Alexis Bowen of Elsewhere On How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Go local — Don’t trail after the hordes of people following that Instagram pin. You traveled to experience something different. Connect with locals and allow them to show you a side of their country most tourists don’t have access to. Get beneath the surface and experience their country from their perspective.
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 Alexis Bowen.
Alexis is the co-founder of Elsewhere, a travel start-up making waves in the industry by it’s direct-to-consumer approach and sustainable mission. A California native, Alexis started traveling at a young age, embarking on her first international solo trip at 13 years old, and she hasn’t stopped since. Currently, she splits her time between France and the United States.
Her website is: https://www.elsewhere.io/
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been drawn to adventure and new experiences, so I had a natural attraction to travel. Travel wasn’t my first career path, but it didn’t take me long to end up there. I took a solo trip to Southeast Asia after high school. All my friends were doing the Euro trip, but I wanted something different, something more exciting, and frankly, something cheaper. So I bought a round-trip ticket to Bangkok with no plans in between and took my first free-form adventure in a part of the world that was so alien to what I was used to. And I was hooked!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
It would be unfair not to address the elephant in the room here… which is Covid! The story of Elsewhere starts in 2020, yup — right in the middle of a global pandemic. My co-founder and I thought to ourselves, now seems like the perfect time to start a travel company…(ha!). It was a ludicrous idea. Covid had brought travel to a screeching halt. Many people had lost jobs (including the two of us) and no one knew whether the industry would ever be the same.
But my co-founder and I had this amazing network of in-destination agencies that were suddenly out of work, and the two of us realized that now was the perfect moment to start something new. We wanted to build a modern travel brand with a sustainably-driven purpose built into its foundations. And that’s how Elsewhere began. With no clear idea of what the world was going to look like post-Covid, let alone 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?
The funniest mistake we made when we started Elsewhere was thinking Covid would be over when we launched. We launched in mid-April, vaccine distribution had just begun en-masse, there were strong talks of international borders opening for summer, and a general light at the end of the tunnel for travel. But man, were we wrong! Covid is by far the most notable hurdle we’ve faced, but it’s in no way the only hurdle. There are lots of ups and downs an entrepreneur experiences, especially in the early days, and this was just one of them.
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?
Absolutely, although I would attribute it to two communities rather than individuals. We aren’t the pioneers of direct-to-local travel, and we aren’t the only travel company striving for positive change. We’ve been heavily influenced by those who have come before us, including travel companies we’ve worked with and who we still consider family. One of those legends is GeoEx (formerly Geographic Expeditions), and my first company in the travel space. GeoEx remains one of the highlights of my work career, both in office culture and their ability to create truly outstanding travel experiences. Honestly, they do some really incredible stuff. It was my introductory years at GeoEx that formally cemented my interest in the industry. The other is the B Corp community. Elsewhere wouldn’t be what it is without the support of the B Corp community and the inspiration we’ve gotten from other B Corp leaders. We built the foundations of our company around the B Corp framework and we continue to use the community as a sounding board on a regular basis.
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?
To showcase what’s unique about the business, it’s important to understand how the travel industry works. When you book your trip with a travel agency, this agency is booking with another company located in the host destination. Elsewhere cuts out the intermediary and connects travelers directly with these in-destination agencies. These agencies are the hidden heroes behind companies like National Geographic, Audley, Black Tomato and Intrepid. Rather than operating behind these names out of London or New York, Elsewhere cuts out the middle-man and allows these in-destination experts to craft trips directly with travelers. Not only is this more efficient, but it also creates a more extraordinary experience for the traveler, allowing them to see their destination through a local lens. For example, instead of booking a trip to Argentina with Gary in New York, you’re booking with Lucas in Buenos Aires, and Lucas is sharing his insight and local knowledge in a way that allows you to see and experience Argentina beneath the surface and in a deeper way than a typical tourist. This is surprisingly a big differentiator in the business.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
Put simply, our goal is to provide access to wildly unique trips. We are trying to disrupt the status quo of inauthentic, cookie-cutter tourism and we’re trying to disrupt the status quo of travel that doesn’t positively impact the host destination. We’re over standardized itineraries. We’re sick of travel blogs and Instagram pointing everyone to the same “secret” spots. And we’re over how hard it is to find responsible travel options that give back to the destination. We’re disrupting this status quo with a shockingly simple alternative — planning your trip with local experts. Because who knows a destination’s real secret spots better than a local, and who better to give you inside access than a local? This direct connection also puts control of tourism and its benefits into the hands of locals. It allows them to tell their own stories and nudge you toward activities and perspectives that you may not see in your social media feed or the glossy pages of magazines, but that will deeply enrich your journey.
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?
Never before have we been so confronted with how interconnected we are and how the actions of a single person can ripple throughout the world. Covid has brought to light our individual impact and changed our understanding of personal responsibility. Because of that, I am confident we will see a change in priorities surrounding travel. Travel will be less about stamp collecting and checking off bucket lists, and more about connecting deeply to the destination. Travel will move slower. Consumers will think about their impact on host destinations and prioritize travel that treads lightly or has a positive impact on host destinations.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
Last month I took a weekend trip to Procida, a small fishing island off the coast of Naples. Procida is across the bay and far from the bling of Capri and the Amalfi coast and is a more natural island away from the tourist crowds. We were told about an agriturismo with incredible food on the neighboring island of Ischia, so the next day we hopped on a ferry to check it out. The restaurant sits on top of a hill overlooking the entire bay of Naples, but to get to the restaurant, you have to climb to the top (our Apple watch calculated 70 staircases). Once we made it, we were greeted in Italian by Guiseppe, the agroturismo owner, and brought to a table overlooking the island and Gulf of Naples. Guiseppe told us to sit down and he’d take care of us. There was no menu, and no choice. The only question was, Rosso o Bianco (red or white)? Both of which were Guisseppe’s wines, grown and bottled himself on the agroturismo. And then the food started coming. It was whatever Giuseppe was cooking that day and all of the ingredients were grown on the agroturismo. The food was simple, but delicious, and we reflected on how this moment was our definition of pure luxury. That is my idea of 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.
Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. The travel experience I find people appreciate the most is the authentic and genuine interactions with people they meet. We crave connection and yearn for the authenticity that comes from interacting directly with local people. These interactions and genuine connections with locals are what makes travel meaningful, exciting, and gratifying. Yet in this hyper-connected world, opportunities for true connection are frustratingly absent. The best way to create this is to work directly with a local. Someone who loves their country and knows it inside and out. Working with a local allows travelers the opportunity to see beneath the surface of a country and experience a new place with unique insight. Travel built on local insight opens travelers up to unique perspectives by allowing them to see their destination with new eyes.
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. Human connection — Genuine connections with local people are what makes travel meaningful, exciting, and gratifying. These are the life-changing interactions our clients remember most.
2. Go local — Don’t trail after the hordes of people following that Instagram pin. You traveled to experience something different. Connect with locals and allow them to show you a side of their country most tourists don’t have access to. Get beneath the surface and experience their country from their perspective.
3. Get out of your comfort zone — If you’re not a dancer, jump on the dance floor anyway. If you’re not sure about something on the menu, order it. Even if you don’t enjoy the result, this is what traveling is all about.
4. Take the extra bus — It’s always that extra leg of the journey that takes you somewhere that much more special and that much more untouched. Buy the extra ticket, it’s worth it.
5. Choose restaurants by the ones with no English menu — In quality and in atmosphere, these ones are always the best.
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Absolutely. We are a values-driven company, so a mission to do-good is baked into our DNA. Most people talk about the environmental aspect when they discuss sustainable travel, but there is so much more that goes into being a truly do-good company. Yes, we carbon offset each trip and support reforestation projects and ocean plastic removal. But where we see our greatest impact is through social and economic change. 1 in 10 people globally work in tourism and, on average, they don’t meet the basic requirements of fair pay and safe working conditions. At Elsewhere, we thoroughly audit our entire supply chain to ensure proper wages and safe working conditions. We privilege women and other underrepresented members of society and ensure there is access to equal opportunities and career advancement. We also focus on reinvesting in local communities economically. 80% of low-income countries focus on tourism as a means of improving their economic situation, but on average as little as 10–30% of money spent on a vacation is actually invested back into those local economies. At Elsewhere, we privilege locals at every turn and ensure that your tourist dollars are funneled back into the communities, empowering them with access to long-term, locally based income.
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. :-)
Our movement would be to mainstream better travel — travel that is more ethical, more sustainable, and more responsible, all while being truly extraordinary.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can pick their poison.
-For on-the-ground inspo, they can follow our instagram at @elsewhere.io.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About The Interviewer: Savio P. Clemente coaches cancer survivors to overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and to cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board Certified wellness coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), stage 3 cancer survivor, podcaster, writer, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC.
Savio pens a weekly newsletter at thehumanresolve.com where he delves into secrets from living smarter to feeding your “three brains” — head 🧠, heart 💓, and gut 🤰 — in hopes of connecting the dots to those sticky parts in our nature that matter.
He has been featured on Fox News, and has collaborated with Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, Food Network, WW, and Bloomberg. His mission is to offer clients, listeners, and viewers alike tangible takeaways in living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.
Savio lives in the suburbs of Westchester County, New York and continues to follow his boundless curiosity. He hopes to one day live out a childhood fantasy and explore outer space.