In the first season of Heart of Business, we talked a lot about travel. We had wanderlust, but we were trapped at home. But now that we’re able to start getting back out there, should we?
Tourism alone accounts for 8% of the world’s carbon emissions. On a 2500 mile flight, just one passenger’s share of emissions melts a square foot of arctic summer sea ice cover. But tourism is also 10% of the global GDP. Local communities and supply chains rely on that money. But again, not all of it is going back into those economies—70% of all money spent by tourists in Thailand leaves Thailand; 80% from the Caribbean.
What does sustainable, purposeful travel look like post COVID?
To find out, we talked to Zach Smith and Sam Blenkinsopp, both founders and CEOs of the next-generation travel companies Anywhere and Trippin, respectively.
In this episode, Sam mentions some resources for purposeful travelers. Here they are:
LB Harvey: Last season on this podcast, we ended up talking a lot about travel. We were in the worst days of lockdowns, shutdowns, quarantines, and travel restrictions, and we all couldn’t wait to get back out there into the world. We’d imagine where we’d all go once this was over, when things were back to normal. The first trips we take, the things we’d see, the people we’d missed. But the idea that there might not be an "over" for coronavirus wasn’t part of our conversations. And certainly the question of whether we should even go back to normal wasn’t either. Tourism alone accounts for eight percent of the world’s carbon emissions. On a 2500 mile flight, just one passenger share of the emissions melts a square foot of Arctic sea ice. On the other hand, tourism is also 10 percent of the global GDP. Entire communities and even entire countries depend on that money. Then again, not all the money goes back into those communities. Did you know that 70 percent of all money spent by tourists in Thailand leaves Thailand or that it’s actually 80 percent in the Caribbean? One thing is clear. We can’t go back to normal. We need a new normal that’s more sustainable and more equitable to local communities. And that’s what we’re going to explore in today’s episode. My name is LB Harvey, and in this episode of Heart of Business, we’re talking to the CEOs of two next-generation travel companies who are committed to a new type of travel: purposeful travel. Here’s Matt Klassen with the story.
Matt Klassen: Would you mind introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about anywhere what it is and what you do?
Zach Smith: Great. Thanks, Matt. So Anywhere actually started in 2016. It was a project that me and my co-founder Anthony, who is technology-side and I’m sort of the color guy, we we decided to take what was a niche travel business focused mostly on Costa Rica and a few other countries in South America and really centralize our brand. And so Anywhere.com became that big ambitious mothership to to build around
Sam Blenkinsopp: Hi, Sam Blenkinsopp. I’m 29, from London. I’m co-founder and CEO of Trippin. We’re a new platform, shaking things up in the travel industry, kind of giving a younger, fresher approach to things, a bit more creative angle, a bit more progressive and inclusive. We’re powered by a community which basically brings authentic perspectives on travel and culture from all corners of the world. We do that through travel guides, films, podcasts, research reports, exhibitions, panel talks, parties, products. It’s really a 360 approach to being a lifestyle brand, focusing on travel and culture.
Matt Klassen: What makes you passionate about travel? In particular,
Sam Blenkinsopp: Trippin came from personal pain points of feeling like that was just a struggle to get the recommendations and the insights into cultures around the world and destinations that we wanted to visit to to have those amazing trips. And we created a Facebook group with some friends, which was just a selfish way to to get those recommendations, but quickly grew into this amazing community with people just helping each other. And everyone in there was— were people that were from all corners of the world and doing really innovative, creative things, shaping culture and progressing their own industries. And that’s when we knew we had to kind of build out something more with that community and work with them and and share those insights to the to everyone else to enjoy. So so that’s why Trippin was born and how it kind of started evolving organically.
Matt Klassen: Can you talk me a little bit through the timeline of the last year and a half? It’s been such a roller coaster for the whole travel industry. I’m sure it’s been four for Trippin as well. And and it’s not over, is it?
Sam Blenkinsopp: No, not at all. I mean, yeah. When you know, when borders start closing and airplanes are grounded... As an independent travel platform, that’s very early stage, yeah of course, we’re worried about how future. Commercially, it was a really tough time. We worked with a number of different brands on partnerships, and a lot of those contracts were torn up and our whole pipeline dropped out and we had to cut back overheads and lose some of our quality team members, people that were really part of our family. And that was tough as hell. And we did question the future. But, you know, we quickly reflected on our core values and realized that, yeah, people can’t actually travel right now, but we can still connect cultures and we can still allow people to experience the world beauty just from the comfort of their home through the content that we create. I guess it’s more like armchair traveling. So I think very quickly we found our voice and our reason for existence throughout that time. And that’s why we saw audience grow and engagement go through the roof. And, you know, there was a real positive sentiment around our brand throughout the time that we showed up and we didn’t go quiet. So, you know, although it was it was difficult, actually. I think it really played in our favor as a brand and also from a business perspective, it gave us the headspace to really flesh out what what the future holds for us and to build up that roadmap. And that was invaluable time. So weirdly enough, I’m grateful for the twists and turns.
Matt Klassen: I mean, I’d love to hear from your perspective, what some of the changes have been and what the changes you anticipate will happen as god-willing the travel industry opens back up and continues to
Zach Smith: Well, again, domestic travel. I think, you know what? Countries all over the world have done a pretty good job of of of within their own borders, allowing people to visit their own country. Basically, cross-border travel has been what’s been hit the hardest. And that’s that has been kind of our, that’s what we do. We help people plan trips to faraway places, you could say. And and so that’s globally. I think it’s it’s it’s a silly number. I think international trips are down 80, 90 percent, some countries even more. That’s just a fact that people are not crossing borders. The thing about the pandemic is it’s an evolving phenomenon and and headlines that show up one day will create a ripple effect and the, you know, the fear quotient of of of a would-be traveler. And and so there’s there’s just a lot of things. And if you want zero risk, if you just want to just shut it down, then. Yeah. Like going on a plane, going to a developing country, all of those things can, can test someone’s risk tolerance in a way that never really was a factor. So. You know, we struggle with that notion because we do think it is it is safe, you can take, you know, very clear processes to get yourself safely around many, many parts of the world. But the thing is, is there is the risk factor zero? No, it’s not. It’s a leap of faith. But again, as far as what’s impacting travel choices right now, it’s just what what are the requirements? What hoops do I have to jump through in order to get this experience that I so greatly desire? And those barriers are not super complicated depending on the country or they’re just not even an option. I mean, take a country like Canada or whatever, they’re just like no one can come in. And so, you know, that’s just a that’s just gone for for people that want to go there. Yeah.
Matt Klassen: You mentioned the word ripple effect when when like you see a headline or when the rules change or when there’s like another wave or another shutdown. And I want to talk about the ripple effect because it’s not just cancelled or postponed trip. Right. There’s a whole ripple effects on on the people that live in a country like Costa Rica, for example. Can you tell us a little bit about like what happens when this industry has been reduced by 80 to 90 percent international travel? And that’s such a huge industry for a lot of the countries that that you book travel for. What’s the effect on the people that live there?
Zach Smith: Oh, it’s it’s been it’s been very difficult for, for the the local citizens of these countries, the everyday tour guides, or I mean, we have we had to 30 plus local people in Costa Rica that I mean, some of them had been with me for 10 plus years and just great people. But the the market changed so much. There’s just no nothing I can do. There’s nothing for them to do. There’s just not a way for me to support them anymore. So some of them, they had to get other jobs. But sadly, they’re working for Amazon call center or they’re you know, they’re just scraping by, you know, taking odd jobs around around town. I don’t know the stories of every single person, but the, you know, a place like Peru, a place like Costa Rica. I mean, in Costa Rica, maybe 25 percent of the of the GDP was was related to travel. Could be a little bit more even. Peru, a good a good percentage, probably 7 to 10 percent at least, but it’s a number of jobs that they get included in that number that the and the families that are affected and the ripple effect, it is a huge hit. And the governments don’t have the ability to support the local citizens as much as they did here. For example, in the United States. It’s just a very, very difficult problem to resolve. But a lot of businesses have cut costs. A lot of businesses have found ways through it. And I think that banks still like for companies that were leveraged and stuff, I think a lot of banks, they don’t want to own, you know, 350 hotels and, you know, in some of these different countries, they just they don’t want to do that. So they’ve they’ve allowed, I think, a lot of the the owners to to be... For loans to be deferred and things like that. But it’s a really difficult dilemma, to be honest. It’s very complex. And it’s sad and I’m a big believer that, I think people are going to be so thankful. I mean, I know they already are thankful, but when the when the industry is just barely coming back, it means, you know, there’s hope and it has rebounded. And in ways that and the experience that the visitors are having are really positive experiences. And so all of that starts to be a nice positive reinforcement that I think will will yield years and years of good. A good result, but it’s just it’s really tough right now. The timing of this is their setback is one step forward, two steps back, one step forward, two steps back. And, you know, every now and again, you take a big leap forward. But then it seems to be a regression as well.
Matt Klassen: It was in the pandemic that I kind of stumbled upon to stumble upon the report that you and Kesang authored. And part of it was that was interesting was it included a perspective on covid and how covid is affecting travel. And I’m just curious, like when you look forward and look ahead, what sort of what sorts of disruptions that we’ve seen over the last year and a half, do you think will fade away? And what do you think will continue to accelerate or become part of the travel landscape?
Sam Blenkinsopp: For me, like, I think slow travel is is the big one. I mean, anyone who works in the industry is probably bored of hearing that that terminology, but at the end of the day, like, I think there’s been a real shift in in like social perception towards people going away for longer. A lot of that’s got to do with the fact that everyone’s working remotely anyway. And, you know, you’re starting to see younger or even just just you’re starting to see people take out accommodation for a longer period of time, going for a month or so and and doing a kind of a bit of work and a bit of time off and making it having a bit more of an immersion within that culture that they’re visiting. And fortunately, that means that it can be a more positive exchange because, yeah, they can they can get to know the culture and and spend more money in the right hands. And it allows people to have less of an impact on the environment as well, because they’re not, you know, dipping in and out through weekend trips and stuff. So I think, like for me, that is the big shift. The slow travel is something that’s here to stay and is going to just really raise up in people’s travel behavior going forward.
Matt Klassen: Yeah, so so speaking of hope and and like as more of us listening here stateside are trying to get back to international travel, but we want to be more socially conscious when we do it. We maybe want to be more sustainable when we travel. You know, what can we as travelers and what can other travel companies and and travel providers do to kind of support that sort of conscious travel and to do it as as all of us are getting that itch to get out more and more and as we have the more freedom to do it.
Zach Smith: The trouble is this, like if if people didn’t, didn’t support all inclusive resorts, like if people don’t like all inclusive resorts, they wouldn’t exist, so they do exist and there’s there’s a lot of them and every country feels like they need to have them because the market wants it. And so it’s a real struggle. I mean, if you if you really believe conscious travel is going to grow and everything, and that’s fine, but it just those sort of accommodations actually need to start becoming less popular if if there’s ever going to be a more sustainable way to to to travel. Because it’s it’s a those are. You know, it’s a single transaction, everything just occurs right in one location, so it’s a missed opportunity for a cultural exchange. You’re just really you’re stuck. It’s like cruise ships and all inclusive resorts. Yeah, they’re in the travel category and they’re probably the largest if you just segment them like that. But that’s not a great it’s a great business, but it’s not a great way to consciously travel. But, you know, we usually do business with maybe 10 to 15 different independent businesses any time someone books a trip with us. So we’re distributing income to all over the country usually and many different, you know, ripple effects occur because of that. I think that that, of course, tree planting and all of those initiatives are are really, really helpful. We’ve we’ve planted tens of thousands of trees over the years. We make it really easy for people to do that. Very budget friendly. I think that there’s just. So many things that kind of when people think of sustainability, they only think about the environment, but it’s and that’s way that’s the way in which, you know, a big, huge brand can sort of trick people a little bit to thinking that. Oh, yeah, we’re so social or so sustainable and conscious and whatever, you know, but it’s so much more than than just a we’ve planted trees or, hey, we’ve saved a little bit of water. It’s it’s this the cultural erosion that can occur when a brand comes in and just takes over a chunk of land and has all of these local people. In a system where there’s there’s no. Are limited cultural expression, there’s there’s just a process and everything is just. Followed and I think and in the case of Costa Rica or Peru, I mean, you don’t go to those countries and and think, oh, I’m going to just stay in one location, even though some people do. You go there to explore that country. So in some ways, some destinations are more sustainable just by the by the brand that the country has established and the range of experiences that exist there. It’s not only beach or it’s not only Machu Picchu or it’s not only the rainforest, it’s it’s many things. And so you’re you’re actually going to three or four different locations and and spreading your your money and your time around the country.
Sam Blenkinsopp: From my side, I think there’s been a big global awakening in the last year or 18 months. The pandemic has definitely given people that headspace to really think about how they want to move forward in the world. Racial uprisings and the Black Lives Matter movement has been something that’s massively raised people’s awareness on that, on socioeconomic disparities, on systemic racism, on how we need to enable more different communities around the world to to uplift them and to spend money in the right places. And how we need to have less of an impact on the environment throughout throughout that time. So from my side, I think the momentum picks up a lot around sustainability, not just the environmental side of things, but also looking at social and economic. And, you know, that’s how we talk about sustainable travel is and purposeful travel is. It’s looking at people, planet and profit as those three things. So like the planet, of course, we all know the environmental side of things. And and the airplanes are you know, we need to reduce the amount of carbon out there. Right. But how to start navigating that in a better way with people looking at cultural sustainability and social sustainability and how to ensure that we can we can allow those those cultures to be there for generations to come. And then obviously economical is all about profit and and where is that money going and ensuring that people are benefiting from the popularity of of this place. So of of people’s desires to to go and travel and why they’ve saved up so hard to go and have this amazing experience to ensure that people that sharing it with and the people are offering that experience are actually benefiting from economically as well. And then and then we’re uplifting and there’s a real positive exchange. And and I think there’s there’s been a big awakening over that. And that movement’s only going to grow. And as time moves on,
Matt Klassen: I’m curious if there’s any companies that you work with or, you know, brands that you work with that you’ve seen, they’re doing things that are making a positive impact, however large or small, that you think can be models for us in the private sector as well as individual travelers.
Sam Blenkinsopp: This kind of ties back in nicely to your previous question, as well as something that we’re working on with like on a consultancy basis with a large hotel group is is about how to shift their impact on the world and how to make sure it’s a more positive one. And that’s looking at the hiring policy, looking at their their training policies, looking at the their marketing efforts, that partnership programs, how they support local communities through their food and beverage suppliers. You know, like a 360 approach to looking at how as a group that that shows up in pretty much every country in the world, how they can ensure that they’re not economically extracting from that community, how they are having a positive impact, how travelers coming to stay at them can feel confident that they’re also playing a positive part in this ecosystem. I, you know, it is confidential who I’m referring to, so I can’t say the name, but but what I’m referring to is, is like the type of movements that are happening within the industry at a very big corporate level. And I’m I’m starting to see that change, which is really positive and amazing. And I think, like on a on a traveler side, there’s there’s certain more boutique or smaller platforms that you can be looking at. Of course, you could be coming to Trippin for your recommendations and for your content and your inspiration, working with locals, giving those insights to really authentic narratives to get you beneath the surface and to get you into the places to spend your money and have that truly authentic experience that that does support them and uplifts them and gives you the kind of trip that you want, to be honest. But then, like when it comes to bookings, there’s a great platform called Regenerative Travel they’re, you know, trying to go one step further than sustainability and make it regenerative instead. They have they only have a portfolio of hotels with a strong commitment to regeneration and they’re, like, dedicated to the highest level of social and environmental impact. And they do experiences that they sell experiences that are all partners with locals. So you can get that that that true kind of local insight. So they’re brilliant. On the product side, also, Horizn Suitcases are an amazing brand from Berlin, that are doing great stuff in terms of looking at the whole supply chain and thinking about sustainable products and vegan leather. And, you know, so when you’re buying a suitcase, I would highly recommend checking out Horizn for nice, nice travel products and accessories and stuff. But yeah, there’s a lot there’s a good movement. I think even if purposeful travel or sustainable travel, whatever you want to call it, isn’t necessarily a core narrative or a core messaging messaging platform or reason for existence. A lot of a lot of brands and platforms and people within the space are obviously adopting it as one of their values and trying to be more transparent about their processes. And I think that’s that’s what people need to do, need to be looking for is is if it’s not perfect yet, then then how much effort and commitment and are they making in order to try and get to that place where it’s better? And once you see that transparency, then that’s a place that, you know, you can support.
Zach Smith: It’s been a movement for 30 years. You know, this is not new and and so, like, you know, we’ve gotten every possible award you can get in Costa Rica or whatever. But, I mean, it was basically just a jobs program for me to hire another two people to do stuff and keep track of all the things that we were actually doing just to keep track of it. Then just to submit all this paperwork, just to go ahead and get all these certifications. And it just and it is just a real frustrating thing because it never really... Like, travelers don’t care, like, to be honest, like, I know you care, I care. But when it comes down to it and someone’s like Googling a bunch of things that they want to do on their trip or where they want to go or whatever, it doesn’t matter. Price is the only thing they care, they care about. And it sucks. And I wish it wasn’t that way, but it it kind of is. They want simplicity and they want cheap and. You know, like, yeah, there’s more people that, like, they do want to have a story at the end of the day or they do want to have something more meaningful occur. But you know why? I mean. It’s just it’s the numbers are not in the favor that like, you know, boutique agencies or or sustainable like tour operators or whatever are just somehow more successful than others. So it’s like the thing is, the sustainability side is is certainly permeating the industry in a way that is helpful, no doubt about it. But it’s just going to continue to be sort of like a a a trending thing. It’s never really going to be the like defining decision that a a customer makes. Like the industry is making these decisions because they think it’s going to attract customers and they think customers care and and like I like to use the example of like Styrofoam cups or whatever. So like Styrofoam cups or plates or whatever. Like. You might be thinking that you know, you’re staying, you’ve got a good deal to place, it’s pretty it’s pretty nice, but then you show up and there those like a Styrofoam plate or whatever, and you just are like, this is terrible. What the heck? How could you possibly be giving me Styrofoam plates, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah? And and then that’s when that that hotel is just like, oh my God, we have to you know, we have to grow more eco. We can’t just keep up with our same suppliers and and do this because you get you get shamed that at this point. But the reality is the customers, like they’re just now sort of used to like not feeling as guilty about their wherever they’re consuming. And when when something like Styrofoam confronts them, they’re like all of a sudden like, oh, my gosh, this is terrible. This is someone’s fault. How how did this happen? I don’t want to be associated with Styrofoam. So anyway, so then it’s like fear driven a little bit like all these you know, these brands are just going ahead and making those choices and stuff. But I wouldn’t say the customer’s driving it. That’s kind of my point also, it’s it’s that the brands are choosing now to compete on sustainability and it’s a marketing thing. And I mean, the industry does need to to keep, you know, angling more in that direction. And I’m a big fan of all that and I want to participate in that. But you can get burnt out real fast thinking that if I do everything that’s completely sustainable and I’m going to do I mean, I’m going to take into account every little aspect of my you know, the way the community is treated, the social responsibility aspect, the economic the the the tree and you’re in you expect the market to reward you. I think you’ll be very disappointed. So that’s that’s kind of my point. But you can just burn a lot of money trying to do all of these things and you expect all of this stuff out of it. But at the end of the day, you’ll you’ll lose on price and you’ll spend all this time trying to position yourself as being the company that does it this way. But, you know, it’s not going to be an actually that different end product for the client. It maybe makes certain people feel better. And if you think you’re going to only get the people that want to feel better at the transaction time, I think it’s going to be, yeah, a difficult maneuver. So it’s like slow and steady, kind of like that’s sort of and the way it’s been. I don’t think that’s going to change.
Matt Klassen: I really appreciate that answer. And because, yeah, it is much more complex then than whatever, like the most surface level solution that you might have. I know we’re over time. So maybe just one more question, if you’ll indulge me. What’s the next trip you have planned?
Zach Smith: Oh, well, my mom is turning 70, so I’m going to Oregon to visit her and me and my brothers are going to be there and we have a small, small farm and now we have a lot of cousins that are all going to be getting together, some of them for the first time and are renting some horses. And the kids are going to be riding on ponies and stuff like that. So that is the next time I’m getting on a plane and then I actually have a wedding in Seattle. So these are not these are like kind of boring trips. I really want to get down to Costa Rica and maybe Belize actually sometime maybe towards the end of the year or early next year to check in on things. And just to just to get a change of scenery myself. I could use a refresher.
Sam Blenkinsopp: My cofounder, Kesang, has Tibetan heritage. And I would absolutely love to go on the trip with back to our roots, go to the Himalayas and see some of the cousins who are monks and really just get to learn about about the incredible Tibetan culture that unfortunately is is being oppressed at the moment. And I would love to go and really experience it and soak up myself and and get into some some mountain nature. Travel’s all about it’s such a special thing because it genuinely has the power to change the world. It breaks down barriers, broadens people’s horizons. It brings people inspiration and something to work hard and look forward towards. It gives people a better reflection of their own reality. And to realize their, check their own privilege, if they are of privilege. All in all, it’s something that I believe that if people did more of, then the world would be in a better place.
Matt Klassen: Amazing. Well, thank you. Thank you so much. And have a great afternoon. Enjoy the rest of your day.
Sam Blenkinsopp: Thank you. Speak soon.
Zach Smith: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. And have a nice rest of the day.
LB Harvey: If you need help planning a sustainable and local friendly vacation, Anywhere and Trippin have got you covered, you can find links to the website in the show’s notes. We also put together a list of the resources mentioned there, too. You can find them as well as all of the episodes of this podcast at front.com/blog. Until next time I’m LB Harvey.