Interview with Eytan Elterman of Lokal Travels
Phocus Creative Group Founder, Brittany DeGirolamo sits down with Eytan Elterman of Lokal Travels to chat about his latest film venture called 2.5% the Osa Peninsula.
BD - What was your motivation behind creating 2.5%?
EE - When I was starting to produce the film, I was currently running a boutique media agency, iSeeiTravel. Marco Bollinger, a good friend of mine (and a fellow filmmaker), and I were in search of a passion project to work on, and we came across a study from the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) about the potential international airport construction in Sierpe, Costa Rica. The report really shined a light on the depths of the issues that locals were up against.That study served as a catalyst for us to produce what now exists as our feature-length, award-winning documentary film, 2.5% – The Osa Peninsula.
We decided that we were going to go down to Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula to meet and film the locals to share their story. To produce the film, we ended up kicking off a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo. In an effort to garner some attention, we locked ourselves into a room decorated like a rainforest (which was put together in an ironic, 80s prom-themed format). We told our audience that we wouldn’t leave the room until we reached $25,000 in funding, and launched the campaign by telling our friends and coworkers that we would dance to any song they wanted – while dressed in animal costumes.
In hindsight, it would have been better to have launched the campaign during the week, because everyone ended up checking out for the weekend and didn’t pay attention to the campaign… we ended up dancing the full weekend with hardly any sleep. But we reached our goal, and raised $30,000 in 107 hours.
BD - What do you think has changed in Costa Rica since you started creating / filming this project?
EE - In comparison to the rest of the country, tourism is much rarer in the Osa Peninsula than destinations like Monteverde or Manuel Antonio National Park. While creating this film, and in the after effects as well, I’ve been in a unique position to really witness the rise of tourism (and locally-based initiatives) in the region
Today, there’s a co-op for rural communities – 13 different families working together that support each other in tourism businesses. There is a new trail in the national park, close to the village of Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre, which is located in a less trafficked and more mountainous part of the region, so that tourism offers lesser-visited destinations an additional revenue stream from tourism dollars. All of this is a big deal in terms of getting travelers to the area. New local businesses are certainly popping up, and we hope that this film can help increase that growth in a way that protects the area’s pristine beauty and empowers the local culture. It’s our goal to give these businesses more support & visibility.
BD - What was your favorite culinary experience while shooting?
EE - Hands down the best food I’ve had in all of Costa Rica is in the Osa Peninsula. Everything you eat is locally sourced and grown in the local communities – it’s made with love, and the people there have so much pride in feeding you.
A specific dish that really stands out to me is the Picadillo de Papaya – shredded papaya with a somewhat of a risotto consistency. Locals cook it with bacon and some other veggies like garlic and onion. It’s served warm, it’s savory, and so, so good.
BD - Why did you choose to focus more on the local POV and not narrate the film in anyway?
EE - The initial film concept was to give the local people a voice and tell their story. From the start, we have just been a vehicle to translate that message. We shot the film without being 100% sure on how we were going to use it or how it would come to life, and just kept our focus on creating long-form journalism. We knew we wanted to help conserve the region, and local, community tourism ended up being an easily accessible solution.
BD - Who went with you on the second trip / 4 years later?
EE - We’ve visited the Osa Peninsula a handful of times since initially filming, sometimes by ourselves and also with fellow travelers and clientele. The Osa has really become a second home to me at this point.
BD - How did Lokal come to be?
EE - Our film and work with the local community eventually led Marco and I to launch Lokal, a platform to find and book community-based tourism initiatives. Today, you can book experiences and lodging options in 29 countries around the world, and we’ve built a community of more than 179,000 travelers who are passionate about visiting off-the-beaten-path destinations in a sustainable and impactful way.
A core focus of mine has always been connecting travelers to new and emerging destinations, and helping to teach them how they can traveler in a way that respects and honors local communities. Sustainability is at the core of everything we do. Our overall intention has always been raising awareness for the region and working with locals to develop community tourism.
The film took five years in total to produce, so it’s been a really cool experience to see all of this come full circle. 2.5% is what expanded my own career from filmmaker to entrepreneur, and I love being able to support fellow entrepreneurs in community-based tourism projects around the world by combining my passions of travel and storytelling.
BD - What's next for Lokal Travel?
EE - Today, Lokal exists as a platform that anyone can use to find and book epic, sustainable experiences around the world. A special highlight for us right now is that we’re actually leading group trips back to Costa Rica, to live the film and meet some of the main characters. We’ve got two amazing trips planned this December.
To watch the film for a pay-what-you-want contribution of $1 or more, visit lokaltravel.com/film.