The paths for purposeful luxury tourism in the country
Passionate about her country of origin, award-winning Argentine travel advisor Maita Barrenechea visited many destinations before discovering that she could offer travelers experiences just as authentic and unique as those she had abroad. At a time when Argentina was just starting out in tourism, Maita was a pioneer in developing creative experiences that valued local culture and identity.
With a career spanning over four decades, Maita and her DMC Mai10 (which also designs trips to Chile and Uruguay) have inspired and transformed many travelers and supported different initiatives preserving culture and the environment. With her latest ventures, Maita is confident she can help make Argentina one of the great examples of destinations where conservation is a priority.
We spoke with Maita to learn more about her beautiful trajectory and what’s next for tourism in Argentina.
– How long have you been designing travel experiences, and what motivated you to create Mai10? What have been your main values from the beginning?
It’s been 40 years. I grew up in a family where travel meant education and I had the privilege of doing so extensively as a child in times when very few people traveled so much. I had lived abroad and had many connections who were intrigued with Argentina and wished to travel mainly to flyfish in Patagonia back in the early eighties.
Back then, there were no high-end hotels in Argentina, even the Alvear Palace and Llao Llao had closed down. Having the chance of developing an innovative and authentic way of hosting prospective travelers made me think of the experiences I had lived abroad, where I had stayed in European castles and lordly manors whose families had later on started taking on paying guests. Inspired by them, I put together a portfolio of authentic estancias that had local identity, history, interesting architecture, unique location, and gracious hosts who would be great storytellers, at the beginning to offer flyfishing that was my family’s passion and then, all kinds of immersive purposeful travel. Staying in authentic rural jewels proved a very enriching experience.
Our main values from the beginning have been to do our best, always feel the joy of service, strive for excellence and commit to authenticity and quality. We uphold honesty, integrity, trust, and respect, being kind and fair, transparent, and accountable, and doing what is right. We care, and that is why we’ll always find solutions. We believe in simple things done well, and that the extra mile makes the difference. We uphold travel as a force of good and are fully devoted to purpose, helping make ours a better world by connecting people, giving back by supporting the local communities and protecting the environment. We focus on personalization, originality and innovation, and attention to detail. We believe in human connection and collaborative work, being socially responsible.
– How do you seek inspiration and carefully curate trips that escape the ordinary and create unique, memorable experiences?
For us, each request is an invitation to dream. We take the sky as the limit, defy the impossible, and stop at never. We believe that our thinking leads to what we do, thoughts come into our minds as we engage with the world, with nature, with culture, with people. So, we dedicate a lot of time to scouting and exploring, to delve into the images and messages that the world’s canvas puts in front of us for inspiration.
Above all, we try to think out of the box and brainstorm on how to tell a story and what will engage travelers in the most inspiring way. To this end, we think of ourselves as an idea lab committed to good storytelling with an eye for the original. We believe we must amuse and inspire in equal measure, combining personal enrichment with a flair for the exotic, as we think that feeling good during the journey is as enriching as discovering new destinations. We focus on creating experiences that are individual, personalized, focusing on giving wonder, actively seeking out moments of surprise with well-thought details and behind-the-scenes enhancements. We stay away from sameness and strive for the seemingly unattainable.
– What are the profiles of travelers who have been looking for the new, the remote, a genuine immersion into the culture and nature of South America?
Those who are well-traveled and are now eager to travel deeper and to uncommon, challenging destinations, and looking for rare, incomparable experiences. Adventurers who are passionate about taking risks and willing to pay more for thrilling and genuine experiences. Sometimes it’s the thrill-seeking millennials who have little time but are adrenaline-thirsty, driven by an increasing necessity to find meaning and purpose in their hectic lives. They leave their comfort zone to venture into some of the most remote, and sometimes hostile places in the world to live extraordinary journeys. They are drawn to unknown adventures and emotions and are enthralled by secluded landscapes and locations where few have ventured before. If pushing the limits of exploration to achieve this goal exposes them to stress and solitude, the experience will well be worth the effort. And perhaps, having something fun to share on social media may be an added reason.
Also, in a good measure, the UHNW (Ultra High Net Worth) individuals who have done it all, or think so, and are avid to chase new adventures, to either decompress or recharge energy and satisfy their endless curiosity. Age is not a key factor; the thrill lure attracts all ages.
– Can you tell us a bit about what’s new in the tourism scene in Argentina these last few years, despite the challenges of the pandemic?
Unfortunately, the downs of the country’s economy have not encouraged investment. While other destinations moved forward during the pandemic, Argentina was paralyzed with its frontiers closed and the apparent doomsday for the travel industry.
Wishing to give back what this wonderful industry has given us, we kept going, relaunched an NGO for luxury travel called Destino Argentina and during this time forged a strong community that is now solid and working collaboratively to help our industry work at par with the government to promote Argentina as a travel destination of excellence.
We created a pledge called, La Promesa Argentina. The Argentine Promise is the flagship creed of our association, it strives to protect our identity and our roots, our customs and traditions, our natural and cultural heritage. We promote trips that protect the planet, that support local communities and that preserve our cultural heritage.
Also, during this time, with a group of professionally successful individuals from diverse backgrounds, who are passionate travelers, we created a novel company called Pirqa to forge connections and make investments for unique travel experiences in Argentina’s undeveloped remote natural sceneries like the Yunga cloud forests and the Puna highland deserts in the northwest, to the inaccessible and magical Route 41 in southern Patagonia and a lot in between. To leave our destinations better than how we found them should be our legacy. It will be launched in the following months.
We will seek to rescue our “daily history” and make it known. We believe that each activity had its pioneers, among whom we have veteran mountaineers, Antarctic cartographers, skydivers, experts in any subject who were, in their time, advanced forerunners because of their spirit of excellence. They are waiting for someone to call on them and listen to their stories, those that only their closest family and friends know, but that will disappear when their lives are over. Perhaps it is not about Heroes, but about people who had a high commitment in life and can be inspiring for others, they are Minimal Stories that serve as maxims, believing that actions speak louder than words.
As an example, we sponsored a documentary that chronicles the end of an era in our culture, that was internationally awarded, called “Troperos”, about the forlorn gauchos of Patagonia who have lived for generations in solitude with nature, alone in the steppe lands following the seasons by herding the sheep to the highlands in the Andes and down to the pastures in the valleys. A tribute to silence, labor and snow, it describes the work of the gauchos in a desolate and lonely valley in the south of the country, displaying the sacrifice of a profession in danger of extinction. We see the specific work done in each season, including the arduous Patagonian winter and the herding of 6,000 sheep in the fall and spring, through the story of the herdsmen over the course of a year. In a place where man and animal have a very tight relationship rooted in work and survival, we listen to amazing anecdotes about experiences in the desolate countryside and in-depth reflections about their most private feelings.
– And what are your expectations for 2023? What will delight travelers who are coming out of confinement and eager for new experiences? Why should they come to Argentina?
Nature in its pure state will delight travelers as well as cities fully alive with a thriving culture. They should come to Argentina because few destinations in the world remain untouched by over-tourism. Experiences that will delight are mostly related to nature and its boundless wonders, and the value of the local people.
My expectations are to develop Pirqa to become an eco and community-conscious B company that will help develop Argentina’s undiscovered treasures in the right way, supporting and connecting the local communities, the land and its peoples with its visitors, their customs and traditions, the food, the music, make them come alive as they were in the past, so that locals can have a proud resource of living and of protecting our land for the coming generations. I also look forward into putting into practice La Promesa Argentina.
Few destinations in the world offer such unspoiled nature in a land full of contrasts, along with authentic culture and traditions, the canvas for sublime experiences. Imagine learning to tango in the cradle of this captivating rhythm, playing soccer with locals enlightened by the passion of the World Champion, go on off-road-trips in spectacular uncharted terrain, trekking over iridescent glaciers and around the rim of volcanoes, raft and kayak under cascading waterfalls, ride horses with gauchos across the majestic Andes, go tracking for pumas in the Patagonian steppe lands, breakfast with penguins, snorkel with sea-lions and kayak with whales, paraglide with condors and learn to grill in the wild in the Argentine way, heli-ski in virgin snow in uncharted mountains, learn to weave ponchos in ancestral looms, chisel silver with a master silversmith, learn to horse-whisper with a true gaucho with Indian techniques, play polo with the Pros in the Pampas, ride horses from Estancia to the Estancia staying in lordly manors and camping under the stars, taste Malbecs in different latitudes, from the highest vineyards to the southernmost in the world, navigate the fabled Beagle Channel at the End of the World, sail around Cape Horn, where the South Pacific and Atlantic oceans meet, and so much more!
We are proud that more of our clients are looking for socially responsible trips, many for educational and philanthropic travel experiences, often engaging their children in these as well, and we promote a range of ways to make this pleasurable and possible. We are happy to see that more of our clients are interested in taking socially conscious vacations; many of them seeking out educational and charitable travel opportunities, frequently also involving their children, and we create experiences that are enjoyable.
The Rewilding Argentina foundation is writing the textbook on ecological restoration in South America. Argentina could very well become the world’s next big conservation destination thanks to its work and to like-minded people who care for the preservation of our wildlife, our land, and our people.