Provide valuable expertise. There is so much content out there these days, you can find travel information and recommendations on blogs, in editorial articles, on Instagram or TikTok, the list goes on. If we can provide clients with tasteful, thoughtful and truly valuable expertise on where to eat, stay and play on their travels, they will continue to come back to us when planning future trips.
As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kalyn Salinas.
Kalyn is the founder and Chief Travel Officer of The Citrine Compass, a boutique travel advisory group that helps busy, sophisticated world explorers create curated and authentic travel experiences. The Citrine Compass has travel consultants (known as “Tastemakers”) all over the globe that provide travelers with hyperlocal and personalized travel recommendations through consultations and custom itineraries.
Kalyn created The Citrine Compass as a disruptive planning service for the mid-level luxury traveler that loves to plan their own trips but doesn’t have the time to do the initial research and values local insight and current recommendations. It’s a resource for the seasoned traveler looking to have an authentic global experience that still feels like a getaway.
She believes travel should be authentic, curated, always hinting towards luxury, occasionally leaning towards wild adventure and something that inspires us to learn and grow.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always loved to travel and would spend 30+ hours researching and planning big international trips in order to get off the beaten track and really get to know a place. My beloved Canon Rebel camera comes with me on every trip and after posting my photography and travel tips on social media, people would always ask for my itineraries and intel.
During the pandemic lockdown I found myself with the time and space to start a travel blog so I could easily share my travel itineraries and photography in one fell swoop but as I continued writing articles, things were changing rapidly abroad (restaurants were closing, national parks had restricted access, local shops went out of business) and I started to realize that while my recommendations were solid, I really wasn’t the best person to provide travel advice on a destination I had only visited once or twice.
I had always dreamt of working in travel and started down a path of brainstorming up a business in the travel industry that fired me up and would really bring value to the marketplace. There were many iterations of the business plan but the final product was offering sophisticated travelers a network of locally based experts that could provide personalized travel insights, recommendations and custom itineraries. I wanted to help like-minded world explorers skip the hours of research involved with travel planning and get to the fun part — learning about undiscovered gems and the road less traveled from a local with amazing taste.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
In Los Angeles there is a fantastic sushi restaurant called KazuNori, they only serve handrolls and everyone sits at the bar where no seat is left empty and you’re elbow-to-elbow with your fellow diners. While grabbing an early dinner one night, I struck up a conversation with the woman next to me and after learning more about The Citrine Compass, she shared that she was the Chief Creative Officer for a tech start-up and asked if I would be interested in coming to her office to speak to the founders of the company about a potential partnership.
Long story short, a few weeks later I spent an hour and a half brainstorming how to integrate Web3 and AI into The Citrine Compass with the tech genius founders (one of whom led some of Apple’s milestone projects in the early days). The business they’re running now is a start-up and I’m a start-up so nothing has come to fruition yet but it was a fascinating conversation that got me brainstorming about how to integrate technology into travel, and also helped me start thinking differently about what The Citrine Compass could bring to the travel industry.
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?
I subscribe to belief that in the early days of a business, you test and pivot. If something goes wrong, so to speak, I try to quickly adjust and approach the situation constructively instead of with regret. This is a silly mistake but I was connected through Instagram to a potential Tastemaker in Bali that I was really excited about meeting — she grew up in LA but had been living in Indonesia for several years and knew all the cool restaurants, fitness studios, local beaches, etc. I was sending her DM to introduce myself and accidentally launched a video call on Instagram. I had no idea I could make a video call on IG, let alone how to hang up the call and I was horrified when it just kept ringing. Thank God she didn’t answer because I was sitting on my couch in the dark and she probably would have been spooked!
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?
Of all the amazing mentors I have had and leaders that helped form the businessperson that I am today, the most influential has to be my husband. First of all, I had no interest in being an entrepreneur before I met him. He’s completely self-made and has never worked for anyone but himself and while I saw through his experiences that entrepreneurship is an incredibly challenging path, I became so jealous of his autonomy and ability to choose his own destiny that I decided I had to be an entrepreneur too!
Second of all, he is my number one fan, cheerleader and advisor and the person I trust most to give me thoughtful business feedback. I actually might drive him insane one day with the number of times I ask for his thoughts on things that are plaguing me in the business. We get up around 5/5:30am every morning (another good habit of his that rubbed off on me, a former 7am riser) and he will be peacefully drinking coffee and journaling when I barge in with a few “quick questions” about how to increase our bottom line and improve our go-to-market strategy.
I am so grateful for him and truly think you need people in your corner that believe in you and what you’re doing when you’re trying to launch a business and carve a new path. Doubts and challenges come up every single day and it’s a gift to have someone there to give perspective and remind you that you innately have every tool you need to succeed, you just have to persist.
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?
With The Citrine Compass, clients can opt for a 1:1 consultation with a Tastemaker or have a Tastemaker create a completely curated itinerary detailing daily travel logistics, restaurants, accommodations, excursions and experiences, all custom to the client and their vision for the trip. It’s a concierge-style solution for busy travelers with a high taste level that want to plan their own trip, which doesn’t currently exist in the marketplace.
I’m currently reading Traction by Gino Wickman and part of the work is identifying your business’s “Three Uniques”, which are qualities that differentiate your business from the competition. Mine are (drum roll, please) Amazing Taste, Completely Curated and Local Expertise. Other businesses in travel and hospitality have some of these qualities but none have all.
One of the things that has been exciting clients the most is that our Tastemakers are based locally in the country where they are traveling and most don’t work in tourism or hospitality. They’re luxury travelers themselves that know a client’s destination intimately, are plugged in to the latest and greatest, and make recommendations based on what is best for the client, there are no commissions involved.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
I founded this business because I knew there was a gap in the mid-level luxury travel sector. Think about your own experience planning a trip — the typical traveler might piece a trip together based on a mix of friends’ recommendations, blog posts, online articles and travel forums. All of these can be useful but take hours of research and all sources eventually become outdated (we’ve all found ourselves on an obscure TripAdvisor thread from 2004 trying to figure out some logistical minutiae). Our core client’s most precious resource is time and they don’t have hours to spend researching a trip, even if they absolutely love to do so.
The other travel planning option would be to work with a travel agent which can be luxurious, but many clients want to retain the creativity that comes with travel planning and don’t want all the bells and whistles on every trip. Travel agents are also inclined to recommend accommodations and experiences where they make commission (so they wouldn’t book an Airbnb or some boutique hotels, for instance), travel agents don’t get compensated for recommending things like restaurants or outdoor activities and often don’t live in the country where you are traveling.
We get to be a trusted resource that helps travelers to save time spent researching, get really fantastic, local intel and still own the travel planning process.
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?
COVID19 threw the travel industry for a big loop but travel is back with a vengeance. People finally feel comfortable and safe doing things like traveling on planes or sitting inside a crowded restaurant. I think one of the biggest challenges the industry is facing and will continue to face is the lack of talent. Hotels, airlines, restaurants and bars had to furlough their employees or let go of staff completely and people moved on to other career paths, they couldn’t afford to wait around. Now that people are traveling again a lot of establishments are understaffed and it’s affecting the experience, and if there is one thing I know about what makes a good travel experience, it’s the people.
A restaurant with amazing food continues to stay crowded because the management team runs a tight ship operationally and the waiters and bar staff are seasoned and connect well with guests. A boutique hotel feels magical because of the special touches and level of personalization, otherwise it’s just a place to rest your head. Employers in the hospitality and travel industry will have to either pay employees more or add benefits that make careers in the industry more enticing and the cost of that usually gets passed down to the consumer. It will be interesting to see how things shake out.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
My company is thriving because there is no one-size-fits-all perfect travel experience! Our team’s raison d’être is to help clients have the best experience possible when visiting their country but what someone is craving in a particular travel experience will depend on what is going on in their life, their chosen destination, who they are traveling with and how they want to feel during and after the trip.
A “perfect” trip to Patagonia with friends will be one that challenges you physically, connects you with nature and allows time and space for you to reset emotionally, where a “perfect” trip to the Caribbean for a young family with overworked parents might be staying at an intimate resort in St. Lucia where they never have to step foot off the property.
Based on my years of travel and hearing client feedback, most people feel like they took an amazing trip if they ate well, had authentic experiences and interactions, were in good company and had a mental break from everyday stresses and demands so I suppose those would be the ingredients for a perfect vacation experience.
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.
There will always be an element of “escaping” when you travel (as I mentioned, everyone needs a mental break!) but The Citrine Compass’s mission is to help people connect to the heart of a country and culture. One of our core values is to choose the road less traveled and our Tastemakers help clients put together an amazing trip that gets them off the beaten path but still feels like a vacation.
As an example, our Tastemaker in Mexico City is super passionate about the local food scene and introducing visitors to up-and-coming chefs. Certain restaurants in Mexico City get a lot of hype but there are local spots where you can have regional, farm-to-table cuisine, support creativity in the CDMX restaurant scene and be around locals. She wants to get visitors exposed to these lesser known restaurants so they can connect to the city in a deeper way.
Planning a trip is also incredibly time-consuming and overwhelming at times and when our clients connect with a Tastemaker, they can get curated advice or an itinerary from someone based locally in the market that they can trust. There is a sense of relief when they have a game plan and no longer feel that lingering sense of uncertainty about how the trip they planned themselves will turn out.
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?
- Provide valuable expertise. There is so much content out there these days, you can find travel information and recommendations on blogs, in editorial articles, on Instagram or TikTok, the list goes on. If we can provide clients with tasteful, thoughtful and truly valuable expertise on where to eat, stay and play on their travels, they will continue to come back to us when planning future trips.
- Go above and beyond. All of our Tastemakers are working professionals that work with clients in a freelance capacity because they absolutely love the country where they’re living and want to help people have an incredible time when they visit. They bring so much passion to the work that they naturally seem to go above and beyond. One of our Italy Tastemakers grew up in Positano and loves to help clients discover the parts of the Amalfi Coast that haven’t fallen victim to overtourism. I am continually amazed by the level of detail and context in her follow-up notes to clients and they are pleasantly surprised as well!
- Keep it personal. As I touched on before, there is no one-size-fits-all travel experience for a city or country. We just had a client share a list of 150+ restaurants in Berlin that she has been compiling for years, she wanted our Tastemaker’s help to pare down the list for her 5-day trip to Berlin. The Tastemaker took time to really review the list, understand the client’s priorities during their meeting and then send over her final curated recommendations. There is no way that the client could have whittled down that list without insight from a kindred foodie spirit that knew Berlin intimately. Even with all of today’s access to information and technology, people still crave human connection and want unique and personalized engagement when planning a trip.
- Keep the client’s needs and interests the priority. If the client feels like their needs were met during a meeting or after they receive a curated itinerary, we have succeeded. We have our clients fill out an in-depth questionnaire about their trip so we can give truly personal recommendations. We want to know if they have anything planned already, what their interests are, their travel preferences and their goals for the trip. Hitting a bar in Madrid with incredible live music might be a fantastic recommendation for a young couple but it won’t be the right recommendation for a group traveling with kids, even if it is the place to see and be seen in the city.
- Keep it FUN! Our team is comprised of professionals of all kinds — individuals working in private equity, small business owners, artists, tech execs — but their common thread is that they’re passionate, dynamic people that love all things travel and care about others. At the end of the day your experience with The Citrine Compass, and eventually your experience when you take the trip we helped you plan, should be fun. Because life is too short, you know?
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I am really proud of the team and business we are building here at The Citrine Compass. Clients are so excited to have a space where they can get trustworthy, local insight from someone invested in their trip that doesn’t have any skin in the game. What I mean by that is our Tastemakers aren’t getting kickbacks from hotels or restaurants and there is no mysterious mark-up for clients. The only thing fueling their recommendations is their own experiences and ideas. It’s a really refreshing travel planning engagement for the modern traveler and I love being able to empower world explorers to do less research and more travel!
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. 🙂
In the spirit of choosing the road less traveled, I think people should do at least one trip every couple of years that really gets them out of their comfort zone and changes their perspective about themselves, others, or the world. Things that come to mind are backpacking through Vietnam without all of the normal comforts, going on a volunteer trip to a village in Ghana or taking a physically challenging cycling tour through Portugal.
What the world really needs right now is kindness, understanding and acceptance of our differences and going out in the world to experience new cultures and broaden our perspectives can only help that cause!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Our IG page, @thecitrinecompass, has beautiful imagery, insider travel content and recommendations from our Tastemakers that you won’t find anywhere else.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!