“Pivot” has been the theme of the travel industry in 2020 as the world came to a screeching halt and almost all travel stopped with the pandemic.
But for Shelby Dziwulski, changing course is familiar.
If you would have told her five years ago that she’d work in the travel industry, she would have laughed. At the time, she was a Search and Rescue helicopter pilot for the US Navy, based out of Japan and working long hours. Today, she’s the CEO of the sustainable travel concierge Authenteco Travel, a company that has increased sales by 200% during a global pandemic.
The next pivot she wants to see? The entire travel industry.
A Navy Pilot Turned Environmentalist
Ever since watching the movie Top Gun as a young girl, Shelby Dziwulski wanted to be a pilot. She craved the thrill of flying and the adventure of exploring new places. That childhood dream was finally realized when she became a Navy Search and Rescue helicopter pilot.
Shelby and her husband moved to Japan to start her career as a Navy pilot. She spent six months of every year on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean flying missions.
Occasional port calls gave her five days to rest her sea legs in dreamy destinations such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia.
Except, she didn’t rest.
“Most of my coworkers wanted to eat the delicious food and sleep in a comfortable bed because they were tired of living in a big gray floating box in the middle of the ocean for months on end,” Shelby says. “But I didn’t feel that way. I wanted to explore. I wanted to visit street markets, understand the culture, meet locals, and do all the things.”
Traveling abroad made her realize how much more there is to learn about the world and how special it is to learn about a new culture from the locals’ perspective.
Shelby worked hard with long hours year-round while stationed in Japan. Her job was mentally and physically exhausting. That made her vacation time even more precious. She avidly researched and planned her vacations to ensure they were absolutely perfect.
They weren’t always perfect, though.
On the recommendation of a friend, she visited Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site located in Vietnam, which is where Shelby experienced her first tourist trap. The fairytale images she saw on Instagram failed to show the 300 other cruise ships in the bay; they didn’t show the trash and the oil pollution.
Overcrowded with overnight cruise ships and tourists, Ha Long Bay felt more like Disney World.
After Vietnam, Shelby began to notice the excessive amount of trash and tourists at many of the other must-see destinations she had visited. For the first time, Shelby started to think about the effects of over-tourism and its impact on the environment at her dream destinations.
A Floating Refrigerator Changed Everything
Then, during one of her routine flights while on deployment in 2018, Shelby found a floating refrigerator thousands of miles off the coast of Australia.
Shelby explains that “as a Search and Rescue pilot, we’re trained to keep a vigilant eye at all times in case we need to rescue someone from danger.”
One particular day, Shelby and her copilot saw a white object in the ocean. They thought it looked like a small overturned boat and decided to check it out.
“As we came closer to the ocean’s surface, we realized the white object was actually a floating refrigerator,” she recalls. “I wondered who would come get it, and realized no one ever will. That refrigerator would float there forever.”
After that, Shelby questioned everything about her lifestyle and how her choices impact the planet.
- Is my plastic water bottle actually recycled?
- Are the people making my clothes working in safe conditions?
- When my old mattress is put out on the street, where does it actually go?
Shelby explains, “It’s one thing to hear about trash in our oceans. It’s another to see it for yourself.”
Her old way of traveling didn’t feel as fulfilling anymore because she knew the planet and local communities were being negatively impacted by her vacations. She knew there had to be a way to travel responsibly.
So Shelby pivoted her travel style to become more sustainable.
- She swapped from chain hotels to local guesthouses or eco-lodges.
- She found locally-owned businesses to show her the best sites instead of booking through a large tour operator.
- And she ate the local food from places that farmed it themselves.
Empowering the Planet with a Responsible Travel Concierge
Once Shelby learned how to prioritize the environment and local communities while traveling, her responsible vacations turned out even better than her previous trips!
Her friends wanted in on the drool-worthy vacation photos and videos she was sharing on Facebook. She started planning their vacations and took the opportunity to educate her friends about sustainability.
Eventually, word got out about Shelby’s perfect vacations, which benefited the planet and local communities. And so Authenteco Travel was born.
“Travelers want to feel good about their vacations,” Shelby says. “But many of us don’t have the time or knowledge to plan them to a destination we know little about. For too long, travelers were stuck with pre-packaged tours. Authenteco has grown quickly because we offer an alternative where our travelers can finally feel good about their travels without compensating on a perfect vacation.”
Although Shelby had found purpose serving her country as a Search and Rescue helicopter pilot, something else needed her efforts now: the tourism industry.
Authenteco Travel is on a mission to teach people how to travel responsibly.
“We transform how people travel by creating perfect vacations,” says Shelby. “That’s how you change travelers’ behavior–by creating perfect vacations. Our vacations just also put the planet and the people first because it’s the right thing to do.”
Read next: Sustainable Travel Influencers to Follow
A Mission, and a Challenge for the Travel Industry
Authenteco Travel has big goals for its future. The company plans to be a 100% Carbon-neutral travel concierge by 2022 and to buy $50 million of land in endangered ecosystems around the world to protect and preserve for generations to come by 2030.
Although Shelby has big green dreams for Authenteco, the concierge focuses on smaller and more immediate changes, too. For example, they ensure all tour operators are paid a living wage, they carbon-offset their travelers’ flights, and they print all documents on recycled paper with plant-based ink.
“Travelers prefer responsible tourism,” Shelby says. “If the four-woman team at Authenteco Travel can provide extraordinary and responsible vacations, then a large travel company certainly can do it. We want Authenteco’s standards for our vacation planning to be the future of the tourism industry.”
This mission comes with the obstacle of greenwashing though.
Greenwashing is the false impression that something is environmentally-friendly and, unfortunately, it’s very prevalent in the tourism industry.
Shelby and her team extensively research the businesses they’re sending their travelers to in order to ensure the business actually prioritizes the environment and the local community. Her skepticism comes from her personal experience of false promises of sustainability from tourism businesses.
Authenteco has also used more unconventional methods to guarantee a responsible vacation for their travelers.
“Sometimes I’ll call a hotel that says they’re plastic-free on their website, and ask if the bar has a straw to send to my room,” Shelby explains. “If the front desk employee says yes and doesn’t know about the hotel’s green policies, I know it truly isn’t a priority for them.”
Shelby also believes in extreme transparency with her travelers about Authenteco’s sustainable initiatives for their vacation.
“Actions speak louder than words,” she says. “Our travelers are welcome to ask questions about their itinerary. We’re a 24/7 travel concierge to be with our travelers before and during–and hopefully long after–their adventures and sustainability journey!”
Pivoting During COVID
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shelby was about to launch a new branch of Authenteco to make their eco-luxury vacations even more accessible for travelers.
The testing period, completed during the pandemic, wasn’t as successful as Shelby had hoped, though.
“There is too much unknown during the pandemic,” she says. “Travelers don’t want surprises.”
Instead, Authenteco added a complimentary texting service to their trips to make the team more accessible to travelers and guarantee support along the way.
This shift turned out to be exactly what travelers wanted and has helped Authenteco to increase sales by 200% during the global pandemic.
“Authenteco’s mission is to teach people about responsible travel,” Shelby says. “Although it’s disappointing we’ve had to put this other project on the back burner for now, this shift has allowed us to meet our travelers’ needs and still meet our overarching mission of making the travel industry more sustainable.”
Shelby’s ability to pivot, yet still achieve the mission of Authenteco Travel, proves the future of tourism is responsible. And, one day, she hopes responsible tourism won’t be unique, but rather the norm.
Learn More about Authenteco Travel
If you want to learn more about growing a travel business during the pandemic, join Shelby at her virtual event, exclusively for the Wanderful Creator community.
If you’re a busy person who values extraordinary experiences, contact Shelby and her team at Authenteco Travel to get help planning your next perfect vacation.
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