If you had asked Shelby Dziwulski 10 years ago what she would do in 2021, her answer would likely involve the Navy, where she worked as a search and rescue helicopter pilot for most of her life. But in 2018, she and her flight crew flew over a Kenmore refrigerator floating in the ocean and everything changed.
“It was just a defining moment for me to see with my own eyes that the fridge would stay there forever,” she said sadly. “It was one of those moments when I started analyzing every single part of my life and how it affects the environment … the clothes I wear, the food, a plastic bottle versus a reusable one.”
Dziwulski and her husband traveled Southeast Asia for years while stationed in Japan. Although she enjoyed her adventures, she noticed the “dark side of tourism”. She defines this as overtourism, wildlife trafficking, sex trafficking, and other major issues that go unnoticed by many travelers. When she saw the refrigerator, she pushed it over the edge.
Fast forward to Authenteco – the company she built from the ground up in Denver. You describe yourself as a luxury travel concierge and plan conscious and responsible vacations. Your big mission? Make $ 50 million in profits by 2030 to purchase endangered ecosystems around the world. They want to bring them back to their host countries to become national parks.
The Authenteco philosophy
“There are many words that are thrown away like ‘sustainability’, ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘green’,” said Dziwulski. “And then ‘responsible tourism’ is a new one that has sprung up in the last year or so, and that’s the word we like to use,” she said. A traditional travel agency would usually prioritize the highest demands of the customers. Instead, Authenteco “prioritizes the environment first, then the local communities at their destination, and then we combine that with their preferences. But the environment and local communities always come first. “
Before booking an Authenteco trip, travelers fill out a comprehensive survey with 100 questions. After that, the trip is stress-free. Every night, activity and meal is booked and the team is available 24/7. Customers even receive a personalized “travel magazine” with details of their itinerary and a box of local gifts from small businesses at their destination that are sent to their doorstep.
A large part of Authenteco’s approach to responsible tourism is to support small, independently run businesses across corporate chains. They are trying to work with boutique hotels with fewer than 20 rooms. “And we always try to find places that are locally owned,” said Dziwulski. “Whether you’re going to New Zealand, Australia or Bali, we’re really trying to find companies owned by the Kiwis, Australians or Balinese, not companies owned by Westerners that only employ locals.”
In addition, Authenteco travelers never go on large business tours, but rather go on more intimate and private trips. For food, they eat in restaurants that focus on helping local farmers. “Not just places that say they are from the farm to the table – they are actually from the farm to the table,” emphasized Dziwulski.
Navigating a Pandemic
With travel severely restricted over the past year, the industry has taken a hit. However, Dziwulski and the Authenteco team have decided to change their business model. The company has grown 2200% over the past year and has only switched to domestic travel by the last month.
“The trips we planned before the pandemic were largely one-off international,” Dziwulski said. “And when the pandemic came I said, ‘Okay, people are still going to go outside and play and want to explore their own condition. ‘That’s why we stopped internationally, with the exception of customers booking in 2022 and later,’ she said. They specialize in weekend trips and road trips. Montana, Wyoming, and Rocky Mountain National Park were particularly popular.
Stay aware – and be proactive
Although her business depends on travel to survive, Dziwulski encourages people to stay vigilant to prevent the spread of Covid-19. “Just because the CDC says you can travel doesn’t change government restrictions,” she said. Following masking and social distancing guidelines – and researching them in your destination – goes hand in hand with conscious and responsible tourism.
She also emphasizes the need to book early if you want to travel. “People whose vacation was scheduled for last year moved after 2021. All of these people – especially international ones – actually had to move by 2022,” she said. “Now you’ve been pushing millions of people on vacation for two years. Just look ahead. “
To find out more about Authenteco, click here.