Monday Motivation from Katalina Mayorga, CEO & Founder, El Camino Travel

#PEAlum, entrepreneur, inspiration, Monday Motivation, startup

Mondays can be rough and, sometimes, we can all use some motivation. Our #MondayMotivation blog series brings you tips and life hacks from industry leaders and some of the most creative entrepreneurs out there.

This week, we chat with Katalina Mayorga, CEO & Founder of  El Camino Travel, which provides curated and unique travel experiences. She talked about her background in international development fueling the passion to launch her start-up, wanting travelers to stop snap-chatting and more.

What inspired you to start your business?
I never had the intention of starting a travel company. Prior to 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 looking at beautiful landscapes through the screen of their phone. This is when I realized the experience of travel has dramatically changed 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 it provided a reliable income and high paying income and 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. In addition, all trips include a talented photographer who documents the whole journey and provides edited images each day so our travelers can go back to living in the moment.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
The biggest challenge has been prioritizing and staying focused on the impact we want to have within the travel industry. We have started with completely redefining group travel for the millennial generation, but as we have become more and more ingrained in the travel industry, we see other exciting opportunities to disrupt a very antiquated market. That being said, I often have to remind myself to breathe, that we have not even touched the tip of the iceberg with our group trips, and continue to do one thing really well and at scale before trying to take something completely new. Once you decide to do that, it is like starting a whole new business, and I am mentally not ready for that!

What’s been the greatest reward?
The greatest reward has been the many emails and handwritten notes we have received from our travelers who have told us that we truly have created something incredibly special, that they were deeply moved by the travel experience, and that seeing a destination through diverse cultural lenses has changed their perspective on the world for the better. In no way are we charity tourism and we do not want our travelers ever leaving feeling bad for the people of a country. Instead, we want them to leave feeling inspired and re-energized by an unexpected realization or encounter during their time traveling with us, so these notes affirm that we are doing something right and to keep pushing forward.

What is the biggest thing you’d like to see changed in your industry, and how are you working toward making that change happen?
I really want travelers to get off their phone and not worry so much about snapchatting, Instagram storying, or capturing every single moment of their journey to share to social media. Research has shown that when you are so focused on capturing your vacation visually (and often through the screen of your phone) that you lose the other sensory attributes of your travel experience—smell, sound, taste. I want people to get back to being in the moment and by indulging in all the senses so they have a much more vivid memory of their experience. We are doing this by providing immersive travel experiences and having talented photographers on all our trips who take over the documentation process and provide our travelers with candid and compelling images that no selfie stick could ever capture.

Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
I always go back to that conversation with that taxi driver. It reminds me that we are not only changing the lives and global perspectives of our travelers, but we are also having a significant impact on the quality of life of the many entrepreneurs and creatives that are part of our business eco-system in the destination we visit. We are contributing to economic development in countries that need it through sustainable jobs and strong wages. We have seen this over and over again throughout our trips and knowing we are doing something that is much bigger than ourselves is extremely motivating.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to another entrepreneur just starting out?
Ideas are meant to live in the wild.  Don’t be afraid to talk about your company and how you want to grow it because that is how you breathe new life into it. Talking to others is the quickest and cheapest way to start getting feedback, to see what resonates with people, and what confuses your potential consumer. And as one entrepreneur told me very early on, ideas are a dime a dozen, at the end of the day, it’s all about who runs smarter and quicker with their idea. That is the entrepreneur that is going to make waves.

What do you do every Monday morning to prepare and motivate yourself for the coming week?
I always start off the week with hot yoga. It may be that fact that I am in a 100 degree plus room, but it is the only exercise that forces me to only focus on my breathing and my body while allowing me to shut everything out and calm my mind. If I don’t, I feel like I might pass out, so I have basically forced to Namaste myself!  I always leave the class feeling energized, more open (both physically and mentally) to take on the challenges of the week, and rooted.

For more #MondayMotivation, check out our interview with Darrah Christel, CEO & Founder, LOHO, which strives to “change the way women feel in tights, and feel about themselves.”