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The magic behind adventure tourism in Northwest Argentina


Behind the Scenes with Socompa Adventure Travel

For the last 20 years, Socompa has been dedicated to taking travelers and explorers to discover the most extraordinary places in Northwest Argentina, promoting more responsible and inclusive tourism for the region’s communities. Just a few months ahead of our REMOTE Immersion in Cafayate, Salta, we spoke with Fabrizio Ghilardi, founder of Socompa, and Mariana Caliuolo, the executive director, to learn more about the secrets of a strong, enduring company.

REMOTE: Fabrizio, what legacy and lessons do you believe you’re leaving for Socompa after more than 18 years? And what has Socompa given you over these years?

Fabrizio: I wanted to talk to you about what these 18 years have meant to me as an experience and I’d like to let my thoughts flow freely. I don’t want to talk about economic, financial, organizational stuff or personal experiences, because it would take me six months just talking about the most significant experiences for me, my family and the group of people who have been with me for so many years, because we have a not-so-small group of people that have been working together at the company for over ten years now.

 

REMOTE: What are the secrets to Socompa’s success?

Fabrizio: I’d like to tell you about one thing that I believe is something that you can find at Socompa and you can find it especially at small companies, and at companies that deal with a lot of details and a lot of passion. For me, there’s a link between the word ‘detail’ with the word ‘passion.’ You can’t work in an environment where you have to manage a lot of details without experience, competence and plenty of passion. Otherwise, it just doesn’t add up. So the thing I want to tell you is about MAGIC. There’s only one answer. When I look at my professional and personal experience over the past nearly 20 years, the thing that all these experiences have in common is magic. Without magic, our entire story, all the people that passed through the company, all the trips that we took, all the effort that we made and all the problems that we overcame… it would have been impossible! You’ve got to have a little magic.

We always repeated “our company is a people company,” not only because we deal with people but because it’s about people. From the beginning, I didn’t want to use any software to design our trips and expeditions because I always thought that if you have software, it makes it so you don’t put your attention into things. So every trip, even today in 2022, is crafted in a very rustic way, with everyone who works at Socompa forced to think about what the best solution is for each specific request. And that, for me, is fundamental.

REMOTE: What do you mean when you say “magic”?

Fabrizio: Magic has to exist. And what’s the reason for Socompa’s magic? I believe it’s about a kind of consistency in being fair. We always try to be fair. Fair to our customers, trying to always tell them the truth about our trips. Fair with our employees, our guides, providers, tour operators, DMCs. For me, that built up the possibility to create something magical. The magic can exist if you’re a fair person who manages things fairly. And it’s not easy. Otherwise, magic would be kind of a common asset.

REMOTE: Mariana, your purpose is to bring more women into the adventure tourism industry. Why do we need to talk more about gender equality in tourism?

Mariana: There’s a question of female leadership that’s very important to address. I think that having more women leaders in our industry would provide us with a broader, more diverse understanding of complex issues and problems that need solutions. We’re in an industry where women make up the majority of the workforce, but very few make it to top positions, both in the public and private sectors. I think we need to approach this issue seriously, because it’s at the heart of new policies for inclusion, diversity and equity at every company and also part of every sustainability initiative that we undertake. So, for me, it’s a central issue that should be included in every strategy at every company. When we work on analyzing what we’re doing to improve gender equality, we find that, even when we have good intentions, we might be reproducing inequalities without knowing it. So I’d really recommend the gender gap analysis tool developed by the UN – it’s a very good first step to find out where you stand in terms of this situation and to make a plan of action on how to improve your work environment to include more women in leadership positions. I think it would be great if more companies would join us in this process.

REMOTE: How do you think REMOTE Immersion Cafayate 2022 can help promote the destination?

Mariana: I think REMOTE Immersion Cafayate will definitely have a positive impact on the region’s development and bring the kind of tourism that we want, the kind that can create genuine jobs, attract responsible travelers and help to develop the region sustainably. Cafayate is truly a land for adventures, a land where you will find the cultures of criollos and rural communities eager to work with tourism. It’s great for us to participate in REMOTE because we know we can connect with other people who are sincerely interested in creating a new travel industry based on the same values. We’re really looking forward to the event. I’m sure it will be a success and that it will be great for the nation and the industry.

 

REMOTE: How have you overcome the challenges of operating in Salta, one of the most remote spots in Argentina?

Mariana: For us at Socompa, this is also the kind of tourism we’ve been working on for almost 20 years now, and we know that we face a lot of challenges with that kind of tourism because not everything we do is finished yet. I mean, we still have to design better ways to travel and we have to address each issue. So we developed, for the coming years, a plan with different strategies to keep finding the extraordinary in the small things and small moments, and to bring everyone involved with the trips together. It’s a huge responsibility for us to bring travelers from around the world to very remote locations and untouched territories. We’re conscious of that and we have a limit of travelers who can go to these places. We also have strategies for people from the region that want to get involved in tourism, but who may not be familiar with the industry or  know how to get their foot in the door. So we’re helping and we created a training area, which we really love, and we’re starting to travel to regions where tourism is not yet developed, but there’s still a lot of potential around Salta. In our 20-year plan, we’ve been able to incorporate this, and it’s helping us to expand our mission.

REMOTE: How does it feel to promote and invite travelers to the place where you were born?

Mariana: I feel so lucky to have this job. This is one of the most rewarding jobs. Being able to promote my destination, and my roots, makes me proud. But beyond that, I think the places where we travel are very special for the exact same reason that we go to the mountains, to one of the least-populated regions on the planet. So that sensation of solitude, that sensation of how small we are and discovering that feeling… I think it’s something that really changes you. Not just the travelers but also everyone who works at Socompa has had that moment of realizing that you can be happy with so little.

 

Further reading:

 

The essential role of women in Adventure Travel

(click to read)

 

Watch the full interview with Fabrizio and Mariana:


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