The planet faces new challenges. In this context, Esencia.Patagonia, a high-end tour company with more than 20 years of history, creates a new work method to accomplish its purpose: to inspire a transformation in people through the experience of travel. Leer en español.
By María Eugenia De Cicco
Photos by Esencia.Patagonia
The world is in constant transformation. As never before, everything changes fast. The pandemic has led to reevaluating priorities, acknowledging self limitations, but, also, seeking well-being, here and now. In order to do that, you have to stop and look within. Introspection is the tool to achieve the goal of “self-discovery”, and this is valid for people as well as for companies that want to find their place in this current landscape. This “wave” also caught Esencia.Patagonia and its members. “It was a wake-up call”, says Nahuel Alonso, the company’s CEO. “We realised that the intensity of our work was going against our purpose: that the traveller is in contact with nature, changes habits, becomes more reflexive. We weren’t giving them the time and space necessary to fulfil the intangible part of our mission”, he adds. So, they stopped the game for a few months. They took enough time to reflect, look within, assemble, disassemble and reassemble. “It was a team effort, but for each member it started on a personal level. As a company, we identified what we wanted to do, always providing experiences that make the difference and give us the edge, we were able to regroup and lay the groundwork for what’s to come”, claims Nahuel. The result? They created a new work approach, which they called “Esencia Transformation Method”. “Since more than 20 years, we design and create exploration experiences in Patagonia with the goal of inspiring transformation in people and the environment, with a positive social, environmental and economic impact. Today, with all we have learned, we are back to the field totally convinced that we are a gateway that invites to explore through experiences that connect us with nature, adventure, gastronomy, and art”, he asserts.
This new phase as a company led them to identify different concepts that are an integral part of this new manifesto, and also cross-sectional for the experiences they offer: nature, boundaries, method, intangibility, community, transformation, and impact. Always based on their standard values: education, excellence, conservation, and bonds. The method -which is in constant evolution, as they claim in Esencia- is inspired in two movements: “Sharing Nature” and “Slow Travel”. The first seeks to awaken empathy towards other living creatures and recapture ecological values through activities within the natural environment, which is proven today to exponentially raise wellness levels in people. And the second movement promotes organic travelling that dedicates time to connecting with other people, their culture, food, environment, as well as with themselves. “These are movements that were avant-garde in their time and proposed something different”, Alonso explains.
At ground level
The implementation of Esencia Transformation Method is transversal to the whole Esencia universe and has an impact on their products, marketing, and operations. With that in mind, firstly, they redesigned their experiences to create and operate integral tours, now with a minimum duration of three days, to achieve that aspired transformation, giving priority to the bond created with the people and the environment. They promoted the concept of “Km 0” offering “blood traction” activities that have a lesser impact on nature, with locations and lodging that don’t involve riding vehicles, or require minimum transportation. Secondly, on the operational level, they identified “ambassadors” of their method to assemble the team that, ultimately, is the one that transmits the company values to the customers. And regarding their rates, they reduced the amount of experiences, on the basis of a “less is more” philosophy, prioritizing quality and care for every detail.
During the pandemic, Esencia’s team didn’t stop. The Commercial Division put together a packed schedule to participate in different international tourism fairs. “We belong to a global community in which the products we offer are recognized. We are a reference for high-end tourism in Latin America, in Argentina and in Patagonia as well. This gives us great pride, but it also involves a responsibility if we want to be the agents of a transformation. Travelling is a great tool to change and to make the world a better place”, Nahuel stresses.
In 2017, the company started measuring their carbon footprint in all their operations, seeking to improve, but to compensate as well. With this knowledge, it incorporated a compensation cost to all its activities.
Three years later, Esencia.Patagonia started the process to be a Certified B Corporation, and it finally obtained the certification in 2021. This assesses the social, environmental and economic impact a corporation has on its community, contributing to the creation of a new economic model that includes everyone and that is able to generate value for all humankind. “The certification gave us resources to identify and measure the path that our company has traversed in terms of our community, environment, and economy. And it has helped us to reach a positive balance between company goals and social and environmental impact”, argues Matilde Apellaniz, leader of the Sustainability Division.
Obtaining the B Corp Certification was an important step, but “we had to aim even higher”, Nahuel states. “So we created the Esencia Transformation Fund, an instrument that tries to provide sustainability to our environmental and social positive impact projects. All the rates of our products include a percentage destined to this Fund, through which we promote conservation projects in the places we visit”, he underlines. This new tool incorporates another step that Esencia had already implemented: measuring their carbon footprint.
The Esencia Transformation Fund focuses on three lines of action to generate awareness about environmental, social and economic issues. The first one is directed towards conservation, working along with third-sector organizations on native forest restoration and wildlife protection projects. It also seeks waste reduction and, at the same time, responsible waste management practices through source separation and delivering the classified material to the Bariloche Recyclers Association (ARB). To that effect, Ailén Ortiz, leader of the Management & Alchemy Division in Esencia, explains: “We are developing a Comprehensive Urban Solid Waste Management Plan for our events, that starts with a strong focus on prevention, which means minimizing the amount of waste generated. But not only applied to Esencia, so that other companies can hire this service”. “Waste generation and management is a problem in Bariloche. According to official data provided by Bariloche’s General Environmental Agency in 2008, every day 280 tons of waste arrive to the local landfill, which is equivalent to the weight of 212 cars, that are not separated or composted, and end up becoming garbage. The basis for this new project is to gain awareness and be able to generate an alternative regarding this problem”, she mentions.
“Working as a community is part of the method”, they remark. That is why Esencia’s team prides itself on the fact that, among all the suppliers and retailers they work with -near 3000 in total- 95% are local. Furthermore, they endorse and collaborate with local community projects like the meal centre “Gotitas de Esfuerzo” and the youth centre “Herreros de la Luz”; they organize training activities and awareness campaigns for their team and suppliers, and guarantee gender equity at the workplace within the company. 57% of Esencia’s team are women.
What is essential is visible to the eye
“What’s intangible is one of the strongest ingredients in what we do, we want to measure that and make it visible. That is the result of implementing our method”, says Matilde. “We want to be aware of the transforming effect that our experiences have on people and the resource we have found is the ‘Transformation Coefficient’, comprised of three questions that focus on the emotions, the new habits and the memories of each traveller during their stay”, she asserts.
In this regard, Alonso points out: “We seek that the implementation of the method can be felt during the travelling experience. The aim is to have feedback that goes beyond subjective interpretation, so we can generate a measurable record of a person’s transformation”.