Guides, guides, guides — A guide can make or break a vacation trip. They create help to create long-lasting memories. Simply put, it’s one of the most common requests we get — a specific guide. Groups can be known to require a certain guide for their next trip because he or she has had that big of a positive impact on the travelers’ experience.
As part of my series about “developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Damon Corkin.
Damon is the Founder and CEO of Andean Discovery, a South American tour operator with offices in Boston, Quito, and Cusco. He is interested in developing and delivering meaningful travel experiences for families, couples, and organizations while participating with guides, staff, and local communities, to ensure sustainable, authentic connections and life-enriching adventures.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was 15 years old, our high school science department visited Ecuador. Even though I had only spent one year learning Spanish, it was great to have the opportunity to actually speak the language. It was a wonderful feeling to know that the local people appreciated that I spoke their language. The cross-cultural connection and the opportunities to speak directly with locals created an interest in me in Ecuador. I got to experience both the cities and the rainforests. I fell in love with the country and the language, which led me to major in Spanish in college. I continue to speak Spanish daily to this day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Amazing, it was something that happened earlier this year. For the very first time since we’ve been in business, we had four generations of a family travel together … in the middle of the pandemic! We have always specialized and excelled at planning trips for multi-generational groups — grandparents, parents, and kids/grandkids, but were amazed by an intrepid family from Texas that included great grandparents, grandparents, parents, kids/grandkids. The youngest traveler was a two-year-old, while the oldest traveler was in their 80s. It was incredible experience to be able to plan the trip for this family. A hiccup even occurred with a mechanical issue on a small cruise boat they were taking, but luckily, we had a team onsite that secured another boat for the family and all was well.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was living in Ecuador, the airport was located in the valley near Quito. What was helpful was that I could see the airport from the road located near my house. As I was starting my travel business and learning the best strategies for tackling the challenge of airport transfer timing, I would view the airplanes coming into the valley. By viewing the planes arriving from the U.S., I was usually able to estimate our travelers’ arrivals knowing on how long customs typically takes. I would then leave my house to pick up the travelers once they got through customs. However, that wasn’t always fool proof so this tactic didn’t last long! I learned the hard way to always arrive early and use digital tools versus watching planes arrive from my house.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My mother was essential in supporting me to get to where I am today. She helped directly and indirectly when it came to my career and my business. When I was a child, I traveled with her around the world when she was a professor. These trips put the travel bug in me for the rest of my life. I fell in love with tourism and mapping out our travel plans like she did. Once I started Andean Discovery in my late 20s, she was so encouraging and pushed me to grow the business.
Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
Andean Discovery specializes in adventure and luxury travel in South America. Our guests get a comprehensive service that includes our expertise in pre-trip planning as well as overseeing all logistics during the trip, ensuring a seamless travel experience while in South America. It’s really white glove treatment and always includes personalized service, on-the-ground support, and in-depth knowledge of the countries our travelers visit. Travelers want support, a sense of calm, and confidence when planning a week or two-week vacation. We’re not stretched thin by working all over the globe — personalization is everything.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
Planning a South American trip can be daunting, and options are endless. There are too many apps, too many options, and too many booking sites to sort through. For example, there is a lot of research that goes into planning a trip to visit the Galapagos Islands. If you want to plan it yourself, where do you look for information? I think this is a huge pain point impacting travelers at the moment. We have heard from travelers that trying to book things a la carte, so to speak, for a trip to South America can be overwhelming. Some say anxiety-inducing. We have to support our travelers with the stress of scheduling a complex flight and trip schedule, transfers, requirements, and so much more. Travelers may not even always know what they want to do on the trip, or where they want to visit exactly. We take care to get to the root of what they really want out of their trip. Perhaps a land-based trip is better for a group even though they were convinced a cruise was what they wanted.
Our team matches interest and travel style with an innovative and personalized experience that’s different for every group. We provide expert personalized travel consultation — and it’s the complete service. A one-stop shop. We’re not just an agent — we’re the consultant, we’re the preparers, we’re the operators when our travelers are on the trip, and we’re the “hiccup” problem solvers if something arises. We are also the clean-up team at the end — we take a traveler’s feedback and use that insight in the future so we can continue to always provide the best, most up-to-the-minute service possible. You don’t have to give up control or be on a “cookie-cutter” tour package. You can get the benefits of an expert team with the know-how to walk you through it all and customize your perfect trip.
As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?
Flexibility. We’ll have to be flexible and so will travelers and the hospitality industry as a whole. Booking rules and travel insurance policies are sure to evolve and be quite different than what was allowed in the past, pre-Covid. Enhanced protections will be more and more important.
Travelers are starting to get used to the “certainty of the uncertainty.” The new COVID variant is an example of this type of uncertainty. Here we are again with mixed emotions over potentially booking travel outside of the U.S. It is somewhat like how travelers felt in March 2020 — what is a country asking for, from a vaccination standpoint, to enter their country? Travelers also have to wonder if the rules will change again before their trip.
We know that consumers want to travel with peace of mind so we need to provide real-time information and give travelers confidence, and certainty in an uncertain environment.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
It’s a combination of a few things. Mix of adventure, relaxation, pure fun, and gaining insight into the people and place I visit. I have learned that I always want to stay at least two nights in a destination that I plan to visit. It is also always essential to know your travel flow and pace, and I always recommend allowing time to stop and “smell the roses” during any vacation. It’s the sights not the sites! Experience the flavor of the local culture in every sense. It’s taking in everything that is around you and not rushing to the next activity. Pace of a trip is a huge component for me, but make sure to allow some time and space for spontaneity.
In addition, I always look for accommodations that are comfortable and allow you to enjoy the place you’re visiting. Make sure to select accommodations that showcase what’s important to you.
Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.
Definitely. We always make it a point to engage with the locals wherever we are sending our travelers. From these interactions, we learn about the locals and their rituals, habits, and collaborate with them whenever possible.
That being said, wellness means so many things to different people. What I think we’re doing is connecting to ourselves AND others when we travel. The ability to see different ways of life is, of course, a connection to other cultures, places and people, but the connection within ourselves is so valuable here too. Because of the service we’re offering, we allow travelers to enjoy the time with the loved ones and not worry about the trip logistics. There’s an element of wellness and relaxation that comes when you can focus on just that — time with loved ones, relaxation, and adventure.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Guides, guides, guides
A guide can make or break a vacation trip. They create help to create long-lasting memories. Simply put, it’s one of the most common requests we get — a specific guide. Groups can be known to require a certain guide for their next trip because he or she has had that big of a positive impact on the travelers’ experience.
2. Meticulous coordination and pre-departure preparation
This goes back to having peace of mind and feeling confident before you start traveling. When you don’t feel prepared, panic can really start to take over. It’s essential to be prepare, know the latest info., feel good about how and from where you got your information for your vacation. Guests have established expectations which is a luxury.
The activities to downtime ratio are essential to any vacation. I feel it’s important for people to have down time. We see itineraries that travelers have attempted on their own and think, “Wow! All those activities were scheduled for ONE day?” This is something we see all the time, hear complaints about, and hope to avoid when we book trips. We want to strike the balance for our travelers — more time in fewer places, or less time in more places. If you’re too exhausted or frustrated, you can’t enjoy the trip.
4. Get to know your traveler
Understand the group dynamic, and plan as such. Travel pace, ages and interests are all factors. For example, is it best for a particular group to pack in an additional activity or keep the flow slower to ensure the trip is customized accordingly for a slower-paced group, or perhaps a family with a young child or elder. Some people like a faster pace, but I can’t stress enough to work in some down time.
5. Know the latest and greatest activities, trends, destinations. Be the expert
Rely on trusted on-the-ground resources. Anyone can tell you the latest hot spot or new restaurant or accommodations. You can even research the latest openings of wildlife lodges and reserves, but what we do is explain options and share our knowledge of the latest logistical changes/requirements and adapt the itinerary to those changes. Before and during the trip, we are the experts. Our experience is what we think travelers really value. You may have visited Lima, but maybe you couldn’t have gone to a cooking class and purchased ingredients at the local market when you did. There’s a different experience you can have when taking advantage of the latest offerings and innovations in a local community. Knowing how and when to work something into an itinerary is the specialized service that can really take a trip to the next level.
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We take pride and enjoy connecting with the communities that our travelers visit on a regular basis. This is in a meaningful way and could include volunteering by working with local organizations and non-profits on initiatives they need help with (such as building greenhouses). But in a broader sense, connecting with different people of varying socio-economic and cultural backgrounds is beneficial to everyone — the local communities and our travelers. By connecting and sharing experiences, these cultural differences are not as vast as we might have thought.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
There is no question that a movement that would be important to me is to break down barriers between people from different cultures or walks of life. It’s really important to create access to these types of interactions so that they can take place on a more regular basis. For example, you can laugh with someone who doesn’t even speak the same language as you — it’s more about the human-level connection that is so important and good. This is ultimately creating more optimism, open-mindedness, and love in the world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Here are some ways to follow Andean Discovery in the future:
- Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/andeandiscovery/
- Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/andeandiscovery/
- Twitter — https://twitter.com/andeandiscovery
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!