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Yūgen Earthside: Launching a responsible tourism project during a pandemic
Interview with founder Hilary Matson

Responsible travel booking platform Yūgen Earthside just launched during the pandemic – learn about their story and challenges from Paris-based founder Hilary Matson.

How did you get in the travel industry?

In a very round-about way, is the short answer! The longer answer is that I left my last career wanting to shift my time and energy to something I was passionate about.

I had the idea for Yūgen Earthside (yugenearthside.com) back in 2018 and decided to first pursue an MBA at HEC Paris to study entrepreneurship and social business models.

While at HEC, I completed my business plan and conducted tons of field interviews. This opened a lot of doors for me. By the time I graduated in June of 2020, I both felt like the early concept of my company had been validated, and also had made great industry connections.

How was the idea of Yūgen Earthside born?

I wanted to create a company that would:

1. Increase people’s awareness about what sustainable travel means,

2. Make it easier for travelers to find and book responsible trips, and

3. Encourage holistic sustainable travel, from presenting climate impact actions to zero-waste travel products.

These desires came from two personal experiences.

In 2007, I rode an elephant in Thailand, not knowing how horrible this is. I returned in 2014 and volunteered at the Elephant Nature Park. If I had known that riding elephants were bad, and been presented with a different and better option, I would have chosen differently in 2007.

Later in 2014, I saw the Vatnajökull glacier – the largest ice cap in Iceland – literally melting. This prompted a renewed sense of urgency.  All industries must be acting now if we want to save the planet and ourselves. I believe travel and tourism can raise awareness and inspire that change.

How did COVID-19 impact your business?

Covid-19 is impacting my business in numerous ways.

My business plan pivoted in real-time as the travel landscape shifted beneath my feet a year ago. I’m regularly updating my financial forecasting based on tourism recovery predictions.

Our marketing strategy considers variables like, “Who will be able to travel? To where? When?” It’s also encouraged us to highlight our self-guided and nature-focused trips, which we believe will be in strong demand post-Covid.

On a positive note, I believe the pandemic has accelerated a growing movement to travel more purposefully. We hope that post-Covid, people will travel less frequently, but more impactfully; take fewer trips, but stay longer in destinations. This has always been what Yūgen Earthside is about, so our focus right now is on increasing our selection of meaningful, small-scale trips.

How can tourism companies be more sustainable?

I love this question! Here are three main ideas for tourism companies:

1. Evaluate your business’s impact on the natural environment, local economy, and society & culture of a destination. These are the three pillars of sustainable tourism.

2. Develop a sustainable tourism strategy. This could include creating a responsible travel policy, participating in carbon offsetting, pursuing a certification, profit-sharing with local communities, and more.

3. Keep moving forward. Don’t get bogged down in trying to be “perfectly sustainable”. Opt for progress over perfection. Start small, and then increasingly look for ways to make your company more sustainable.

At the end of the day, sustainable tourism is about creating a net positive impact for the people and land you’re visiting. Tour companies can find more ideas for acting responsibly on our Resources (yugenearthside.com/sustainability-resources/) page.

How can the Travel Massive community get involved?

There are three main ways to get involved:

1. Travelers: come check out our trips (yugenearthside.com/listings/)!

2. Responsible tour operators: if you feel you’d be a good fit for our platform, please complete our Invitation (yugenearthside.typeform.com/to/znHyWTg1) form.

3. Travel writers: Interested in writing a guest blog post? Email me (hilary@yugenearthside.com).

Beyond that, the following is always appreciated:

* Subscribe (eepurl.com/hgGLDT) to our monthly newsletter – you’ll get a free sustainable packing list out of it!

* Follow us on social media – we’re @yugenearthside on Instagram (www.instagram.com/yugenearthside), LinkedIn (linkedin.com/company/yugenearthside), Pinterest (www.pinterest.com/YugenEarthside/), Facebook (www.facebook.com/yugenearthside), Twitter (twitter.com/YugenEarthside), and even TikTok (www.tiktok.com/@yugenearthside).

* Join our interactive Facebook community (www.facebook.com/groups/yugenearthsiders) where we have casual conversations about travel and sustainability.

Last but not least, we will be launching a crowdfunding campaign soon. Follow us on social media to be alerted when it begins. We would be ever so grateful for any contribution that will help keep us going before travel fully picks up again.

– Thank you, Hilary, for sharing your story with us!

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7 months ago
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