If you’d asked Shelby Dziwulski 10 years ago what she’d be doing in 2021, her answer would probably involve the Navy, where she’s been a search and rescue helicopter pilot for most of her life. But in 2018, she and her flight crew flew over a Kenmore refrigerator floating in the ocean and everything changed.
“It was just kind of a pivotal moment for me to actually see with my own eyes that the refrigerator was going to stay there forever,” she sad. “It was one of those moments where I started analyzing every single part of my life and how it impacts the environment…the clothes I wear, the food I eat, a plastic bottle versus a reusable one.”
For years, Dziwulski and her husband travelled around Southeast Asia while stationed in Japan. Though they enjoyed their adventures, she began to notice the “dark side of tourism.” She defines this as overtourism, wildlife trafficking, sex trafficking and other huge issues that go unnoticed by many travelers. Seeing the refrigerator pushed her over the edge.
Fast forward to Authenteco — the company she’s built out of Denver from the ground up. They call themselves a luxury travel concierge, and work to plan conscious and responsible vacations. Their big mission? Attain 50 million dollars in profit by 2030 to purchase endangered ecosystems around the world. They want to return them to their host nations to become national parks.
The Authenteco Philosophy
“There are a lot of words that get thrown out like ‘sustainability,’ ‘eco-friendly,’ and ‘green,’” said Dziwulski. “And then ‘responsible tourism’ is a new one that’s kind of come about in the past year or so, and that’s the word we like to use,” she said. A traditional travel agency would usually prioritize the utmost desires of the clients above all. Instead, Authenteco prioritizes “the environment first, the local communities at their destination second, and then we combine that with their preferences. But the environment and local communities always come first.”
Before booking an Authenteco trip, travelers fill out an extensive 100 question preference survey. After that, the trip is designed to be stress-free. Every night, activity, and meal is booked, and the team is available for 24/7 support. Clients even get a personalized “travel magazine” filled with details on their itinerary and a box of local gifts from small businesses at their destination mailed to their door.
A big part of Authenteco’s approach to responsible tourism is patronizing small, independently run businesses over corporate chains. They try to work with boutique hotels with under 20 rooms, “and we always try to find places that are locally owned,” said Dziwulski. “So whether you’re going to New Zealand or Australia or Bali, we really try and find businesses that are owned by the Kiwis or the Australians or the Balinese, not ones that are owned by Westerners and just employ locals.”
Additionally, Authenteco travelers never take large, corporate tours, but instead end up on more intimate and private excursions. For food, they eat at restaurants that prioritize supporting local farmers. “Not just places that say they’re farm-to-table—they’re actually farm-to-table,” emphasized Dziwulski.
Navigating a Pandemic
With travel being severely limited for the past year, the industry has taken a hit. But Dziwulski and the Authenteco team have decided to lean into shifting their business model. The company has grown 2200% in the past year, and transitioned to solely domestic travel up until last month.
“The trips we were planning before the pandemic were mostly once-in-a-lifetime international ones,” said Dziwulski. “And when the pandemic came, I was like ‘ok, people are still gonna want to get outside and go play and explore their own state.’ So we stopped international except for clients booking 2022 and later,” she said. They’ve been specializing in weekend getaways and road trips. Montana, Wyoming, and Rocky Mountain National Park have been especially popular.
Staying Conscious — and Proactive
Though their business depends on travel to survive, Dziwulski encourages people to remain vigilant about preventing the spread of Covid-19. “Just because the CDC says you can travel doesn’t actually change any government restrictions,” she said. Following masking and social distancing guidelines—and researching them in your destination—goes hand-in-hand with conscious and responsible tourism.
She also emphasizes the need to book early if you do want to travel. “People who had their vacations planned for last year moved to 2021. All of those people — especially international — had to actually shift to 2022,” she said. “So now you have two years of millions of people’s vacations pushed. Just make sure to look ahead.”
To learn more about Authenteco, go here.