Travel Marketplace: Traveling Chat in the Conscious Chats Podcast
In this interview with the Conscious Chats Podcast, Alex shares his passion for purposeful travel and his pursuit of making travel a powerful force for positive change.
Get to know everything about how Vibe Adventures tries to revolutionize the travel marketplace, offering sustainable, authentic, and off-the-beaten-path experiences for conscious travelers.
Today, we share with you our interview with Jay Win from the Conscious Chats Podcast.
Let’s share with you what our colleague, Alex, had to say about Vibe Adventures and how he is looking forward to revolutionizing the travel marketplace. Stay with us and learn more about us in this great interview!
Jay: Hello! This is Jay Win. Welcome to the Conscious Chats, where we bring inspiring individuals living purposeful lives in the hope of inspiring you to be the best authentic self. This is episode number 49 with Alex.
Alex is a passionate traveler, lifelong learner, and entrepreneur. He’s on a mission to discover the world positively to impact social-economic development by promoting authentic, sustainable, and mind-broadening travel through his platform, Vibe Adventures.
is an impact travel marketplace for authentic, unique, and responsible local tours. He believes that responsible travel is the way to go. In this episode, we discussed the challenges and the successes in the process of building a socially responsible travel marketplace. Thank you for being on the show, Alex.
I’d like to start the show with a bit of your personal history, who you are, where you grew up for what your early years were like.
Alex: I’m originally from Belarus, Eastern Europe. As I remember myself, I was quite curious and maybe not a very patient kid. So I’m always finding some adventures and discoveries. I used to spend a lot of time in the countryside.
Both of my parents are from the countryside,
so since I was a kid, my life was connected with nature, going to the forest, picking up mushrooms, and berries, or just for a walk, all this stuff. So I felt this connection and that’s why it helped me to find vibe adventures that were always waiting for me.
I remember when we had my first trip abroad with my family, I was on the Coast of the Black Sea. That was something that changed my perception completely. Like, Wow, the world is so big, there are so many things.
Jay: Yeah. And you are now the founder of Vibe Adventures. Can you share with the listeners the inspiration behind building it?
Alex: Yeah, based on my personality, I’ve always been interested in the world. I was quite good at geography, participated in international competitions, and so on.
Then there was a choice: What should I do? I wanted with geography, but I didn’t want to have an academic, purely academic career. I don’t do research and so on, or geology. So I decided, Okay, the most connected one, the practical one is tourist. It’s also connected with geography.
And I love traveling, so let’s do it!
So I went to the Czech Republic, I took up a scholarship there and I studied for my bachelor’s and master’s in international tourism. And I had a chance to work in different industries.
First of all, to get experience. From another point, for students it’s always good to have some extra income. So I worked in hotels and in events. Something that I love most of all, was working in a tour operator, travel agency because it’s much more flexible. You are not bound to one place.
Therefore, you can do a lot of stuff, different tours, and experiences. Also, you control the whole situation. You can bundle services and packages. And that was actually my university project for a semester. A small group adventure tour operator.
it was supposed to be in Belarus, basically discovering the new routes in Eastern Europe, Belarus, Estonia, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, and so on. But the Destiny brought me to Mexico. So I got a new course on another side of the world, this project.
Jay: And as a traveler yourself, what specific challenges or gaps in the travel industry did you notice that your platform aims to address?
Alex: Yeah. Initially, the whole idea behind the project was to do tours differently because I’m a passionate traveler myself. I did a lot of backpacking, meeting local people, hostels, couch surfing, and so on and so forth.
I realized that basically,
the best way to travel is to meet local people, avoid the travel traps, and all this commercial stuff that doesn’t actually have this transformative character. It’s just pure consumption.
Very often it’s even mindless consumption where the money doesn’t really stay in the destination, but just it goes to some multinational corporations or it’s just traveled between the intermediaries in the industry, travel industry is very fragmented and there are a lot of intermediaries.
So sometimes up to 20 %, 10 % are to stay locally with the people who really organize travel experiences, and the rest are paid for commissions for multiple intermediaries.
So that was the main idea behind doing local trips where actually the money that travelers pay for their experiences, they stay locally, at least much more than the standard models, and avoid the commercial aspect of most tours.
And the most distinct ones are huge groups, big busses of 50 people where you have a guide and everybody in a rush and then they bring you to a commercial souvenir shop this overpriced crisis where in the end the company earns on commissions on you and the travelers are treated as again, pure consumption.
They are treated like I would say like a pain in the individuals rather than human beings, rather than travelers where they are actually tourists. I think there is a big difference between being a tourist and being a traveler.
Traveler is a more personal, more humanized way of travel,
where you treat locals in a very respectful and open-minded way, open to people, open to learning stuff, and the locals treat you the same way, not seeing you only as a source of income, but as a person with your own background, your own interests.
So this was the main idea behind traveling differently, more humanized, more off the beaten track, more locally where both parties benefit. Travelers get more authentic humanized, human experiences, and the local providers of services can have a more fair payment and different sources of travel traffic from various countries.
Jay: So how do Vibe Adventures work? So do you connect the travelers with tour operators in local countries? So are they just more a tour, like smaller-tour operators, or, like what you’re mentioning is a small tour operator?
How do you get them on board? Is that more like do you treat it as like a marketplace and is it two-sided? Or is more like you guys have a partnership with small tool operators and you actually bring them on board on your side?
Alex: Yeah. Actually, initially, five years ago, when we just started, we started as a tour operator. It means we managed, designed, and operated all our tours, hiring local suppliers, all suppliers, and services like guides, drivers, and the local operators that offer specific tours.
We wanted to create multi-days, day three, four, nine, 15 days around some places, and that worked until 2001 when we completely recovered from pandemics and we decided to make the whole thing a little bit more scalable to be able to actually pursue our goal in a more scalable way.
The main goal is basically…
to make travel a tool for a positive transformation in the world on a personal level for the traveler, but also on a socio-economic level for the local communities that offer the travel resources and the destinations.
So we started actually a marketplace where we are not physically present, where we don’t operate doors, let’s say, other regions in Mexico other than Mexico City and surrounds, Riviera Maya, like Oaxaca, Puebla, Baja California, some other countries in the region, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador.
we started onboarding the suppliers. So the model basically works in the way we have our own system, like an extranet where we upload all the tours and we charge a commission for each successful booking.
And that’s that. As an added value for the local suppliers, we bring them high-quality international tourists, people who are actually interested in this, and the local communities, we promote that. We also offer easy onboarding.
Of course, there is a chance to upload all the courses by yourself, but it’s a little bit of a laborious process. So we do all the copywriting and all the things done by ourselves.
Jay: Can you highlight a partnership and collaboration? What approach that you guys work on? Like having a marketplace, right? You have to market on both sides in terms of from a marketing aspect of it and just bring this platform to life. What challenges that you guys go through and how did you overcome them?
Alex: Yeah, definitely. It’s a two-sided business, so it’s important to grow it to size at the same time. Yeah, from our experience, at the moment, we are focusing mostly on onboarding new tours at more destinations.
Creating landing pages is working on organic traffic, and generating useful content related to those destinations. And then basically the second part, which is demand, comes already. So whenever there is a travel marketplace with more offers of some specific niche tours in some specific segment, it increases the chances that this customer can be recurring.
And now, okay, I came to Mexico…
but you guys have left in America as well. Okay, next time I can remember you, I will find you my email, and booking confirmation. You also give some discount for your current customers.
So it can be great. I’m going to be back. So that’s where we are focusing. It’s definitely challenging. I think the most challenging part is indeed the onboarding of new tours, because as was mentioned, at the moment we do all of this ourselves.
It’s quite a laborious process because it involves a lot of SEO-related activities, research of specific keywords that can be competitive, which can actually appear on the first page, getting the potential strengths of our website, our domain, and so on.
We use some specific tools that help us analyze and integrate text the way it can be actually searchable. But then also support the landing page, some like this is a whole fun.
Let’s say people that search for inspiration and then already want to go to this country and then we want to go to this destination. So probably this content creation, copywriting, and SEO part is the most laborious.
At some point, we are planning to give suppliers the chance to do it themselves. That’s something that can automate things and make it quicker. But yeah, that’s going to be in the close, in the nearest future.
Jay: And in terms of like for this, for you, the Vibe adventure, is there a 100 % bootstrap? Or you know how having a startup or a platform is difficult just to start from the ground in the beginning. So what were your journeys like in terms of either bootstrapping or getting funding involved or what was the process like?
Alex: Yeah, it was completely still. It’s a complete bootstrap project. So just some personal savings were invested from the beginning. And the main investment is time.
Time is about learning things,
about trying things. At the moment, we are a team of 8 people. But yeah, ever since we started from very, very little, and actually we had to be completely reborn because the pandemic was a very challenging period.
So we had actually to start almost from the beginning, team-wise and the process is wise. But yeah, we would recover financially. We finance our own growth. We, since almost the very beginning, we have been a self-funded profitable company, so we can finance our own organic growth. But of course, we are not limiting ourselves.
At some point,
we considering raising some smart investment, which is not a matter of getting funds because we need a specific runway that we cannot surpass. As I mentioned before, we can finance ourselves.
But at some point, we reach the when it’s okay, everything is ready, the sail, the boat is here. What we need is just a strong wing to cross the ocean. That’s where we might see there’s some smart investment just to give us an extra impulse, maybe for marketing or maybe for strength something in our team.
Jay: And building a successful business will require adaptation. So since you mentioned COVID-19, how did you respond to those challenges that COVID-19 has brought, especially since it has affected, predominantly, it’s everywhere, but predominantly the travel industry?
Alex: Yeah, indeed. I think the travel industry was the most effective one. And everybody in this world saw it. The borders were closed, and the flights were canceled. I had a friend of mine who was visiting from China, visiting Mexico at this time.
Instead of staying for two weeks,
you have to stay half a year just because all the flights were canceled. You couldn’t go back. It was fun at the very beginning, but then it was a little bit weird. You cannot go back.
But yeah, initially we had to limit our operation a little bit to downgrade, let’s say, the number of working hours because there were essentially no bookings. We didn’t have revenue. What helped us is that we had some savings, and we could surpass them.
But in the end, what also helped us during the pandemic was the virtual tour. We were invited. There was a project by Amazon, Amazon Explore.
So during the pandemic, it was a big trend. A lot of startups for virtual tours were popping up some of the most well-known platforms that actually onboarded this type of course was Viator, and Airbnb is still doing it. So there was Amazon as well.
So it was great!
We received great support and training. We got actually customers quite a lot of bookings, like daily bookings for one-hour virtual tours in Mexico City.
In the end, we probably had over 25 or something. So that was really helpful at this point. And some other virtual tour companies got in touch with us. So we could do this. We also tried free walking tours because they were during the pandemic.
Some people, I would say, mostly younger audiences were still traveling, because Mexico never closed it. So a lot of younger North Americans were still coming here. But those were mostly looking for these specific types of experience, which are lower budget, free walking tours.
So the main goal was let’s do whatever we can do just to keep generating employment,
just to keep providing jobs to our guides, virtual tours, and free walking tours, because in Mexico there was very limited support from the government to people who lost their jobs specifically to the tour guys.
So that’s why we tried any opportunity that we had, we embraced it. Those two virtual tours and free walking tours were, I would say, the biggest at that point.
Jay: And also as a traveler yourself, what are your thoughts on, say, home swapping platform or that platform that offers sub-leasing properties to travelers? So maybe just aiming towards slow traveling or aiming towards remote workers?
Alex: I haven’t tried it myself. I mean, I need a longer period for remote work with a longer Airbnb space and so on. So it has been on the market for a while.
I personally see huge potential business-wise, but whenever there is potential, it means there is a demand and there is a problem with this. So, yeah, as you mentioned, the digital nomad thing and distant working, this is something that started during pandemics and it’s increasing the percentage of people in the United States, Europe, and all around the world that can work distantly from any part of the world is increasing and more people have basically more personal freedom.
So I think this slow travel will only grow…
And then if you already go somewhere and you have your own home, from one point of view, you can put it as Airbnb. But I think it’s easier and also it might bring more trust to people who start first becoming part of the platform because it’s like a specific community. So I personally haven’t tried it yet, but I’m looking forward to this opportunity. I think that’s a great start.
Jay: And before we wrap up the show, I’d like to end up with three questions. So one is, what is the one truth about you that you stand by?
Alex: I would say. One, maybe persistence. Always maybe even stubbornness. But if we talk about some professional merits, it’s probably called persistence. Like working on the thing that you really believe in.
I think that’s also important. It’s not enough to be persistent. Persistence can, in my opinion, only persist when there is some belief that you know why you’re doing it.
Jay: And what does it mean to you to live a conscious lifestyle?
Alex: I think that’s probably like knowing why you live and what are your goals. Once we know why we do things every day, why we go to job, why we wake up early, why we do this and that, I think that’s the most important question.
If we know it, we can answer it sincerely to ourselves. This question why? Probably that’s the most difficult question. We can say that if we start living more conscious and perform.
Jay: And what impact do you want to leave on this world?
Alex: I think in general it’s being useful, serving people, leaving some positive impact in this world. At the moment, my main aspirations are connected with vibe adventures, as is the project we are working on. And to make traveling actually more efficient.
That can bring a global positive impact on people’s lives. To travelers, to make their travel more transformative, more conscious, more educating, more fulfilling.
But also to look at people who give those travel services to improve their socioeconomic development, because still, unfortunately, most travel, for example, is in very limited locations and the flows are not equal.
in Mexico, 80 %, of borders are only in the top five travel destinations. And the country has over 20 international airports and so many things to visit. So yeah.
Jay: Thank you for sharing that and thank you for being on the show.
Alex: Thank you very much.