Erika De Santi of WeRoad On How To Create A Travel Experience That Coming Back For More
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
We leverage our social media presence to continuously engage with our community and help amplify our vision of connecting people, culture and stories. Millennials typically travel two to three times a year but thanks to the spontaneously organised events among our community, the strength of our online interactions and stories shared across our channels, people get to continuously live and breathe our brand.
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 Travel expert Erika De Santi is Co-Founder and International Expansion Director at WeRoad.
A Masters graduate in Tourism from the University of Surrey, UK, she brought her understanding of the travel industry, and how it was losing touch with the real needs and wants of its younger audiences, to the development of the WeRoad brand. Last year Erika was recognised in Fortune Italy’s 40 under 40 alongside other entrepreneurs, influencers, creators, and executives that have shaped the global pandemic experience.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Travel has always been a great passion of mine, so I decided to explore this further and study the sector at university. I graduated with a degree in Tourism Marketing from the University of Surrey.
I soon realised that I could turn my passion into a career. This ultimately led me to my current position — Co-Founder and International Expansion Director at leading adventure travel social brand, WeRoad. I’m currently leading our UK operations in London as well as our expansion to France and Germany.
Prior to launching WeRoad, I worked in business development at Emozione3, part of the Wish Days Group, which was acquired by Smartbox, the European leader in experience gifts, in 2016. Last year I was recognised in Fortune Italy’s 40 under 40 alongside other entrepreneurs, influencers, creators, and executives that have shaped the global pandemic experience.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
People are the core of our business, so of course, the most interesting stories are related to them: our WeRoaders.
We have had musicians becoming travel coordinators and then managers; people finding their business partners; people meeting their soul mates and eventually getting married; people becoming team members and then entrepreneurs; people leaving their corporate jobs for the startup life; people moving to another city and immediately feeling at home because of the local WeRoad community; people travelling as coordinators, only to fall in love with a destination, marry a local girl/guy and then open up their own business; and many, many more! I love collecting all of these unique stories because, without WeRoad, none of them would have been possible.
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?
On my first day at WeRoad, I had to call a WeRoader (a customer) to tell her that her trip was being cancelled due to an unforeseen event. It was my first customer call, so I decided to provide a full refund even though we weren’t obliged to. I spent a solid two hours on the phone with her, eventually turning her into one of our most loyal WeRoaders. She went on to complete more than seven trips with the Italian WeRoad community, and when she moved to Spain, she continued to travel with the Spanish community.
She also gifted me souvenirs after her first troublesome trip and applied to become a travel coordinator at a Bootcamp in Naples, where after three years, we finally met!
The lesson learnt here is to trust your instinct in business — even if you’re new! Because ultimately, some of our biggest ‘mistakes’ could lead to our biggest successes.
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 co-founders Paolo and Fabio were instrumental in getting us through our bootstrap phase. Before starting WeRoad, I’d launched my own business — managing co-living spaces for digital nomads — and I learnt how challenging it can be to run a startup alone. While this was an invaluable experience, running the business day to day without the support of a co-founder was very tough.
Moreover, as cheesy as it may be, the real success factor (person) in my career has always been my partner, who is always there to support me through thick and thin. I really value his opinion and, he’s supported me during the pandemic challenges and has helped me grow in self-confidence and as a professional.
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?
WeRoad is a social and adventure travel brand that is reinventing group travel for millennials. Our group tours are unlike any other in the industry, and in 5 years we’ve taken 50k+ customers (WeRoaders) all over the world.
Our tours are designed to be life-changing: we push people out of their comfort zones and help them discover faraway lands, but also enable them to connect with fellow travellers and make friends.
We ensure every itinerary has the right blend of elements to help foster meaningful relationships and create life changing experiences. A tour doesn’t last forever, but a friendship does, especially one built on incredible shared moments.
Social media and community building sit at the heart of our business and it’s this innovative approach which has made us one of the fastest growing travel operators in Europe with offices in Italy, Spain and the UK, and plans to launch in France, Germany, Benelux and the Nordics by next year.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
Your late 20s, 30s and early 40s is a time we hit a number of milestones — be it new relationships, jobs, kids, marriage, new house — as such it’s increasingly challenging to organise trips with friends all on different paths. It’s also harder to meet new people and with 64% of millennials not in a stable relationship, there is growing demand for group travel solutions from millennials wanting to travel the world but wanting to share the experience with others.
This was a situation myself and my co-founders found ourselves in. We found that existing tours did not meet this need. So, we decided to build a travel community and tour operator designing and delivering incredible life-changing, and off the beaten track experiences to appeal to millennials. Now, WeRoad offers genuine opportunities to create life-long friendships while making it easier for people to travel solo by grouping like-minded individuals.
In addition, our tours are led by our 1,000-plus — and growing — “travel coordinators”. Like WeRoaders, they’re passionate travellers eager to discover faraway lands, make friends and have life-changing experiences. They’re not full-time tour guides, nor local experts, but fellow travellers that have additional organisational responsibilities (and perks!).
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?
Travel dogmas were challenged after the pandemic, and a more conscious, positive and constructive discussion has started around the tourism supply chain, the economic, social and environmental impact of our work, as well as ways of better communicating with the end-consumer. Flexibility will be key as will always putting the customer at the centre.
Some key aspects that will change are:
- Distribution channels — The pandemic has led to skyrocketing demand for fully digital services with integrated experiences now standard for customers. As such tour operators cannot exist without a digital strategy
- Flexibility — in relation to the booking conditions and co-creation of the experience. Many tour operators are moving towards dynamic packaging to enable the customer to fully personalise the experience
- Destinations — domestic trips and medium distance destinations have grown again in popularity due to cost of flights, more sustainable approach
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
My perfect vacation experience would include all of the WeRoad ‘travel moods’: adventure, city and culture, party and relaxation. This is because I want to fully experience and savour every aspect of the destination and culture I explore. I think travel wouldn’t be complete without getting fully immersed into a destination’s natural and cultural elements.
Moreover, vacations are a time to reflect, disconnect and reconnect with oneself and the people you’re travelling with. So, having different experiences and moments to achieve each of these goals is fundamental for it to be the “perfect” and fulfilling holiday.
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.
The personal growth of our WeRoaders is a key consideration for us. It plays a key part in the design and development of our itineraries and is something we also factor in when we designate groups to enable (as far as possible) the optimum conditions to foster the personal growth of our travellers.
Before departure, every WeRoader receives an email from all founders with our wish for an excellent and life-changing experience, as well as some questions to guide a self-reflective and meditative moment, making the trip transformative from the get go.
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.
- We leverage our social media presence to continuously engage with our community and help amplify our vision of connecting people, culture and stories. Millennials typically travel two to three times a year but thanks to the spontaneously organised events among our community, the strength of our online interactions and stories shared across our channels, people get to continuously live and breathe our brand.
- Hire the best talent — When we think of our ‘favourite’ trips, sure, we think of some kick-ass destinations, but in all honesty, they’re not our favourites because the scenery was awesome, but rather because of the connections made or nurtured. That’s where the travel coordinator comes in. Our coordinators provide a WeRoad live presence during the trips. They manage the itinerary, logistics and relationships with local partners and crucially, they’re trained to manage the group dynamics. They help people get to know each other, boost moods during long transfers, they manage the flexible component of our trips tailoring the last mile of the experience and adapting it to fit with the group’s interests. They also create some incredible spontaneous moments which really make the trips.
- Ditch conventional — Millennials are the “bucket list” and FOMO generation and off-the-beaten-track experiences and must-see/do activities resonate the most. Conventional holidays have lost traction with this cohort who don’t want to be treated as consumers of a product but as participants in a community of like-minded people, and we’ve embedded these aspects into the DNA of our travel experiences.
- A tailored itinerary — We ensure every itinerary has the right blend of elements to help foster meaningful relationships and create life-changing experiences. Our tours are designed to be life-changing: we push people out of their comfort zones and help them discover faraway lands, but also enable them to connect with fellow travellers and make friends and getting the right mix of elements is crucial. A tour doesn’t last forever, but a friendship does, especially one built on incredible shared moments.
- Develop a strong sense of belonging and community — In the majority of cases people travelling with us are having their first intercontinental experience. Our WeRoaders community then becomes a huge bank of intel and advice which everyone can benefit from. It was a huge compliment when WeRoaders started using the phrase “let’s do a WeRoad,” as a way of travelling and exploring the world.
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
At WeRoad, we have a social responsibility: educating people to travel around the world while respecting local cultures, the environment, and the people they’re travelling with. We’re also responsible for pushing people outside their comfort zones, thus broadening their horizons and putting them in contact with people they would never have met otherwise. In the frantic world we all live in, the impact of connecting people with others is incredibly important and powerful.
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. :-)
We help people get out of their comfort zone and to reconnect with themselves and with society. I’d focus on developing a “rebooting your life” programme, enabling people to travel, make new connections and volunteer in local communities.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
As you would expect WeRoad is very active on social media — find us on any of these platforms:
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!