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This interview is the first of several in evoTrip’s storytelling series, taking a closer look behind the scenes with a few of our favorite tour operator partners around the world. We spoke with Christian Valencia, Founder and CEO of Activexpedition, who operates all of our adventures to Ecuador and the Galapagos. Here’s what he had to say about how Activexpedition came to life, the impact of Covid, his vision for sustainable travel, and learning to build his own bike racks in all of this unexpected spare time.

Christian, tell us about yourself and Activexpedition.

I was born and raised in Quito. I've been involved with tourism for the last 15 years. I was certified at Quito’s tourism university - to become a guide in Ecuador, you have to complete four years of this program. I began as a freelance guide, and it was a completely new life for me, with people, nature, and communities that were completely new to me. As I got more experience within tourism, I decided I was ready to do something myself. I wanted to offer tours that I designed, going one step further in the experience and showing corners of Ecuador that no tourist had experienced. For me being really out there in nature, doing an activity you love, is the best part of adventure travel. I also really like working with local people. Ecuador being such an amazing, mega diverse country, not just in its nature but its people and languages. Travelers are fascinated with the wilderness, but when they meet the people, it is truly special. When they find the reality of somebody who's got a great history, like when they meet this shaman that is the 3rd generation living in this forest, and he is one of the protectors of that nature. And his family is preserving their culture and keeping their language alive, and they're happy to share it with the outside world. For me, this combination was like “wow!”, this is what it’s all about. I also have a family in Quito, my kids they are 12 and 7. And that is my life, it's what I love to do.

What led you to create an adventure travel company, and what's your passion behind it?

Activexpedition is a very big passion for me. I've been working very hard to bring this brand into the eyes of adventure travelers. My company focuses on sustainable travel, especially in how to minimize the impact of travelers in the communities we visit. We are always trying to reduce carbon emissions. We believe if we want to keep exploring in these natural areas we have to be very careful. We don't believe in mass tourism. We believe in quality and off the beaten path experiences. For our guides, guests, and all involved, it's safety first. The level of education for our staff is extremely high. We have high standards and people are passionate about the cause, it's not just about earning a living, it’s a constant desire to learn and do more to help. We really love showing people Ecuador at its purest.

Would you please share with us how COVID-19 has impacted you and the Activexpedition team?

COVID-19 has been a very big issue for us, as it has been for the travel industry around the world. Imagine being in tourism for 15 or more years already, and suddenly there is this stop. It's a shock. People cannot travel anymore. For me it's been like wow, how are we going to do this? We need income to survive. In our case, Activexpedition is purely a travel company -- that's 100% of what we do. At first we thought it would be a few months, followed by the realization that it's going to be longer. It has impacted our pockets very much. The big thing, it's not only 1 person but so many people who are affected. We're talking about guides, drivers, transportation services in general, hotels, restaurants, resorts... that's when you realize how big tourism is. There are so many people involved. Suddenly, you are forced to stop. Some trips are moved to next year, other trips are canceled. Dealing with hotels, telling our guides, it's been really hard and navigating something very new. It's the first time we've seen an issue of this scale. It's been terrible.

On the other hand, what opportunities has COVID presented for you?

The opportunity is time. There has been plenty... of... time... (laughs) to get reorganized, and in our case, I've been doing a lot of trip design together with some of our guides. Also, we have created more experiences. We've been going deep into every trip and trying to see how we can do more, how can we make each trip better and each experience more special. And at the same time, I have been working with my webmaster and we have a new system for trip operations. In many years I've never had the chance to do that, we don't have guests currently, so tell me more about these systems. Now we have it, it's almost ready, and it's going to make the logistical process much easier for our staff. So I think it's the time that we have now. And that's going to be very good for us in the future. We've been focusing on imagery and video. Going out into the field with guides to capture that content. We've even been trying out to building our own bike racks.

Are there any new hobbies or interests that you and your team are pursuing during these times?

I've been in the travel industry for awhile, and I've been traveling so much, whether inside the country or abroad. This is the first time I've been with my family for so long, sleeping every night at home, having every meal with my kids, checking on their homework. It’s been such a huge opportunity having this time with my family. In terms of hobbies, I've been getting deeper into equipment, learning more, checking every bike, and every kayak. This one needs a little paint! Maintenance and what not. And I guess it's a hobby now because I like it so much. Another hobby is finally getting into the pictures. I'm finally going to get into those 500 gigabytes of images and video and find the best ones. It's been a great way to connect with  past customers, like Hey! Remember this? And it's a good excuse to get on a Zoom with them. I've been learning how my camera works, turns out it's an amazing camera and I finally know how to use it.

What positive impact do you see for travel in the future as a result of COVID?

I really think there will be more appreciation for being truly out there (in the wild). After the borders open, people will think more about responsible travel. They will appreciate going to the ocean, the woods, like finally! I'm allowed to go and explore. That is going to be very positive. And more responsibly because people have been inside for so long and they will have a renewed sense of inspiration, I think. And they will do it  the right way. People will think more about leaving no trace, and following the kind of philosophy we promote. We are looking into becoming a zero waste tour operator and are doing our best to reach that goal. Because we are inspired too.

What are you most looking forward to when the world returns to a new normal?

Well first of all, to be able to work properly (laughs). And not only me, but the whole team, that everyone is ready to go work. So, in my case, I really look forward to getting into an expedition and being the leader, and transmitting all my energy to the group. Finally I'm here, and I'm going to give the best of the best. And then also I look forward to seeing my friends, my people, you know, over there in the jungle, over there on the islands in the Galapagos, and enjoy a fish right from the ocean to my plate. I really look forward to just getting back out there and being able to work.

What would you most like to share with future travelers?

I would very much insist on our philosophy, that is with responsible travel at the center, and teaching people how to be proper sustainable travelers. That can make a very big impact not only on the land, but also in the heart of people, We will always transmit the message of protecting the environment, as well as the people and cultures within adventure travel. We will insist on that more and more, and we'll be sharing the passion of what we do.

Anything else that you would like to tell us?

I would like to invite people  to come and visit Ecuador, because Ecuador has so much to offer. It's not only about the visit, it's a real life experience within our communities. And you would be part of that. We look forward to having you and showing you the very best of our country. 


Interested in going to Ecuador, when the time is right?

Explore mountain biking, trekking, and multi-sport trips in mainland Ecuador as well as the Galapagos. Options include 2021 dates, ability to change or cancel your trip, and private trips for travelers seeking more flexibility.