Unlocking Authentic Travel Experiences: A Conversation with People-First Tourism

In a world often characterized by mass tourism and superficial encounters, the quest for truly meaningful travel experiences can sometimes feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. However, amidst the noise, there are visionary organizations working diligently to redefine the very essence of travel. People-First Tourism is one such pioneer, charting a new course in the realm of experiential travel.


Founded by two dedicated professors of tourism at NC State, People-First Tourism emerged from a dream to transform sustainable tourism research into a tangible, impactful business venture. What started as an idea has now evolved into a decade-long journey of discovery and innovation, setting the stage for a destination stewardship enterprise that is nothing short of remarkable.


In this exclusive interview, we delve into the heart of People-First Tourism. Join us as we explore what sets them apart in the world of travel experiences, discover their diverse range of offerings, and uncover the magic of their ever-evolving programs. From unique collaborations to extraordinary workshops, People-First Tourism has carved a niche in connecting travelers with the soul of a place. We’ll also share some captivating anecdotes from their journey and reveal how you can embark on your own immersive adventure with them.


So, if you’re ready to move beyond the ordinary and embrace travel that touches your soul, read on. People-First Tourism is here to show you the way.

Tell me about your organization and how you came to be.

People-First Tourism is a social venture founded by two NC State professors of tourism who dreamed of turning their sustainable tourism research into an actionable business. Over its decade-long existence, it has functioned as a living and learning laboratory for NC State students and during the course of its iterative development has created international tourism offerings and sold collaborative produce boxes for farmers in high-travel destinations before evolving into the client-focused destination stewardship enterprise that it is today.

What makes you unique in the world of experiences?

People-first experiences are hands-on, authentic, and curated opportunities to connect on a deeper level to the cultural generators of a location. They are not watered-down or overly packaged experiences that you can find a re-skinned copy of in any destination. We connect directly with the passionate entrepreneurs who represent and perpetuate the most vibrant aspects of a location’s culture and work with them to produce events, workshops, and tours that both support them and engage participants in a meaningful way.

Do you only host one-time events or ongoing programs?

We do both! Some of our experiences are one-off or unique collaborations, like our Valentine’s Day focused Love Letter Writing and Stationary Printing Workshop this past spring, but many of our experiences either occur on a regular basis or are possible to book seasonally or throughout the entirety of the year.

Do the programs change?

Definitely. Every month we usually have a blend of familiar or recurring experiences and totally new ones.

Can people book an experience at their houses?

This is totally up to the entrepreneur, but absolutely. We have a number of experiences that could take place at someone’s house that range from a private dinner that you can cook together with a local chef to booking a private weaving or painting workshop.

Are you moving the NC Triangle?

Check out our short-mid term fully furnished rentals!

What was the most unique experience you have had so far?

This is a pretty difficult question. A lot of our “uniqueness” comes from the collaborations we create; for example, with our Cookies and Crochet Workshop you interact with two relatively normal things by themselves, but when you combine a local mom and pop cookie business with learning the basics of crochet from a fabulous local artist, you end up with a pretty special experience. But even picking among things as out-there as armageddon themed dinner parties or as niche as making your own herbal teas, I think I would have to go with the Plants into Paper workshop we hosted where you learn a traditional Japanese process of turning plant fibers into sheets of paper.

-Can you share a funny or unique moment that happened in one of your experiences?

Last year we put on a Fall People-First Rendezvous and hired a local DJ that I know; we invited all of our entrepreneurs out to celebrate them and say thank you for the past year, and it was pretty funny to see artists dancing with beekeepers and foragers and to hear a local farmer connecting our crochet artists with some local wool she could learn how to spin. Anytime you get a bunch of passionate and creative people in the same room you’re bound to be entertained.

-How can folks book an experience?


Just go to www.peoplefirsttourism.com, select your destination, and either check out one of our calendar events that piques your interest or browse our Bookables page to book something just for you and your group.