In true southern fashion, we love getting to know our neighbors at our co-working space, HQ Raleigh. For Small Business Week, we wanted to highlight a company that piqued our interest and has a story to tell. When we discovered People-First Tourism, we were definitely intrigued! People-First Tourism curates a network of vetted local entrepreneurs and connects them with visitors wanting to take the road less traveled. We definitely wanted to learn more and they were awesome enough to have a chat with us.

Our chat with People-First Tourism

Raleigh Small Business Spotlight : People-First Tourism- Imaginovation

When did you start your business and what inspired you?

People-First Tourism started at North Carolina State University as an engaged research project in 2011, seed-funded by NC Sea Grant and the NC Rural Center. In 2015, we officially launched the company as NC State’s first tech-based social startup.

We started People-First Tourism because over our academic careers, we had documented that growing numbers of people were increasingly interested in breaking away from fake touristy traps and wanted to connect with genuine local people and cultures, and that many locals were eager to earn a little income by selling experiences to visitors – but no one in the formal tourism sector was embracing this opportunity. We felt that we were the right team to address this opportunity and that by doing so, we might revolutionize the way people travel and make tourism a positive force for equity and sustainability globally.

Can you tell us more about your team?

We are a small team of NC State faculty eager to use our expertise to solve real world problems. John Bass, our CIO, is from Computer Science and is responsible for systematizing (and soon automating) our financial processes and operations. Gene Brothers is an expert in Tourism and Community Planning, so he leads our business analytics and partnerships. Tim Wallace is from Anthropology and he leads our communications. My expertise is Tourism Entrepreneurship and Rural Development, and as the CEO I am the all-out lead instigator. NC State allows us to moonlight for this startup, but our current growth is leading us to make our first staff hires – i.e., marketing and operations focused on select high-yield products.

Raleigh Small Business Spotlight : People-First Tourism- Imaginovation

What do you think people can gain from your business?

Connecting with authentic people is what turns a “tour” into a memorable experience. Our guests know that they will have genuine and fun experiences while making a difference in the livelihoods of the people they visit.

For tourism micro-entrepreneurs without a formal storefront or the ability to commit to a tourism business full-time, yet desirous of reaching customers, People-First Tourism provides a web-marketplace facilitating secure bookings with little to no overhead. We provide a low entry barrier opportunity for industrious microentrepreneurs to begin earning income from the burgeoning tourism industry.

Raleigh Small Business Spotlight - Imaginovation

What are your 5-year goals? How do you want to grow the business?

In five years we want to be selling individual experiences and customized multi-day journeys in four US states and in ten international destinations.

We are currently reinvesting revenues in the company and growing organically in North Carolina and in select international destinations. We are developing an ever more refined understanding of the market through our ongoing sales, and we are capturing detailed data about our coordination of the bookings. We intend to use these insights and capital from an investment round later this year to accelerate our growth.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

We have extensive partnerships with academic, non-profit and public partners eager to recruit local microentrepreneurs they trust and mentor, which fuel our supply of vetted and genuine experiences.

We are committed to supporting the livelihoods of participating microentrepreneurs and to help communities benefit from the economic force of tourism.

We use a proprietary SMS platform that allows us to use structured automated communications with microentrepreneurs unable or unwilling to use the web; this technology permits us to build a supply of genuine experiences offered by millions of aspiring microentrepreneurs in less-developed regions.

What’s your favorite part about working at HQ Raleigh?

To feel the excitement and tribal-like camaraderie of peer entrepreneurs that devote their lives to doing good!

If you could describe the Triangle in 3 words, what would they be?

  • Innovation
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Optimism

Thank you, People-First Tourism, for giving us a peek into your business. At Imaginovation, one of our goals is to support small businesses all over the Triangle. How can we help your business?

Learn more about People-First by following them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!


Pete Peranzo
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