The times they are a-changin'
Digital platforms are driving a cataclysmic shift in how we understand our world and share information. Nowhere is this truer than in how people are choosing to travel, creating both disruptions and massive new opportunities. The world is changing the way in which it travels, and the curious band of digital nomads at SA Expeditions believe we’re at the vanguard of a new travel economy. An economy that favors expertise, authenticity and purpose.
Nine years ago, I co-founded SA Expeditions. With just a thousand dollars of initial investment and two computers, we decided to start a travel company that we believed could change the world. Today, our collaborators are spread over four continents, with revenues reaching eight million dollars. This may be a humble amount among the world’s unicorns (companies valued in the billions of dollars and driven by the planet’s deepest pools of capital) but when a business is grown organically, hand-crafted without the rocket fuel of venture capital, something beautiful happens…The company gets to live by its own terms, bearing fruit that is healthier and more balanced. The artisanal nature of our business may not reach millions of people, but for the individuals it does touch, it’s a more personalized and richer experience.
The dream of SA Expeditions happened at the same time that many new digital forms of matching supply and demand were coming about, and we would soon be overlaying ideas on how to create transformative travel with innovative virtual ways in which to organize our team. Most importantly, we would learn how to create a virtual, cloud-based organization, that matches travelers looking for private authentic experiences, with trip designers who know and have lived those experiences intimately. We wanted to make tailor-made, private travel accessible to a bigger swath of humanity than just the ultra-wealthy. And we quickly realized that we could achieve our mission far more efficiently and affordably by envisioning ourselves as a hub in the middle of a vast network of travelers, trip designers, guides, hotels and outfitters…We didn’t know it then, but we were pursuing what has become known as an “Uberized” model.
SA Expeditions thrives in the grey, that place that doesn’t conform to either black or white, and instead takes the best of both colors and mixes them together to create a more appropriate color tone. It’s about letting go of old ideas and having a laser focus on exactly what our clients and collaborators are looking for. Sure, we are incorporated in San Francisco, California for the financial security of our thousands of travelers who make significant investments in leisure with us. But we don’t find sitting in a stationary office in a particular city to be a practical means of advancing our mission or of recruiting the most promising travel professionals who are – by their very nature – spread across the world.
Does this mean we never see our colleagues? Far from it! Team gatherings, big and small, between our Destination Experts and the larger team happen throughout the year. After all, we think it’s way cooler to spend four days exploring the Galapagos with our colleagues – which is where our 2019 SA Expeditions global summit will be held – than to have an afternoon picnic or an after-office happy hour.
In addition, our policy to stipend travel for our Destination Experts to any of the destinations we work with continually builds on our deep local expertise in these destinations, while at the same time allowing our colleagues to live life to its fullest. There’s a dramatic shift towards specialists in the travel advice industry. Specialists who have both a local and a global perspective which gives them the ability to match expectations precisely because of their familiarity with both the visitor and the experience.
We are unrelenting in our mission to build a human-focused company with real long-term value. Because we don’t have unrealistic profit targets, we are afforded the freedom to forge a business that is more appropriate for the world of tomorrow. Something more humanistic and more rewarding for all those involved. Whether it’s paid personal leave for everything from maternity or paternity leave, to caring for an ailing parent…Or engaging our clients with guides and communities where an authentic exchange of culture and responsible commerce takes place, it’s about focusing first on the people and ecosystems that drive our business. We believe that this is the only foundation from which to create long-term value for all stakeholders.
Our Destination Experts don’t need to rely on the fallibilities of human opinion to gauge the value of their work. Because their compensation is completely metric-based and entirely transparent, they can reference their performance against group averages. This structure thrives when it’s accompanied by comprehensive mentoring for the first year and daily support in perpetuity. The structure is such that the interest of the individual is completely aligned with the larger organization and we’re confident that the average earnings of our Destination Experts are as impressive as any in our industry niche.
Just as humans need purpose and meaning in their lives, so do companies. SA Expeditions’ “Purpose” in recent years has taken on the explicit mission of promoting awareness and conservation of the world’s largest UNESCO World Heritage Site – the 500-year-old and 25-thousand-mile-long Inca road system known as the Qhapaq Ñan. The Inca road network cuts across much of western South America, and it is interwoven with many of the most important socio-economic challenges facing 21st Century South America. Challenges to which responsible tourism can be a positive influence. In our pursuit of making the world a better place, we decided we would walk the entire road network and be the first to publish a day-by-day account, shared in real time on social networks, so the world could follow along as it happened. It’s the only daily record of what remains of this threatened and disappearing patrimony – and of the communities and cultures along the route.
The expeditions have given us a profound understanding of the continent from which we derive our business, a perspective that augments the consistent explorations of our digital tribe of Destination Experts in all the other corners of the continent. We’re now hard at work building meaningful travel experiences along the Inca Road’s most impressive and vulnerable stretches – creating economic value through tourism and incentivizing the Road’s preservation. While at the same time finding new, more meaningful ways for our travelers to experience South America…Travel that gives them a purpose too!
SA Expeditions' office is everywhere. It's in the co-working spaces of Santiago and Lima. It's along the remote stretches of Inca Road in the Andes. It's in home offices in North America. It's within the digital cloud and empowered by the digital tribes of humans who go everywhere. It's about being a human-first company that uses digital tools to achieve our mission more effectively. What could be more appropriate in the new travel economy?
If this sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, check out our careers page for a more in-depth discussion of the Destination Expert position. To apply, send your CV to firstname.lastname@example.org