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A closer look at the SA Expeditions supply chain

Very few people seem to know where the money they spend on their overseas trips actually ends up. Here’s our attempt to clear up some of the confusion…

As part of our commitment to transparency and our ongoing quest to leverage tourism for good, we thought our clients (new and prospective) would find it interesting to learn more about the intricacies of our supply chain.

And how better to illustrate how your investment in transformative travel impacts local economies than to use an example? For the purposes of this article, we’ll be using our extremely popular 11-day Galapagos Cruise and Machu Picchu Tour, which starts at $7,190 per person. But you can apply the same logic to any vacation booked through SA Expeditions.

SA Expeditions

Supply Chain Graphic

Let’s consider the five key B Corp pillars: Customers, environment, suppliers, workers, and governance. Revenue generated by our customers goes directly to the other four areas of our business.

Although we sit at the very top of the supply chain, tour operators earn a tiny percentage on each trip. When you book a trip, 96% of your payment goes to actually making the experience happen, and the remaining 4% goes to us. Here’s why…

Three-quarters of the money spent on each trip goes straight to our network of suppliers (trip designers, ground and cruise operators, etc.). We hand-pick the best of the best for each destination, while also trying to maximize our impact on local economies. On top of paying for hotels, transfers, guides and the like, we guarantee 24/7 emergency assistance for all guests, and we put our unique “SA touches” to make you feel truly special. All of this, of course, comes at a price. So, in the case of the Galapagos cruise and Machu Picchu tour, we’ve already distributed around $5,400 per person before you’ve even packed your bags.

Most of the remaining 25% goes towards the running of our business. Paying salaries, acquiring clients, giving back and – very importantly – vetting every single component of our trips. Our brand is built entirely on customer satisfaction, so we have to be 100% certain that each hotel, ground and cruise operator, tour guide, and restaurant meets our expectations – both in terms of customer experience and in the way they impact their people and the environment. As a virtual company, we are deeply connected to every destination we offer. This makes us uniquely in touch with our network of service offerings. Being virtual also helps us to quickly identify new destinations on the rise.

Our trip designers

Anyone who’s traveled with us will know that our expert trip designers are what truly set us apart. They are all super specialists, many of whom have lived in the destinations they sell. These invaluable local insights greatly improve the experience for our travelers. We don’t just put up with their globetrotting lifestyle, we actively encourage it, by offering a combination of flexibility, stability, and fully-funded travel opportunities that is – we think – hard to match.

While our trip designers need only an internet connection to work, they also enjoy many of the benefits of a conventional office job. They get paid personal leave, paid paternity and maternity leave, stipends towards co-working spaces, and we contribute financially towards their professional development – by financing their personal exploration, sending them to industry events, subsidizing further study, and even offering complimentary access to things like meditation apps and The Economist magazine. We also dug into our savings to help keep them afloat throughout the pandemic.

SA Expeditions Supply Chain Trip Designers1

Our trip designers, or Destination Experts, are a crucial part of our supply chain.

Ground and cruise operators

While SA Expeditions’ fingerprints can be found on every single aspect of every single trip, we couldn’t make these trips happen without the service provided by the ground and cruise operators in each of our destinations. We pride ourselves on partnering with locally-owned firms that value their people and the planet, and diversify economies by supporting local entrepreneurs. And we have developed extremely close (and mutually beneficial) relationships with them.

Our Peruvian and Ecuadorean ground partners are extensions of our brand; together they help us handle all the nuts and bolts of the Galapagos cruise and Machu Picchu tour. Working side-by-side with your trip designer, they’ll book your hotel rooms, make arrangements for special dietary requirements, and ensure that there’s someone to pick you up at the airport when you land in Lima, Cusco, and Quito. They’ll coordinate your train tickets to Machu Picchu, make sure that the vehicles you travel in are in tip-top condition, and take care of things like hiking permits, tents, and llamas. The cruise operator, meanwhile, owns the cruise ship and ensures that all your needs – food, drink, guides, life jackets etc. – are met while at sea. These are small companies with small boats, to whom every booking matters. This is why we pay the cruise operator a non-refundable deposit as soon as you book with us.

Collectively, these three locally-owned companies employ hundreds of blue- and white-collar Peruvians and Ecuadoreans, both at their offices in the big cities and on the ground in the mostly rural destinations we specialize in visiting.

SA Expeditions Supply Chain Ground Suppliers

Our team of suppliers in Ecuador, making time to try out an in-person cooking class. (Courtesy Photo: Original Ecuador)

Our curated hotel selections

What sets SA Expeditions apart is that we drive the product in everything from hotel and tour decisions, through to emergency support, branding, and myriad other specifications. We drive the choice, conducting due diligence to ensure that each property we feature lives up to our standards and ethos. While we always prefer to work with local hotels (and we have unearthed some real gems), we also include big international brands in our offering – provided they meet our criteria. To give an example, the JW Marriot in Cusco might be part of a chain, but its location in a 500-year-old convent with cloistered courtyards is anything but corporate.

SA Expeditions Supply Chain curated hotel selection

Two of our diligently-vetted preferred hotels: The JW Marriott (left) and locally-owned Antigua Casona hotel (right) in Cuzco, Peru. (Courtesy Photos)

The trickle-down effect

The funds you invest in experiencing Galapagos and Machu Picchu make their way to some pretty interesting places. We’ve already talked about many of the people and businesses towards the top of the supply chain, but what about the folk who are on the ground? Concierges, housekeeping staff, waiters, gardeners, drivers, and porters – all of these people make a living because of your investment in getting to know their country. And these are just the direct beneficiaries of your booking with us. What about the local baker who supplies the hotel with bread rolls? Or the mechanic who services the cruise ship? Or the weaver who made that gorgeous alpaca scarf you’re still wearing 10 years later?

SA Expeditions Supply Chain Galapagos Staff

Meeting the behind-the-scenes ship crew (top) and receiving a strong helping hand from a panga driver (bottom) during a voyage on the Galaxy Galapagos cruise. (Courtesy Photo: Galagents)

Our refund policy

Plans and circumstances change and cancellations happen. We strive to make this process as streamlined as possible, while keeping in mind that our cancellation policy is designed to help protect those in the destination that had reserved their availability in advance for your trip. Giving 100% refunds in all circumstances and especially at the last minute, inevitably falls on those at the bottom of our supply chain – and that’s something which we’re simply not prepared to do. (You can read our complete terms and conditions here.) Travel insurance is the most effective way to protect against the unexpected. But hopefully you’ll be able to experience the wonders of sustainable, regenerative, culturally sensitive, private/small group travel for yourself.

SA Expeditions Supply Chain Choquechaca Valentin

Valentin Sinchi, an elder of the Choquechaca community in Peru’s Sacred Valley and a key member of our Great Inca Trail trekking team, is a prime example of one of our supply chain’s on-the-ground stakeholders.

Our purpose / giving back

We firmly believe that travel can be a force for good. Both in the way in which it provides people across our supply chain with a dignified way to make an equitable living, and in the positive impact it can have on our ecosystems, our environment, and our cultural patrimony. Our ongoing Great Inca Trail Project (which seeks to bring tourists to forgotten parts of Peru, in the process reviving the Great Inca Road and the communities that live along it) epitomizes this approach.

But we also want our more conventional products – like the Galapagos and Machu Picchu combo we’ve talked about so much – to contribute to our vision of regenerative tourism. To this end, we take $5 per traveler per day (from our slice of the pie not yours!) and we invest this in projects which we really believe in. This includes offsetting the carbon emissions of each trip taken with us, planting trees in the Sacred Valley, and supporting volunteer firefighting crews near Ollantaytambo, to name just a few.

SA Expeditions Supply Chain Choquechaca Quenua Grove

Not every trip we sell includes an in-person visit to the ancient Quenua forests we’ve pledged to help protect (though we’d love to help make that happen); however a fraction of every trip we sell does contribute to our ongoing conservation efforts.

The bottom line

Our business is built around a boutique, curated chain of humans who work together to create authentic, high-touch, and sustainable experiences that enrich our customers, the communities they visit, and the planet. As a B Corp, we're always striving to improve, giving the same support to our supply chain as we give to our travelers.

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