Jake Haupert on Transformational Travel and Purpose-Driven Vacations

Published 04/06/2020
Jake Haupert

Jake Haupert

Almost every discussion on how to make tourism sustainable revolves around who should take more responsibility to ensure sustainable travel at a destination: is it the DMO, travel businesses, or the visitors themselves?

Transformational travel is a movement currently brewing around the world, especially in the post-COVID-19 travel scenario. At the helm of this (r)evolution is Jake Haupert, co-founder of the Transformational Travel Council, ROAM Beyond, and Explorer X.

We sat down with Jake to find out how we can (and must) reimagine travel to make it more responsible – and how TTC encourages travellers to holistically change their perspective of travel from a purely fun-filled motive to be more receptive – respecting the local communities, heritage, and environment.

Jake, you are an industry veteran with two decades of experience in the leisure travel industry. How has your journey been so far?

Ha, it has been a blur, strange to even be referred to as a veteran, but I guess that is the case, it certainly feels like I earned it. However, I am always a student, always a little childlike in my approach to life, stretching, learning, growing – which I think helps me stay where I prefer to be, on the bleeding edge.

That said, looking back, I’ve definitely been around the block once or twice, perhaps evidenced by the grey coming in my beard and a few more wrinkles of joy around my eyes. I feel blessed, I am one of the few that identified a calling early in my career, in my early 20’s to be exact. Since then, my journey has been incredibly rewarding, rich with relationship and real success, but also riddled with classic entrepreneurial strife and struggle.

Looking back, it is clear that the bumps and bruises, the sleepless nights, the obstacles along the way are what guided me to the work I am doing today in transformational travel. In a way, I now have way more perspective and find myself way more comfortable with being uncomfortable, simultaneously being intentional and surrendering at the same time.

Just trying to make subtle adjustments here and there to stay in the current and flow down the river of life.

What inspired you to create The Transformational Travel Council (TTC)?

Good question, one that I have contemplated on many levels. I’ve always been good at the idea thing, also pretty good at bringing ideas to life. I seem to have good ‘vision,’ certainly, a very big heart, am purpose-driven, and I harbour great hope for humanity.

However, as I traveled, I grew, and as my awareness expanded, I found myself with this dual perspective, one that was deeply drawn to and appreciative of the beautiful things in life. But I was also painfully aware of the growing disconnect and separation between the beauty of humanity and the society we’ve built. It seemed that as a civilisation, we’ve not been heading in the right direction and I have a burning desire to help steer us back on course.

I’ve always felt that travel is our most powerful catalyst to positive change, but after many years in the space, I can see that the dysfunction within our society is mirrored in the travel space, and travel becoming digitalized, commoditized, sterilized and centered around serving the privileged few. Travellers – often because they were simply conditioned to – are traveling for entertainment, with a sense of expectation and entitlement, that results in an increasingly toxic travel dynamic, one based on consumption and extraction.

This is obviously to the detriment of local communities and the environment, but it is also to the detriment of personal advancement, consciousness, and cross-cultural understanding.

In my mind, travel is broken, so I decided to dig into the roots of why we travel, understand why, and how it evolved, discover what is working and what is not.

Perhaps through that deep and rigorous study, I started to reimagine and rebuild travel, fully aware that others in the space have had similar thoughts, perspectives, and visions. We’ve convened and are activating change, #BetheChange if you will.

Now for the short answer to that question – This work is simply my calling and every experience I’ve had led me to it.

I fully believe I am meant to convene a global community and co-create a more conscious, purposeful travel that maximises the power of travel to positively transform how we live our lives, how we live with others, and how we live on our planet.

How does TTC help travel businesses or destinations to promote or facilitate transformational travel?

Our Ally Program is a convergence of change-makers and doers from all sectors of travel, masterminding, mutually caring, and advocating for better travel. We believe that by uniting, sharing, learning, and activating, phenomenally rapid change is possible.

Our emerging ecosystem of Allies around the world is convening to source our individual and collective inner capacities, knowledge, and wisdom to manifest change in travel that embodies universal truths such as dignity, compassion, fairness, and courage. Activated, one traveller at a time, by guiding and empowering them in their quest for deeper meaning, connection, growth, and change.

Based on the rigorous, multidisciplinary study we’ve done on travel from the perspective of anthropology, neurobiology, and psycho-spirituality, we’ve created a methodology, framework, and guiding practices that can be integrated into travel businesses and destinations. We strategically support and strengthen ethical, emotional, equitable, and ecological travel standards to benefit travellers, hosts, communities, and the environment.

The work we’re doing at the TTC is split into 4 Houses:

  1. Introspection – ‘Connection to Self’
  2. Bridging – ‘Connection to Others’
  3. Expansion – ‘Connection to the Infinite’
  4. Integration – ‘New Ways of Being and Engaging with the World.’

The latter is the key, transformational travel leads to positive change, one traveller at a time, by making new travel and lifestyle choices natural and infectious.

You define transformational travel (or TT) as any travel experience that empowers people to make meaningful, lasting changes in their life. While such journeys are customer-centric and beneficial to travellers, how does this form of travel contribute towards achieving sustainable development goals?

That was actually our definition early on. As our learning evolved, we felt compelled to change it last year.

Instead of focusing on a singular, passive experience or moment in time, we felt it was more about engaging actively and purposely.

Just like a yoga practice, a meditation practice, or exercise regimen, we believe transformational travel is a results-driven, holistic travel practice, rooted in mindset, awareness, and outcomes. Transformational travel is “intentionally traveling to stretch, learn, and grow into new ways of being and engaging with the world.”

Modern, transformational travel is the missing link in the conscious and sustainable travel movements – it is about how to create deep, personal stretching, and growth that raises consciousness individually and collectively.

We often refer to the old saying, ‘you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.’ The same holds true with sustainable tourism: just because we inform travellers of dire circumstances and impacts, preach of better practices, this doesn’t mean these people are becoming better stewards or making more responsible choices. To do that, we need to get them more deeply connected to nature, to others – and connections must be made from the inside-out.

We believe this is where we awaken to the interconnectedness of our world and all sentient beings, understand that together we stand, apart we fall. When we’re connected to the world, to nature, to each other, we move from being mindless to being mindful of our choices and impact, travelling, and living more consciously.

We all know that people care for and protect the things they love, so with that wisdom in mind, we need to rebuild the travel industry, society, from the inside-out, heart-centered and soul balanced.

When travel is catalyzed as a source for good, and tourism has accessible frameworks, tools, and practices to create deeper meaning and connection, together we’ll be co-creating a more empathetic, grateful, steward-centric human being, one that makes better, more mindful, conscious, and regenerative decisions, not just for one, but for all.

The Sustainable Development Goals are far more accessible and achievable in a transformation economy when growth mindsets are embraced.

As tourism continues to lean into these concepts and modalities, strives toward these goals, transformational travel will be identified as a real way to accelerate the process of personal transformation and amplify the benefits, and make real progress in reaching the SDGs.

And with many luxury travellers just now starting to travel more sustainably, it’s vital that we continue to challenge the status quo, move from being simply sustainable to being regenerative. A regenerative system behaves like any living system, with healing occurring from within, adapting, evolving, and improving conditions, not simply sustaining, but regenerating.

Will microadventures and domestic travel be the norm in the near future?

Our TTC Director of Research, Jasmine Goodnow, just finished an in-depth study on microadventures and according to her research, time and distance away from home are not as important as one’s frame of mind when traveling. Disconnecting from email, phone, and other distractions is important, “Depth over Distance!”

Savvy and resilient travel companies, accommodation providers, and destinations will be able to shift their brand, message, value proposition, and experiences in a way that cultivates this mindset and attract travellers seeking ‘depth over distance’ regardless of where they are traveling from.

Aren’t travel experiences more about how it makes you feel and how it touches you? More often than not, it really doesn’t matter where it is, it is not to say the place doesn’t play an important role, it does, but it is really about how deeply the traveller connects with travel companions, the experience, the hosts, and the destination and how all of that harmonises to support and empower the traveller in their pursuit of deep, rich, immersive, and potentially life-changing travel.

By inviting travellers to embrace a growth mindset in travel, focusing on desired outcomes, setting intentions, being present, reflecting, meaning-making, and taking action, travel can be transformative, no matter how far away from your front door it is.

Following the coronavirus pandemic, what trends will we observe once travel restrictions are eased?

As travel restrictions ease, we will see a traveller emerge that is a little more aware and thoughtful than before. People will be more inclined and receptive to embrace practices like intention setting, gratitude, being more present and reflective, and considerably more open to the unfamiliar, unforeseen, and the unknown.

I don’t know if it will be the end of leisure travel, per se, to travel for the sole purpose of fun and relaxation. But if people are going to leave home and hop on a plane, they’re going to be more contemplative of their why, motivations, desired outcomes, and more conscious of their choices and their impact.

Difficult times at scale have a way of cracking humanity open, inviting introspection, providing space and time to take stock of what’s important, reevaluating, and reimagining. During times of the coronavirus lock-down, we’ve gone back to our roots of joy, simplicity, happiness, and fulfilment, even reconnected with values, beliefs that support family, community, and connection to self, others, nature, and the universe.

At the TTC, we see the travel market on a spectrum of awakening. As confidence, curiosity, and openness develop, tourists become travellers, then explorers, and finally seekers, who are conscious and pursuing change and growth every day and everywhere.

These challenging times undoubtedly have provoked some introspection. Perhaps we are a little more conscious and aware than we were before. And if we aren’t, the travel industry that serves us certainly will be and that is a very good thing.

Imagine you could turn back time and start all over again. Knowing what you know now about business, travel, and sustainability, what would you do differently?

Honestly, I wouldn’t change much. I feel the path has served me well, hardships included. But if I had to turn back time and start all over again, I would have embraced ‘Caentsu Daja’ sooner. In the Ecuadorian Amazon, the Cofan tribe practice ‘Caenstu Daja,’ which means – let it happen, let it flow.

On a scouting trip for Explorer X, The Sound Tracker® Gordon Hempton of Quiet Parks International, and I had an epiphany that we were always the ‘make it happen’ type of guys, but that changed in the jungles of the Amazon. Before we flew out, we both got ‘Caentsu Daja’ tattoos and life has been a little sweeter, a little more peaceful, a little more spacious ever since. Living in the jungle, off of the land, immersed into the wild, with the Cofan, taught us an important lesson that week and I am eternally grateful for.

Do you have any favourite business or destination which you think is leading the way in how it approaches sustainability – or being especially innovative in how it is dealing with the current pandemic?

ROAM Beyond is certainly one of those businesses that have sustainability at their core and have also adapted well. We provide a travel solution that is arguably more sustainable than living in a traditional home. Each glamping trailer or mobile dwellings, contains robust solar power systems, compostable toilets, and have the ability to “leave no trace” in remote locations.

ROAM Beyond also created the Haven Experience in response to the current pandemic’s impact on travel. It provides a solution to those that are comfortable traveling in “pods” or “quaranteams”. Like-minded friends and family that are comfortable with sharing space who don’t interact with others and minimising contact with on-site staff. Even having chefs sending ingredients for meals in a cooler and even live streaming outdoor cooking instructions.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

In regard to destinations, many of them are wisely using this time to reimagine their brand, message, infrastructure, and sustainability practices, some even leaning beyond, like Joe Pine and James Gilmore’s ‘Experience Economy” and dabbling in the nascent ‘Transformation Economy.’

The Transformational Travel Council is extending an invitation to tourism destinations to become an early adopter of our Transformational Travel Destinations Program. This is an invitation to destinations that wish to lead the efforts in transitioning to a transformational economy at a destination level and implementing and promoting sustainable destination good practices through the adoption of the TTC guidelines and tenets for Transformational Destinations.

The early adopters will be widely recognised and their findings will help shape the final framework for Transformational Destinations. Guyana, Australia, Willamette Valley, Greenland, and others have expressed initial interest.

Thank you, Jake.

Connect with Jake Haupert on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.

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