Jessica Sueiro of WorldTowning: The Future of Travel in The Post Covid World
…Hospitality companies will need to adjust their refund policy to include COVID-related refunds or guests will not take the risk of booking with them.
As part of my series about “developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Sueiro.
A status-quo dropout, Jessica Sueiro is an avid adventurer who has been traveling the world — one hometown at a time — since 2014. Together with her husband Will and their free-spirited children, Avalon and Largo, the family have visited 70 countries in their quest to provide a global education for their children, while building a deeper bond as a family. While making memories, this vagabonding family also likes to focus on the humanitarian side of travel, embracing the cultures they discover along the way and giving back to the communities they grow to love.
Over the past six years, these ‘WorldTowners’ have found themselves hiking 580 miles along the Camino Trail in Spain, motor homing through every country in Europe, and, most recently, buying a sailboat to sail the world’s oceans. Upbeat and ready for adventure, Jessica is a voracious dreamer and glass-is-half-full type of gal — even when the glass is shattered into 1,000 pieces and her super glue is dried up.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In 2014, my partner and I, plus our two kids, decided to explore living a travel lifestyle. The journey to make our dream a reality was painful. We had to live in our nine to five, stationary world while planning for our new nomadic life. When we sat down each night to research education, medical insurance, visas, housing, etc we were exhausted. Almost daily we would look at each other and say, “can we really do this, we are so tired!” We did it, but the process was riddled with roadblocks.
Several years into our new travel lifestyle we came up with the idea to start our business WorldTowning. We wanted to coach those looking for a “longer than a vacation” adventure in another country and streamline all the processes, so that they wouldn’t have to waste time researching. Most information online is written by people who have never traveled full-time, and as a result it is consistently inaccurate. Within a year of launching this business, our YouTube channel viewers encouraged us to host a group trip. Taking on a project of that magnitude scared the heck out of us. After much deliberation, we launched the second part of our business, WorldTowning Voyages, where we host group trips in countries across the globe.
However, what really led us to this career was not the encouragement of others, although that was affirming, it was our passion. We have an everlasting passion for immersive travel. We believe travel, above anything else, can change the world. We have seen it firsthand. We want more people to dive into immersive travel and believe that we can achieve that goal by sharing our first-hand experiences on YouTube, coaching and hosting group trips.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When we hosted our first group trip, we had no idea what to expect. We thought people would behave as they do on an all-inclusive vacation — we would laugh a lot and they would go home saying they had a fabulous time. But what came out of the experience was more profound. The individuals on our trip experienced travel outside of their comfort zones and it deeply changed them as human beings.
Throughout the trip, there were several occasions where folks were overcome by their emotions. When you travel beyond sterile Club Med-style resorts, you obtain a more immersive experience. You feel the reality of a situation, which is sometimes heartwarming and other times painful. We witnessed our group of tourists become travelers. They transitioned from treating each other as strangers to embracing one another’s emotions — offering assistance, hugs and a chat over Moroccan mint tea.
Each individual grew personally and expanded their level of compassion. They began to understand a country and its people far beyond what they had seen in the media or heard from a friend. We knew from this first trip that we had found our true calling. All we wanted to do was continue hosting immersive group trips around the globe.
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 don’t know if it is funny, but it will save someone a bundle of money. Use what you have, ask friends for help and social media is your best friend. When we started out, we dropped $13,000 USD on a website and a video. I would never do that again with a start-up. There are so many templates these days to make your own website — use them. You will be grateful to have that money when slow times strike. COVID is a perfect example of this.
Also, there is so much you can do with social media and grassroots marketing. There is no need to hire a marketing professional — hack it. We learned this one the hard way as well. When we launched our first WorldTowning University class, no one signed up through our email funnel or other marketing tactics that our freelancer had suggested. They all came through our YouTube or IG social media accounts where we had worked hard to build our community.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
My partner, Will, and I have spent a lifetime pushing ourselves to the extreme in order to live our wildest dreams. It has always worked well, but two things happened that made us change our perspective a bit. First, we had children and second, we started traveling full-time. Our natural tendency is to keep pushing forward, we work hard and play hard, but recently we started to feel a bit tired.
When you run a start-up, travel as a lifestyle, homeschool two kids, run a YouTube channel and adventure, there is not much time left to recharge. We have never felt burn out from our business, but from our pace, yes. Balance is key, we are constantly a work-in-progress. These days, we want to work a little less and spend time embracing other interests and making memories. For us, recharging with our kids and exploring the world enriches our business and relationships.
My recommendation is to have hobbies that take you away from your travel business and force you to rest or recharge, especially if it is not your tendency. Second, hire an assistant. One of the best decisions we made was to hire a VA. She streamlined a lot of processes and removed items from my plate which gave me time to grow the business.
Finally, you may not feel like you are burning out because you love what you do, but there will come a time when your body tells you otherwise. Listen to your body and better yet, take preventative measures before it gets to that point. It is tough to bring your body back to health but much easier to treat it well from the beginning. Sleep, drink water, meditate, exercise, read and just pause from time to time. Your business will be ok.
After six years of this travel lifestyle, you would think Will and I have mastered the art of balance, right? Still, to this day, we remind ourselves of old lessons. Three years into this lifestyle, we bought an RV to visit every country in Europe. During the first six months we acted like vacationers. We worked hard all week and come Friday we visited sites, explored, dined out, etc. until late Sunday night. Then we drove to the next location to start work early Monday morning. It almost wrecked us. This is when we had to check in and remember we were not on vacation; we could not see it all and we needed to slow down. It was the best decision and a lesson that we internalized. We have yet to repeat that mistake.
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 partner in life and business, Will! We run our business WorldTowning together — Will oversees our YouTube channel and everything surrounding it, I handle the other aspects of our business and we do the coaching together. When I built our first group trip, I did it solely on my own, with his input at certain benchmarks. The project felt so massive at times that I could not envision it all coming together. Will is a former accountant and has an amazing knack for breaking tasks down into manageable pieces via Excel. I hadn’t used Excel much before building our trip and was scared of using it. With his guidance and positive encouragement, I built a trip without any hiccups. Now I love Excel and can’t imagine building anything without it.
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?
Our WorldTowning Voyages group trips have focused on immersive, less touristy, small group and intentional travel since inception. Now, more than ever, an increasing number of travelers are seeking this travel style. Our immersive experiences connect the traveler to local communities in a way that no other group trips do. We can accomplish this because we personally host each trip and we only work with vendors who we have relationships with.
We work on quality, not volume, and our vendors know we value their efforts and contributions. As a result, each vendor is vested in producing a unique experience for our guests rather than a rinse and repeat one. We only offer trips in countries where we have spent a minimum of three months exploring. Often, we will have an experience, like dinner at a friend of a friend’s mom’s house, then we ask the host if they would like to offer this to our trip attendees — in exchange for payment, of course.
We recognize that Club Med inclusive travel will always exist, but a person who wants a unique, local experience will need to seek out a company like ours that focuses on “off the beaten path,” immersive adventures. Our trips also offer the experience of traveling with a full-time traveling family. We are sensitive, global citizens who work to understand the world’s myriad of cultures, politics, and languages — all necessary efforts to create a fruitful group trip.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?
Many group travel companies hire locals to run their trips who are not vested in the learning process and guest experience. It is a job with a paycheck at the end of the day. We constantly hear complaints about how those trips are cookie cutter, the guides are mentally checked out and very little is included in the price. If you want to have cool experiences on those trips you have to pay extra, for example riding a camel in Morocco.
The pain point we solve is to ensure group trip guests leave a trip full, enlightened, and connected rather than feeling empty. Our trips inspire the traveler in each tourist, they no longer feel like just a number, lost in a sea of lifeless touristy experiences. They leave our trips knowing they could not get this experience on their own and that we have shown them the real heart and soul of the country.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
Tour groups make their profit via volume, which means they cut corners on their guide and food quality and make unique experiences cost extra. They water it all down. When we, as the competition, come in and offer high quality experiences at a 5-star rating then this upsets businesses that offer uniform, robotic tours.
WorldTowning Voyages is not focused on getting rich. We focus on sustaining and growing in a way that prioritizes quality and authenticity.
As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share 5 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?
- We are noticing that the tour group industry is offering smaller groups. Gone are the days of 60 people on a mega tour bus.
- Second, tour groups will need to have strict procedures in place to protect guests from COVID, which means wearing masks in areas of the world that could still be affected, providing hand sanitizer, staying clear of crowded areas and much more. This will be a bit of a necessary hassle for travel companies, plus guests will demand it.
- Third, when the vaccine is available, I see many companies requiring it if you want to be a guest on their trip.
- Fourth, city trips will take some time to grow again, but trips to nature and less-populated lands will surge.
- Finally, hospitality companies will need to adjust their refund policy to include COVID-related refunds or guests will not take the risk of booking with them.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
We just moved onto a boat and are learning to sail. Boat life is fast and exhausting and has been a steep learning curve. My perfect vacation would be relaxing on a remote beach with a good book and my family. This is a huge shift for me because my ideal vacation has typically been to go somewhere new and completely outside my comfort zone — I am not a big fan of revisiting locations. I feel most alive and happy when I cannot recognize the food, understand the language and the culture perplexes me. But after the year we’ve had, a quiet beach sounds perfect to me.
Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We bring business to small, family run outfits in developing countries through our group trips. In addition, we have an optional, one day volunteer component to our trips, that all guests usually want to participate in. We donate a percentage of our proceeds to the organizations that we work with for those volunteer days. Once COVID is over and we get our trips back up and running, we would like to offer a scholarship to a different teen per trip so they can join us; we are still developing this idea.
We use our YouTube channel to showcase all the amazing people we have met across the globe since we started traveling. This helps future travelers become less afraid, reduces prejudices, and shares how we, as humans, are all very much alike. Our channel lessens the fear of traveling to foreign lands and opens hearts.
Finally, our group trips enable folks to travel to places they have never experienced. As a result, their minds open tremendously. They bring what they learn abroad back home and share it with friends and family. This encourages more travel and a wider understanding of the world’s people. This is why immersive travel is so important, now more than ever. People could go to Morocco, stay at the Marriott and eat mac n’ cheese, but what good would that do?
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. :-)
On a small scale, it would be an intentional and immersive travel movement that would aim to become more popular than all-inclusive vacation. A movement that would make our style of authentic trips the norm rather than Disney or Club Med getaways.
On a large scale, I would love to fund a movement where it is a requirement for every high schooler to spend a gap year in a foreign country living like a local. I know this is outrageous (how would we fund it?) but after six years of full-time travel, we truly believe travel can solve almost any problem. Right now, the big problem is that not enough people are traveling, they are vacationing — there is a difference between the two.
How can our readers follow you on social media? We are WorldTowning on all social media. Links below.