Katalina Mayorga has perfected the art of exploration and created a truly unique experience with her company, El Camino Travel. Her mantra is to "be a traveler, not a tourist", and she makes that possible by organizing exciting group excursions to Columbia, Cuba and Nicaragua. Read on to discover how Katalina formed her business, her top three tips for utilizing social media, and how to capture the moment while also being in the moment.
Tell us about yourself and how the idea for your company came to be. Your business is unique compared to other group travel companies. What sets you apart from the rest?
I never had the intention of starting a travel company. Before El Camino Travel I was working as a consultant in the field of international development and getting to work with some of brightest minds tackling massive global problems. However, two "aha" moments on a work trip to Guatemala dramatically changed my professional trajectory. The first moment was noticing how often tourists were always looking at beautiful landscapes through the screen of their phone. This was when I realized the experience of travel has considerably shifted with mobile technology and social media. Travel has become about capturing every moment and FOMO rather than indulging in the cultural experience unfolding in front of you. The second was a conversation with a taxi driver. We had been discussing the violence in Central American that has heightened around the drug industry, and out of nowhere, he told me that he was grateful for tourism, because t provided a reliable and high paying income. The only other industry that could compete with what he is making in tourism is the drug industry — "thank God for tourism it is keeping me out of the drug industry." Three years later, El Camino Travel has taken close to 400 travelers to 5 different countries, providing them with immersive travel experiences through small group travel. What makes us different is that we tap into the local creative economies of the destinations we travel to. We pull in entrepreneurs, artists, designers, and other folks who are not normally part of the tourism circuit to create unique and one-of-a-kind experiences that provide our travelers with diverse perspectives into the places we are visiting, while allowing them to generate income through their passions. Also, all trips include a super talented photographer who documents the whole journey and provides edited images each day so our travelers can go back to living in the moment. This was my answer to what I saw in Guatemala. However, it is important to note that if you are coming on our trips just to get "Instagram worthy" photos of yourself, we are not the right travel company for you.
Your motto is to "be a traveler, not a tourist". What does this mean for you and why is it important?
This means that you are not traveling to a destination just to get the perfect Instagram photo and/or you feel the need to document every moment so you can fill your social feeds. Instead, you prioritize seeking experiences that allow you to be immersed in the varied aspects of the local culture. You are open-minded, inherently curious, and enjoy indulging in the moment. A traveler finds joy in stepping outside of their comfort zone, loves trying new things, and is excited to explore a culture completely different from their own. I understand when traveling to a new place you are often overwhelmed by all the visual stimulation (everything is new!), but there is an important balancing act. When there is constantly a screen between you and another person, it makes it hard to form a genuine connection with those you meet while traveling. Document your experience for sure, but do not feel the need to document EVERYTHING. When your head is down all the time, you are more likely to miss out on the spontaneous moments that allow you to truly be a traveler.
Who is the target demographic for your company? How do you market to your audience and which social platforms do you utilize the most to do so?
Our target demographic is what we call the Activist Wayfarer and what we feel represents the spirit of El Camino Travel. Activist Wayfarers are intentional adventurers. They express this by: living in the moment, not just seeking to capture it (the present is a gift); spending money on experiences, over things; choosing local, over global (street food for the win); storytelling and advocating, as a means to teach, inspire, and catalyze change; and seeking new experiences to explore themselves, as much as the world around them. At the heart of all these acts is the virtue of "meaningful growth." The Activist Wayfarer uses his/her power of courage, openness, virtue, passion, and knowledge to help benefit self in a way that benefits other: they believe utmost that these two motivations can and should co-exist. We always keep this persona at the heart of everything we do—from designing our trips to the to our copy and voice throughout our social platforms and newsletter. Instagram has by far been the best platform to leverage this content, communicate our brand values, and build our community of activist wayfarers.
There are so many opportunities for great photos while traveling. How do you narrow down your social media strategy and what are your top 3 tips when it comes to a business doing IG right?
Every week we list out our marketing objectives and business goals for the week. This helps us to quickly map out the type of content and copy we want to push out through our social media channels. PLANOLY has been critical in helping us do this in an efficient and timely process so that we can focus on other aspects of growing a small business. In doing this, we have learned a few things –
- We put a significant focus on candid and dynamic images because this best shows off our "live in the moment" mentality. Also, there has been actual research that observers react more favorably to candid photos, feel more interested in getting to know or date them, and like them more. They feel that candids provide a more authentic sense of who the poster is.
- Mix in more organic content from your community. This shows that our community is much bigger than just ourselves and it is an easy way to grow it, recognize it, and makes them feel special.
- Start adding video. It does not have to be perfectly polished, but it allows your community to see a whole other side of your business personality and it allows them to experience your brand in a new way. We are now integrating short clips from our trips directly into our feed, so potential travelers get transported directly to our destinations, by hearing its sounds (the street music, the language, etc) and experiencing the local personalities. These are opportunities to engage them that we simply can't get from an image.
How do you capture the moment while also being in the moment?
We let our photographers be in charge of capturing the moment, but I know that is a rare instance for most travelers. Honestly, force yourself to put your phone down. Indulge your other senses. Focus on what you are hearing, smelling, and tasting. Stay as hyper-focused on that as you would in figuring out the perfect filter. Write down what you experienced and savor those memories just as much as you would your likes and comments.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs with a unique business idea?
I wrote a whole blog post on this, because we often get asked about starting a travel company. My top piece of advice is that ideas are meant to live in the wild so tell everyone your idea. This may seem counterintuitive at first. You might be concerned that people will copy or steal your idea, but telling everyone I knew about this concept of bringing a photographer along on trips is what confirmed we were onto something special. I was met with an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. I heard over and over again, that it was such a simple concept, but a brilliant one. Many asked why no one had done it. Though the general response was positive, I also received a lot of questions and feedback that helped me to better define El Camino Travel as we decided to move forward with it. It allowed me to quickly figure out the gaps and what aspects of the business plan we needed to better think through.