Q & A with Felipe Zalamea, Founder, Sumak Travel, London, UK
“Experience authentic, community-based, responsible travel to Latin America.”
SUMAK TRAVEL SPECIALIZES IN TRIPS TO CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA. ARE YOU FROM SOUTH AMERICA, FELIPE?
Yes, I grew up in Colombia. Also, I have travelled extensively throughout the continent.
IT HAS BEEN 5 YEARS SINCE YOU LAUNCHED THIS BUSINESS. HOW IS IT GOING?
It’s a roller-coaster. There are good and bad days, but in general, things are going well. We have grown exponentially since we started, we have received national press coverage, our social business model is proving to be highly effective, and, most importantly, we have lots of happy travellers.
YOU HAVE ALSO JOINED SEVERAL ECOTOURISM PROFESSIONAL SOCIETIES.
This helps us in terms of having more credibility which is very important in this market.
WHAT ELSE GIVES SUMAK TRAVEL AN EDGE OVER OTHER UK-BASED AGENCIES WHEN IT COMES TO LATIN AMERICAN TOURS?
We are both a local and a global company. That is, we have excellent local expertise in the countries where we operate. We offer the same level of facilities and extras that customers expect from the big tour operators – but ours comes with a more personalized touch. It is our goal to consistently deliver high quality, authentic, outstanding travel experiences, and our guest testimonials bear that out.
We decided to take responsible tourism to the next level and launched Fair Trade Adventures in partnership with Cafedirect Producers' Foundation. We developed four new exciting small group tours to unique destinations in Peru, Costa Rica and Colombia. The adventures have been designed to give travellers a rare opportunity to meet the farmers and artisans behind popular fair trade products such as coffee, chocolate and handicrafts, whilst also experiencing some of the countries' most iconic sights and natural wonders. These small groups are limited to 10 persons each, and they are filling up fast. Anyone interested should visit our website for the complete itineraries and contact information.
This refers to the level of comfort that travellers can expect on our tours. Relaxed is the highest level, where most accommodations are 3 or 4 star boutique hotels. Longer internal journeys are done by plane rather than by overland drive. Our Medium tours mainly involve B&B’s or 2 star family-run hotels. Adventure travellers can expect private rooms in hostels and B&B’s, and occasionally a rustic cabin or hammock! The majority of our tours also include homestays and community-run guesthouses. One of our guiding principles as a company is to redirect money back into these communities as much as possible.
CAN YOU WORK WITH TRAVELLERS ON SPECIAL DIETS?
Yes - we are used to having vegan and vegetarian travellers, travellers with allergies, or travellers who require low-salt or diabetic meals.
We work directly with over 25 community-based operators in more than 15 Latin American countries. They represent over 2,000 local communities – some with as few as six families. We strongly believe these local operators are in the best position to decide how to invest and distribute income and donations from us. Our social business model guarantees they are getting a good price for the products and services they deliver to our travellers, and our prices already include contributions to many of their social and environmental projects. For more information about our community-based projects and local partners, you can visit the blog section of our website.
DO GUESTS BECOME STRONGER ADVOCATES FOR ECOTOURISM ONCE THEY HAVE EXPERIENCED THE “SUMAK TRAVEL” WAY?
Yes, absolutely. When they travel with us they see the positive impact happening on the ground, and usually they become promoters of better and more responsible tourism practices.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR SUMAK TRAVEL FOR THE NEXT 5 YEARS?
We are currently expanding our portfolio to include all of Central America and Mexico, following the same model. Over the next five years, we want to become one of the best promoters of sustainable tourism on the continent.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO MENTION?
You can see other photos from our guests, as well as from our partner organisations, on our Facebook page. We’re adding more all the time!
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