I would start with a little surprising but helpful assumption — a perfect vacation experience doesn’t mean that everything goes perfectly! I mean that in the group of strangers traveling together there’ll always arise some problems. People have different needs. Some would expect more activities, some would feel tired with walking, others would be hungry or dissatisfied with accommodation. In Poland, we say that one has not yet been born to please everyone. Luckily, everyday small inconveniences are temporary, and no one will remember them after a while. Our memory blur the details, only general impressions and emotions remain, and you need to take care of them to create a perfect vacation experience.

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 Michal Jonca.

Michal Jonca is the Community Manager at Passport Photo Online, a startup working on biometrical photography. Moreover, he is a travel leader in the largest Polish travelers club “Solisci”. In all spheres of life, he is guided by courage, optimism, and proactivity.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Hi, thank you for the invitation to this interview. Well, in fact, I have two career paths at one time. My first, let’s say main, is working for a startup, Passport Photo Online as a Community Manager. My second path is related to the travel industry as I am a Travel Leader in the biggest Polish travelers club, “Soliści”, which is also an adventurous agency organizing exciting expeditions around the world. I believe that if we are talking about how to create amazing travel experiences, I should share the story about the latter.

So, when I was still studying law at the university, I discovered that I simply love traveling. I organized my first independent trip when I was 21. We went with my brother to Amsterdam. I enjoyed the freedom of choice — we could go and do whatever we wanted. Shortly after, I persuaded my friend to take a short trip to Prague by hitchhiking. We loved it and decided to go further, to Spain for almost four weeks during the holidays. I’ve visited various places in the following years — from the United States and Iceland to Russia, Iran, and India.

Honestly, I didn’t want to become a lawyer. I dreamed about exploring, finding extraordinary places, immerse myself in the diversity the world offers. I’ve been looking for a possibility to make my dreams come true and found out that the largest Polish travelers club, “Soliści” is organizing the “Travel Leader Training”. As I read in the description, it was about learning new skills and meeting interesting people. The best training participants were to be offered a job as a travel leader. I knew it was a perfect match as in all my private expeditions, I was “the boss” organizing most of the schedule and making decisions when others were passive. In June 2020, I participated in this training and got a job offer! I felt very proud of myself, and that’s how everything started.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The most interesting story happened in Iceland. I had an opportunity to see the amazing active volcano in Iceland with my own eyes.

As you may know, Fagradalsfjall, a volcano in the southwest of Iceland, erupted in March 2021. I was offered to lead a group to explore this amazing island in the Atlantic Ocean in September, and I happily agreed. One of the highlights of the program was trekking up the hill near Fagradalsfjall to admire his lava spectacle. The problem is that volcanic activity cannot be planned. You can follow the graphs, predict when lava can flow, but you can never be sure. Additionally, in September, the weather in Iceland is often rainy — after all, it’s a small island in the middle of a great ocean.

My group was extremely lucky! On the day we planned to trek to the volcano, Fagradalsfjall was incredibly active, and there were no clouds in the sky. It was something extraordinary. I’ve never seen anything like it. With part of the group, I was able to get very close to the sea of ​​lava, we were only 10 meters away. I will never forget this sight.

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?

Before becoming a travel leader, I did some tours on my own. Without going into too much detail, one of these tours went to Poland’s relatively small mountain range. January was warm for Polish conditions (around 10 degrees Celsius), and I rented a large car with summer tires. The weather forecast did not predict any snowfall. Unfortunately, it turned out that this mountain range had a unique microclimate, and when we arrived there, a snowstorm broke. We stood in the parking lot and couldn’t move at one point. I told a group of 7 that they had to go out and push the car, and I would try to leave somehow. Believe it or not, it was such a comical situation that we all cried out laughing.

Everyone liked this “extra attraction”. However, I took it as a lesson — you have to be prepared for everything and be careful about the weather forecast.

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?

When I was studying law at the university, I became friends with Martyna, who is close to me until today. We spent a lot of time together in various circumstances — mountain trekkings, traveling across Europe, Turkey, and the Caucasus. We had the same approach to our studies, the same perception of life as a great adventure. We were always helping each other when problems arose. She fell in love with Georgia on the Caucasus, moved there, and created the car-rental company. Nowadays, she’s got a husband there and she’s a successful businesswoman and travel influencer.

When I got a little lost in life and was looking for my way, Martyna, as always, lent me a hand. She told me that I love traveling, am communicative and open-minded, people like my company, tell interesting stories and am well organized. She encouraged me to enter the tourism industry. So I did, and I am grateful for her support because that was what I needed at that moment.

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?

As a travel leader, I prioritized contact with people. Of course, things like the realization of the expedition program and broad knowledge about the visited place are crucial, but creating the right atmosphere among participants, who are usually strangers not knowing before, is a substantial (or even decisive) added value.

I found the most effective way to make people engaged and keen to create a sense of community. As a leader, you have to have fun! A smile, good energy, and showing participants that you are delighted with the trip will be mirrored in their attitude and behavior. In addition, everyone needs attention. Some people are introverts and need an incentive to open up or, on the contrary, to let them experience the trip in their way. That’s why you need to work on your emotional intelligence to get a good sense of people.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

One of the essential truths about running the business is that retention of customers is about five times cheaper than acquiring new ones. There is intense competition between travel companies, especially in the pandemic time. You simply have to find a way to encourage customers to repeat and use your services again. Prioritization of contact with people is a strong advantage. If you create a feeling of importance among travel participants, after returning from the dreamed journey, they’ll think like “I made my dream come true and the leader was so positive and thoughtful, that I can’t wait to travel with him/her again!”.

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?

In my opinion, the crucial issue is a willingness to be flexible. No one knows how the world will look like next five years, but it definitely won’t be the same as before the pandemic. COVID-related regulations constantly change, countries open and close their borders dynamically. Thus, travel and hospitality companies must implement appropriate refund policies and be ready for rapid changes.

The tourism industry is getting better. However, it will take some time to return to its size from 2019. The decline in the market resulted in greater care for customer experience. Only the professionalization of services and high quality will ensure the market’s survival, which is the trend that will shape tourism in the next five years.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

Of course, it depends on the type of vacation or travel, but I’ll share my personal view on a perfect experience. It requires a well-balanced mix of some elements.

First of all, the person leading a journey has to watch the group and shape the plan according to the observations. Remember, life isn’t an Excel sheet — people have different needs and expectations. They can have better and worse days, and considering it is a must to provide a wonderful experience. Some people would like to spend their free time on extra hiking, others — on eating local food.

A perfect active journey should include both “must-see’s” and hidden gems, both cities, and natural wonders, cultural experiences, and fun activities. In some cases give people the freedom to choose what they want to do. That builds authority and feeling of influence on the whole travel’s shape. If there are differences in the group, e.g., some people have better physical condition than others, the good idea is to divide the group into two teams during challenging activities. When moving from one place to another, you should plan your route to take short and longer breaks. If any conflicts arise, they must be resolved as fast as possible to prevent escalation. Any problem should be resolved in person, not with the whole group.

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.

As for physical wellness, I always plan to visit different kinds of relax zones. For example, when I was in Iceland, I took my group to the wild hot river to relax and chill. I showed people some hidden and absolutely unique sulfur hot springs in Georgia. We spend there about three hours by night, observing an incredible sky full of stars in the middle of wild Caucasus mountains. In Morocco, we went to a traditional hammam (a public bath), ordered massage and peeling. Oh dear, what an amazing experience!

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.

I would start with a little surprising but helpful assumption — a perfect vacation experience doesn’t mean that everything goes perfectly! I mean that in the group of strangers traveling together there’ll always arise some problems. People have different needs. Some would expect more activities, some would feel tired with walking, others would be hungry or dissatisfied with accommodation. In Poland, we say that one has not yet been born to please everyone. Luckily, everyday small inconveniences are temporary, and no one will remember them after a while. Our memory blur the details, only general impressions and emotions remain, and you need to take care of them to create a perfect vacation experience.

A good illustration of the abovementioned “rule” is trekking to the Fagradalsfjall volcano I mentioned before. Out of 20 people, fourteen wanted to go as close to the lava river as possible, while six were not in good physical shape and wanted to stay and see the volcano from a larger distance. As the trekking to a lava river took about 1,5 hours one way, they needed to wait in the car for the rest for a while. After our comeback, they were irritated because of the long waiting. They were hungry, sleepy, and ready for confrontation. Thankfully, I was able to smooth the situation. I still have contact with the whole group. Everyone remembers this amazing experience, but no one remembers this episode with waiting for the rest!

The second thing is the travel offer itself. Information about the trip must be clear and comprehensive. If the trip is adventurous and it may be associated with inconvenience, it should be clearly stated. The company must also have a transparent pricing policy. After signing up for the expedition, the participant should receive precise information on what to take with him.

When I was preparing for Morocco travel, the day before the flight, I realized that our office sent participants a wrong infopack. Long story short, there was no information about taking the quick-drying towel and hairdryer. I quickly contacted one leader, who made this trip before me, and she said that people have to take that stuff. My participants were happy with that information, as none thought about it. In the post-trip feedback, they praised me for my sharp mind.

Thirdly, the travel program itself must be packed with attractions! Their number must, of course, be appropriate to the circumstances. There should be an active time, a time to relax, and time to get to know the place your own way. It is very important! People experience journeys in different ways — they need to be given space to immerse themselves in it in their own way.

Last winter, I was the leader of a winter trip on fatbikes. In the evening, we had a barbecue, people were drinking wine, talking, laughing — everyone, except one guy who came out on the terrace and sat in a chair. I walked over to him and asked if he was okay. He said yes, and that he needed to be alone now. I respected his need.

The next day this guy, Kamil, said he was very grateful to me for not pushing him. He admitted that he is an introvert, and although all participants are great, he likes to spend a lot of time alone. After a few months, he wrote to me on Facebook that he decided to take his wife on a journey to Kenya and Tanzania with my company, thanks to my approach to that situation.

Another super important thing is giving people attention and providing them with accurate information.

In his famous book “How to win friends and influence people” Dale Carnegie underlined that one innate human emotional need is the desire to feel important. You build your authority by actively listening to your participant or showing empathy to their needs and fears. People love leaders like that, will follow you, support, and come back for more!

Precise information about when to get up, where we will eat, and when the next toilet will be, allows participants to plan their basic needs properly, and they will not ask you the same questions every minute. My good practice is to organize morning and evening check-ins. I inform people what will we do, what to take, the weather conditions, and other important information.

Last but not least, have fun with the participants! I know that when you are in the same place for the fifth time in 2 months, it’s hard to get excited like the first time, but do it. The excitement and atmosphere will spread to the rest of the group, and such emotions are most easily remembered.

When I was with the group in the Sahara desert, we went to the Berber camp. They made a fire and started to play traditional nomad music. People were absolutely astonished. I decided to make something unexpected and started to dance around the fire. The rest of the group followed my example and that’s how started one of the best parties in my life. Everyone loved it!

Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I love connecting people, especially strangers with different world views. You know, right now we live in a world of so-called post-truth. We are polarized as never before. In everyday life media, especially social ones shape our thoughts by contrast: we versus the others. Traveling with strangers is going out of this scheme. You don’t really know who’ll be your travel companion. And you know what is the outcome when you meet the person outside your information bubble? That we agree in most cases! It’s a kind of mind and social cleanup. I believe it brings some goodness to the world.

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. 🙂

It’s nice to hear that! Surprisingly, I would inspire a movement to encourage western people to travel to poor places. But not to nice resorts or five-star hotels, oh no! They should go to the slums or other districts, where a large amount of the world population lives. What’s my point? I believe that we, people from the West, don’t realize how lucky we are. We forgot about thankfulness. We pretend not to see where our products in disposable packaging go or from where our cheap clothes come. I believe that confrontation with reality — uncomfortable, dirty, often cruel — would change some people’s minds, as well as their perception of the world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

See you on Instagram! My account is @michu.jonca. I’m starting my East Asian trip soon, so stay tuned!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you for the invitation. Take care!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.