How a Game-Changing Travel Company Launched in COVID Times
The story of elsewhere starts in 2020. That’s right—smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic, we two travel industry veterans thought to ourselves, now seems like the perfect time to start a new travel company.
It was a ludicrous idea. The COVID-19 virus 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 to us, this was a chance to shape the future of travel, to spark a renaissance that would radically improve the way travelers and destinations experience tourism.
You see, after a combined two decades in the industry—Craig was a guide, Alexis worked in global sales and operations, and we both spent years working behind the scenes—we know how travel can ignite curiosity, connect people across borders, and uplift communities. But we are really frustrated with the widespread, inauthentic, cookie-cutter tourism that somehow benefits neither the traveler nor the destinations.
We’re sick of Google and Instagram pointing everyone to the same “secret” spots. We’re over standardized itineraries and outdated, anti-modern views of local cultures and how hard it is to find responsible travel options. And we are really, really tired of destinations only getting 10 to 30 percent of your tourism dollars. That’s right—most of your travel dollars actually leave the destination thanks to big Western booking aggregators and hotel chains.
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
During the weeks and months of pandemic lockdowns, we regularly found ourselves conversing with the guides, hoteliers, writers, and other travel industry professionals that we call friends about how we might use this time to address problems like these. And the two of us realized that, rather than changing things from the inside, we could start something new with solutions built into its foundations.
We believe that we can create a better style of travel by being the bridge that connects travelers directly to savvy, interesting, passionate travel professionals in their destination of choice.
It’s a shockingly simple alternative: By planning your trip with our local experts—rather than spending precious free time doing it yourself or paying someone at a big company that’s probably based in your home country anyways to do it for you—you get access to actual insider information. Who knows a destination’s real secret spots better than a local? And who better to vet a kayak rental company or a historical tour guide than someone who works right down the street? And with their knowledge and commitment to inclusive travel, our local experts can help you navigate new places safely, no matter what.
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.
What’s more, we are obsessively and transparently committed to ensuring that the majority of the money you spend stays in the place you visit. Our local experts privilege smaller, mom-and-pop hotels, restaurants, and activity providers, rather than big, multi-national chains. Even your expert’s cut is staying in the community, since they live there too.
Finally, the elsewhere model champions regenerative travel—a kind of travel that goes beyond mitigating environmental damage to actually make the world a better place. Our tiny team at elsewhere headquarters (just Alexis, Craig, and our social media genius, Jordan) works with our experts to do the research, the screening, and the background checks in order to present you with not just the most sustainable travel options, but the most ethical ones too.
Because you should have options! The best travel experiences are those that align with your dreams and with your values, whether that’s tracking the elusive Gobi bear on the Mongolian steppe with a local female guide or heading out on a horseback riding safari in the Okavango Delta with a conservation specialist. All we want to do is help you find those options just by changing how and with whom you plan your trips.
We aren’t the pioneers of direct-to-local travel, and we aren’t the only travel company striving for positive change. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those who came before us, including the legends with whom we’ve worked and who we still consider family.
But COVID has made big changes inevitable for the travel industry. It changed many people’s stories—including those of our friends, colleagues, and partners in the industry. It changed our stories. As the world begins to open back up, now is time to change the story of travel for good.
Alexis Bowen + Craig Zapatka