For Jesús Parrilla, a partner of Luxury Frontiers, travel is all about getting out of your comfort zone. And he doesn’t mean trying out a few phrases in another language or asking a local for directions. Instead, his version of travel involves taking calculated risks, venturing into the unknown, and being reminded that “we don’t own the land; the land owns us.” To learn more about what he means and find out why he’s not a fan of Disneyland, read on.
How did you get into the adventure travel business?
I grew up in a town outside Seville, Spain, and spent most of my childhood outdoors. I would ride horses, fish, and hike, so that’s where my passion for adventure comes from. Fast forward to my twenties, and after getting my undergraduate degree and MBA in the United States and working briefly in corporate America, I got the opportunity to work for a Chilean hospitality company called Explora Lodges. They were deeply concentrated on adventure travel, so it felt like going back to my roots.
Where did you go from there?
From there, I joined Smartrip Chile, an organization that serves as a bridge between hotels and local communities and helps finance social projects. Then in 2014 I started working with Luxury Frontiers. Initially, my involvement was more on strategic networking, as I have a background in communications, but as I get more involved, my focus turned to designing activities in culturally sensitive areas.
From what you’ve observed, how has the travel industry changed over the last 15 years?
We’ve seen constant evolution over the past 15 years. Between the explosion of technology, the financial crisis of 2008, and other major globalizing forces, I think there’s a greater desire to go back to basics. People who live in big cities or urban areas have lost their instincts: they don’t like silence, they aren’t used to darkness, and their sense of smell isn’t as acute because of the effects of fumes and pollution. Humans have historically lived in sync with nature, so when you consider where we are today, it’s no wonder we all desperately crave immersion in nature.
How can hospitality companies satisfy this collective desire?
It’s an interesting question because the mistake I see a lot of hotels and tour outfitters making is giving the consumer exactly what he wants rather than what he needs — which is disconnecting from technology and other distractions and reconnecting with the land and ourselves. We talk about comfort, impeccable service, and wonderful accommodations, and of course these things are important. But travel is about taking calculated risks, venturing into the unknown, and encountering things you would otherwise not experience — not having every aspect of an experience perfectly rehearsed, executed, or fabricated, as you’d find at Disneyland.
What can hotels do to help facilitate life-changing guest experiences?
Hotels and other travel companies must take advantage of their environments and bring those unique landscapes to life. It’s not just about creating these Instagrammable backdrops or reproducing experiences that are being offered in other places around the world. It’s about leveraging your surroundings to provide immersive, one-of-a-kind moments.
What’s a trip that you’ve taken that’s changed the way you view travel?
I’ve been on many trips that were remarkable for many different reasons, and it’s impossible to compare two places. But the trip I did earlier this year in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta was incredibly special. I went with my wife and two daughters, and we spent all seven days walking through the jungles, treading through rivers, and staying in houses that belonged to farmers. I felt like I was going back in time, experiencing customs and traditions that hadn’t been influenced by the modern world, going without Internet for a full week, and eating super fresh food.
Besides the thrill of discovery, what is the value of that kind of off-the-beaten-track experience?
When you’re out in the wilderness, you start questioning your life. You ask yourself: do I need five TV’s, a microwave, and three iPhones? That’s the ultimate value of travel: experiencing incredible things but also having these moments of self-reckoning that ultimately make you a better citizen.