Nick StanzianoOn a semi-regular basis we interview industry leaders operating in Latin America to get an insider’s look at the travel industry and our part in it. Today we talk with Nick Stanziano, founder and chief explorer at SA Expeditions, based in Lima. With feet on the ground for a decade and plenty of local contacts, this company is doing more than just leading tourists around the main sites of Peru.

We’ll get into your back story next, but tell us what sets SA Expeditions apart as a tour company and what kinds of trips you do beyond your adopted home country of Peru?

SA Expeditions focuses on private, tailor-made adventures to South America. This includes everything from cruises down the Amazon, ice hiking in Patagonia and island hopping in the Galapagos to name just a few. We’re a 100% virtual team that conceptualizes our structure as a network of trip designers, local operators, guides, administrators, and locals inhabitants in our destination, which are all encapsulated under the “SA Expeditions Universe” or “#saexpeditionsuniverse” for those more socially inclined who want to get to know our team personally.

We don’t pretend to be a 20th century luxury travel company with office space in the world’s iconic cities. We pride ourselves on using new technology, local expertise, and an innovative business structure to execute high-touch, private experiences at a more affordable cost to other leading luxury travel brands operating in South America.

When I hiked the Inca Trail in 2005 there were organizations fighting to get better treatment and pay for porters, which I believe you were involved in. Tell us about your start in Peru.

I first came to Peru at the age of 24 years old, a few years after graduating from the University of California where I studied socio-economics and politics of Latin America. I bought a one-way ticket to Cusco, and quickly ended up in Ollantaytambo where I was affiliated with an organization working in porter rights for a brief stint of 4 months. While we had our hearts in the right direction, much of the hard work in porter rights was well under way and any further impact required a much longer commitment than what my volunteering allowed. This initial exposure to the Sacred Valley did make a significant impact on me though and was nothing short of a rebirth into adulthood that was now formed and shaped by the Andes. Since then, the future of my company, my family and my identity has been inextricably linked to Peru.

Nick Stanziano and guide Adrian in Peru

Many luxury hotels and tour companies talk about sustainability and social good, but don’t do a whole lot beyond hiring workers and writing some checks for donations. What kind of work are you doing in the Sacred Valley to make a difference in remote communities?

Being a “sustainable” company is not something that happens from one day to the next. Like any meaningful change, it’s an iterative process that has many stages and evolves over many years. For SA Expeditions, we began this process outside the Sacred Valley, developing community based treks to Choquechaca.  We expend a lot of effort in creating demand for our Choquechaca trips and on building capacities within the families there to execute high-touch, exclusive experiences only for our clients.

Choquechaca villagers Peru

It’s also important to understand that Cusco and the Sacred Valley are flooded with do-gooders, both public and private from all around the world. They spend millions of dollars a year assisting with development in the region. What Peru really needs is to focus on tourism that can help develop a much larger swath of the Andes, instead of conveniently focusing on the route from Cusco to Machu Picchu in which millions of tourists visit per year.

Therefore one important aspect of our company’s activities over the next 10 years will be taking the lessons that we’re learning in Choquechaca to build a model for high quality, inclusive, community based tourism that can be scaled up along other parts of the Andean range, specifically along the Qhapaq Nan (recently provided with UNESCO World Heritage status). We believe that the future of luxury travel will be a blend of comfort, exclusivity and impact. There’s no better laboratory to understand how that these three variables engage with one another than in the Sacred Valley over the last decade.

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Read more- full interview with Nick Stanziano