, with the different waves of immigration, means many of the city’s suburbs have a distinct history and taste.
“Redfern, Cronulla, Parramatta – they all have a strong identity but they’re surrounded by stereotypes that aren’t necessarily true of the suburb. We want people to discover what the local people of these suburbs do, what projects the community is championing and the vision they have for their future.
“Sydney Harbour and Bondi Beach are wonderful to visit, but there are a large number of visitors who seek deeper meaning in their travels. So that’s where we want to facilitate nourishing connections between visitors and local community heroes.”
Bachellerie and Wiltshire, who grew up in Sydney’s south, chose Redfern as the pilot suburb because “we’ve both lived in the area and know it’s a diverse suburb really rich in history and culture, yet it’s often misunderstood by people who don’t know any better. We really believe our concept has great potential to dispel misconceptions and break down those barriers and stereotypes,” says Wiltshire.
South of the Border also aims to change the traditional tourism distribution chain. “Inbound tour operators, a tour wholesaler, a retail travel agent, maybe even the concierge at a hotel – each of these are taking a percentage of the value you’re creating,” says Wiltshire.
“By leveraging the internet and building an online platform people can interact with, I think we can cut out all the middle men and use those extra funds to support the core of our social activities.”
Bachellerie agrees: “The companies we see on the tourism market these days are small family-operated and owned businesses who generally have very interesting stories to tell, but they find it difficult to grasp the international market.
“Or there are the big industry players who have access to any kind of market they wish to target, but may miss the more personal stories.
“I think we sit in between those two: we’re leveraging the distribution tools the big players use but with the more human-centred approach used by small business.”
Wiltshire adds, “Rather than using the traditional model of business where you have an idea and make a finished product before launching it to the market, we want to involve the community and potential users of our service the whole way along.”
Wiltshire and Bachellerie believe their masters studies at UTS have been instrumental in the development of this innovative tourism business model.
“In tourism there are so many stakeholders that need to be engaged if we’re going to manage to do anything,” says Bachellerie. “One strength of South of the Border is the team. There is now a family of 10 of us from many different nationalities and different streams of study at UTS. But we’re all brought together by this passion for travel and a desire to scratch the surface.”
Wiltshire is also using his experience with UTS’s international leadership program BUiLD to get the new enterprise off the ground.
“BUiLD helped me focus on a more sustainable model of business, something that’s connected with community and social outcomes. That’s how I came across this idea of shared value.
“We see tourism as the ideal industry to champion sustainability on a global scale, and this idea of shared value is really intertwining business and the planet; it’s a mutually beneficial way to move forward long term.”