- Start-Up Success: How Two Inspired Entrepreneurs Built A Travel Business In A Pandemic
Start-Up Success: How Two Inspired Entrepreneurs Built A Travel Business In A Pandemic
Discover how travel veterans, Alexis Bowen and Craig Zapataka, successfully built and launched a travel business in a pandemic with help from Canva.
As news of the 2020 pandemic swept the world, the global tourism industry came to a grinding halt as countries began issuing travel restrictions and airlines grounded flights around the world.
For colleagues and travel industry veterans, Alexis Bowen and Craig Zapatka, that sudden disruption meant being among the millions of travel employees globally who lost their jobs overnight.
The sudden shuttering of the industry was felt far and wide, including the network of local travel experts and in-destination agents Alexis and Craig had spent years working with were also now without work.
“It was a rough time, and no one knew whether the travel industry would ever be the same,” Alexis tells Canva.
Both without work amid a global pandemic, Alexis, a San Francisco native, and Craig, from Savannah, could not have imagined a new chapter as owners of their own travel business lay ahead.
Launching A Travel Company In A Pandemic
With close to 20 years of experience in the travel industry between them, Alexis and Craig had witnessed the changing state of travel and how local communities and businesses were being overlooked by some of the bigger travel agencies.
Their new business idea vowed to change that and create a more sustainable model of tourism, one that benefits travelers and the destinations they visit.
“It seemed like a crazy idea at the time, but to me and Craig it was a chance to shape the future of travel.”
“We had this amazing network of in-destination agencies that were suddenly out of work and asking us for help. The two of us realized that now was the perfect moment to start something new and build a modern brand with a sustainably-driven purpose-built into its foundations,” Alexis said.
Together, the duo co-founded Elsewhere in the fall of 2020, creating a sustainably-driven travel booking platform that connects travelers with local on-the ground experts to create bespoke trips of a lifetime.
Elsewhere prides itself on offering travelers wildly unique experiences and positive impact trips, all built on local insight.
The Elsewhere point of difference? The company ensures the bulk of those tourism dollars stay in the destination, uplifting local communities with access to long-term, locally based income, whilst offsetting the carbon footprint of each trip.
“We’re focusing on making travel a force-for-good, while creating unforgettable experiences for travelers,” Alexis said. “Our goal is to mainstream travel better – travel that is more ethical, more sustainable, and more responsible, and to provide incredible trips to incredible destinations.”
Building A Brand With Canva
Elsewhere officially launched to the public in April 2021 as a self funded travel start-up. Alexis and Craig poured their life savings into building their new business from the ground up with no marketing budget.
That meant taking control of their outgoings and utilizing tools that would deliver maximum results with minimum spend and resources.
“We started building out our concept and brand, put a heavy focus on photos and videos, and a clean tech-aesthetic,” Alexis said.
“We didn’t have a lot of resources so we started to create awareness through social media, designing posts and [Instagram] stories. Everything was built on Canva. Canva allowed us to create a modern and beautiful brand on a shoestring and with no design background.”
Social Media As A Brand-Building Tool
The boot-strapped launch strategy worked. Within two months of going live with Elsewhere, at a time when parts of the world were still battling lockdowns and COVID complications, Alexis and Craig sold enough trips to cover their operating costs and have been profitable ever since.
“Our social networks exploded. Within four months we had 12,000 followers and we've received hundreds of trip requests per month. Social media was an incredibly important tool for us because it meant we could reach a wide audience with no marketing spend,” Alexis said.
Elsewhere’s entire brand and business strategy is focused on targeting travel-loving millennials, many of whom are active social media users. To date, 66 percent of Elsewhere trips are booked by millennials.
“Millennials are a generation we know and understand, and they are also a generation that values travel, particularly international travel,” Alexis said.
Elsewhere’s research shows that millennials take 2.6 international trips per year, prioritize traveling “like a local”, and prefer to travel with a provider that shows environmental responsibility.
“We knew this target audience would be easily reached via social media and our strategy worked,” she notes.
Looking To 2022 And Beyond
As Alexis and Craig approach their one-year business anniversary, the Elsewhere story is just getting started. The company has been on an upward trajectory since day one and has caught the attention of other global brands, such as GoPro, which recently partnered with Elsewhere to launch a new camera in Guyana.
New carefully crafted group travel experiences are also an area of focus for travel customers this year.
“In 2022, we’re excited to launch Small Group Trips. These will be curated trips with groups of 10 to 12 people, to a selection of really amazing places,” Alexis said.
“We have ambitions to grow Elsewhere, while still retaining our heart.”
Alexis’s Advice For Aspiring Entrepreneurs Building A Business
“Keep operating costs as low as possible and reinvest everything back into your business. Being scrappy means being creative and utilizing every means possible to build your business and get ahead.”
Persistence is key
“There are always setbacks, but don’t lose your fire. Any action is progress.”
Listen to your customers
“You may not want to hear the feedback, but it is always valuable.”
Ask ‘What are we not doing?’
“The focus is often on our to-do list and what needs to be done. The more important question is to ask ‘What are we not doing?’. Step back from the everyday to-do list and look at the bigger picture.”
Create your dream travel experience or find out more about Elsewhere here.