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Andre Robles talks about providing luxurious, exciting, and socially responsible tours in South America

Andre Robles is the founder and CEO of Voyagers Travel Company. From humble beginnings, Voyagers has expanded out of its country of origin (Ecuador) to also provide adventure-packed tours across Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina.

Andre kindly answered a few questions below.

What’s your background, and how did it lead to Voyagers Travel Company?

I am a Jersey boy, grew up on the East coast. My mother is from Ecuador, so I had the chance to visit several years in a row as a child, as well as other South American countries. My parents loved to travel, camp and just do cool things outdoors.

When I was 16, we had the chance to move to Ecuador for a couple years, I built such strong ties with the local family and made many friends. I graduated from Morris County College and got a tourism job offer in Ecuador. I decided to check back on old friends and thought it would be a 1-year or even 2-year fling. It is over 20 years and still counting, I live half the year in Ecuador and half the year in the US – my wife and kids travel with me everywhere (semi-nomads).

After 3 years with a large Galapagos Cruise company and lots of freelance work with regional operators in Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil and even in Central America… I decided to open a niche travel consultancy focused on experiential travel. This is how Voyagers Travel Company started. Last year we kept a team of 30 people, between adventure consultants and operations staff… after the hit of Covid19 we are down to 7 full-time staff… we occasionally rehire former team members on a freelance basis and hope to bring them back when this is over.

Our mission is to offer unique luxury experiences for travelers that want to visit South America. We offer great deals and are willing to suggest more rustic things if we think it will enhance the experience of a person. We work with local suppliers and small entrepreneur venues like boutique hotels, small yachts, private transport, jungle lodges and local food restaurants… and everything that surrounds this. Our trips are customized and not cookie-cutter group departures.

How did you grow your number of tours to the wide variety you have now?

Experience!

In 2019 we were working with over 3000 guests per year. These were divided into groups of 5- 6 people. Each group of friends or family wanted something different, so must of our quotes were one-off… we actually had to curate our favorite itineraries in order to only include the best in our website, we have hundreds of other examples.

We also travel constantly around the region, we get constant invites and are hosted by our top suppliers, of course when we visit them we do photo shoots, write blogs, give them reviews and advice to improve. It is a win-win situation, if we think we cannot send guests to a supplier, we will not accept a freebie. This amount of knowledge is translated into our offer on our website. We have been in business since 2003, so almost 20 years of custom travel planning is in our books.

What are some of the most popular or unique tours that you currently offer?

The Galapagos Islands is one of our favorite destinations, it is such an amazing place full of energy. A visitor can do so many things in 1 week. Hike alongside marine iguanas and giant tortoises swim with sea lions, kayak around ocean rocks to visit penguin rookeries, if they have a license they can dive with hammerhead sharks… it has always been our top destination since our team members would go at least twice a year, I have been to the islands over 30 times.

Until March 2020, our most popular programs in Galapagos were:

  • Galapagos Hotel based tours (custom planning with many variants), here is a sample 8 day tour program

This program could vary by adding diving day tours, visits to the highlands on Santa Cruz, instead of Kicker rock and the first day we could add a sport fishing trip, etc. Hotel based trips are extremely popular with families.

 

Another hotel-based Galapagos trip I like a lot is this 5-day program based on 1 island (San Cristobal), I like the fact that it includes a visit to Española Island on a day trip.

In regards to Cruising around the Galapagos, our bestselling yachts and expedition cruises were by far:

  • 100 passenger Galapagos Legend (5 itinerary choices which we combined a lot with dive or day tour extensions)
  • Galapagos Seaman Journey a 16 guest catamaran that offers incredible value and charter options for groups (4 different itineraries)

Other popular programs were our Ecuador and Peru combinations – check here

At the present time, we start 2021 with some big changes. We are getting many requests for Hotel based trips and shall yacht charters in Galapagos, small hotel buyouts in cities like Quito, Lima and Cuzco and longer stays in each location – 5 days Quito city package (usually staying in the historic downtown). Due to the worldwide pandemic, we have reduced deposit amounts to 10% of the trip price, and these are now lifetime deposits that allow for date changes without cancellation penalties.

What kinds of people are usually attracted to your tours?

We have a wide variety of travelers joining us. Our usual guest wants to have a trip custom made for them and are seeking a local expert that understands there line of thought, usually an ex-pat (our team is made up of local Ecuadoreans, Peruvians, US ex-pats, UK ex-pats, German ex-pats and we have local operations staff based in Argentina, Peru and Bolivia apart from the larger Ecuador office). Average ages of our guests range between 30 – 52-year-olds, but we do have lots of families and seniors. Since we focus only on South America, we can custom plan their vacations based on their preferences.

Our guests search for authentic experiences, smaller hotels are conscious of sustainable tourism practices and enjoy meeting locals, being close to unique wildlife and of course are willing to compromise some comfort for a special experience, i.e. meeting the Shuar tribe in the Ecuador Amazon, Exploring the Uyuni salt flats and going overland into Chile, Hiking the Inca trails to Machu Picchu amongst other once in a lifetime adventures.

How do you ensure that your tours do not cause any negative impact on the environment and people of each destination?

Our planning staff and guides are trained to manage expectations, and our guests get briefed on what is appropriate, sustainable and good practices. This is done in a subtle way in order to deliver an understanding background more than an imposition. At the beginning of each trip or before coming into contact with native tribes or fragile environs, a briefing is also offered.

It is important to recall that almost all our guests already have an amazing conservation attitude and respect for the cultures they will visit. We have had a few groups that with TLC and in-depth explaining have improved their behaviour – this is our biggest reward, creating a conservation advocate and opening peoples understanding of the other person regardless of cultural and racial background.

How should people prepare for a tour in South America?

First of all, learn a bit of Spanish, even a few words.

Hi or Hello = Hola informal. Buenos Dias, Buenas Tardes, Buenas Noches formal.

Etc.

Understand that although some things are not as modern, there is no third world mentality and people are more educated and studied than you would imagine.

Understand that people like to live and do not live to work. This is still a gem in terms of lifestyle. Sometimes this means meeting times might be flexible, especially on an island in Galapagos.

Do you have any crazy stories or experiences from your time conducting tours in places like the Amazon Rainforest?

Absolutely. Some of our most popular Amazon tour programs are in Peru. We were visiting a small village that had just opened up to tourism, do not get me wrong they were in contact with civilization and all but just had finished building a beautiful lodge and started taking on guests on a regular basis. We had a group of friends that had mentioned: “we want to experience the Amazon as locals…“ This back in 2004 at the very beginning of our operations was not translated that well.

The first breakfast was extremely local: Zuri worms, freshly chewed chicha (manioc root beer, but chewed and spat out by local women)… no bread, no coffee and no second option that day.

Fortunately, by lunch, the issue was solved by joining the kitchen staff and just letting them know the guests would like to eat something closer to what they order when they go into town at Puerto Maldonado.

Locals also have pet Koati or monkey in their rooms, sleep without a mattress and in some places do not use a toilet…

So the words “I want to experience it like a local native… “ do not mean this literally.

What kinds of tours do you conduct in Argentina?

We actually conduct many tours in Argentina, we have local adventures that involve cooking your own steak in Buenos Aires at a chef´s home to hiking around Tierra del Fuego national park in the southernmost city of Ushuaia. One of our most popular itineraries involves a long visit to Patagonia exploring glaciers, mountain scenery, islands with penguins and more here.

Thank you Andre for your time!
You can follow up with Andre Robles at
https://www.voyagers.travel

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