Low-touch services and amenities: This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Hospitality companies that innovate around the number of touch points their services and amenities require will be less impacted by COVID fluxes, and start to see operational benefits from streamlining their services with technology. The key will be ensuring these new touchless experiences are seamless, simple and delightful for your core guests.
As part of my series about “developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jodie Hewson, CEO and Co-Founder of Stay Wilder.
Jodie Hewson is a seasoned marketing veteran, who after years of working as a growth marketer for startups, tech companies, and nonprofits, grew tired of witnessing the disastrous effects of unregulated business growth and unethical tourism on both society and the planet. Now, as the CEO and Co-Founder of Stay Wilder eco-resorts and environmental advocacy brand, Jodie, along with her husband and business partner Rob Cable, hope to disrupt the travel industry and provide the eco-curious with an accessible alternative to the status quo.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It was a culmination of a lot of things that led me to start Stay Wilder. As a kid, I was always fascinated with business, and started a variety of clubs and organizations. You name it, I dabbled in it. From lemonade stands, to mystery solving clubs, and my personal favorite, my “Don’t Pollute!” club, I tried my hand at everything.
It was no surprise that I ended up in growth marketing as an adult, where I stayed for eight years, working with startups, nonprofits, and tech companies. Like many, I eventually hit a wall, and to help heal my corporate burnout, I went traveling with my husband.
It was in traveling and visiting the Philippines that I noticed the consequences of unregulated business growth and unethical tourism on the planet and local communities. We were spending money to stay in resorts, only to be fueling this problem further. I knew instantly that I needed to do more, and change tourism for the better.
It wasn’t long before I said goodbye to my corporate career and ventured into entrepreneurship, starting Stay Wilder eco-resorts and environmental advocacy brand with my husband and business partner, Rob. We’ve been full steam ahead ever since!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Looking back and reflecting on my career, I think the most interesting observation is how my career helped build the foundation for what I’m building now at Stay Wilder. I worked in nonprofits, which taught me about social justice, economic empowerment and measuring impact. I’ve watched and fed into SaaS products being developed, which taught me about how to think modularly with the user experience in mind. I launched a field operations software, where I learned a lot about hotel operations management. I worked in a consumer product startup, where I learned about launching things, making noise, building community and product market fit.
I think that my career journey has taught me to never doubt that you are where you’re supposed to be in that moment, and that there’s always a lesson to be learned.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I share this story often because I think it’s important. At 24, I was a newly appointed Director of Marketing at a 12 million dollars tech company, where I sat on a leadership team with several men over 40. I had to give a lunchtime update about our new rebranding and product line strategy that I was leading. The goal was to build trust in the plan.
I had a dentist appointment in the morning that ran late, and I wasn’t allowed to eat beforehand, so I got to work panicked, starving, and without the time I thought I had to prepare.
I ran to the cafeteria and bought whatever I could find that would be easy to eat, which happened to be chocolate bars.
The sugar high and panic took over. What was supposed to be an informal, happy chat with the company to build trust in my plan, turned out to be a massive disaster that distracted from how important our rebrand was.
This experience taught me how important it is to protect your mental and physical health at work, and give yourself the space and time you need for important things. At the time my mentality was to sacrifice myself to cram as much into every day as possible. To show up as a leader, you need space and time for yourself.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
I could write an entire book on this subject! But maybe I’ll start with the two core things I think are a requirement to thrive.
I have a strong belief that when we do things that are in alignment with our passions, strengths and true selves, we are better able to thrive.
When you are living out of alignment, everything is draining and burnout is much more likely. So my first tip is definitely to start looking for ways to align more with your strengths, passions and causes that are important to you
Whenever I am starting to feel a little burnt out, I ask myself the same questions: how could I align better to myself and what lights me up? And what am I currently doing that is draining me and how can I do less of that?
In the last few years, the times I’ve started to near burnout are when I’m not living in alignment with my core strengths and passions.
The second tip is prioritize your own unique wellness in your own unique way. There are so many messages about what wellness is, usually aimed at selling something. So I’d start by defining what it means to you. When do you feel at your best? What does your best feel like? What activities make you feel that way?
Once you have an idea about how you want to feel, and what can help you feel that way, try incorporating them into your life more. Keep track of what makes you not feel good, and try to find ways to minimize that from your life.
One last tip: Treat the pursuit of thriving as a fun experiment to get to know yourself and what lights you up. Don’t take it too seriously and have fun with it! That’s what thriving is all about, after all.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m truly a product of so many people. My parents taught me hard work and excellence, and I’ve learned so much from colleagues, teachers, and managers.
But I have to say, my husband and co-founder, Robert Cable, has had the most overall positive impact on me today. He’s been supportive every step of the journey to creating Stay Wilder, even on days when I didn’t believe in myself. I don’t know that I’d have had that trust in me. He’s very intuitive, grounded, and heart-centered and I trust his opinion on all big things.
Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
With my company Stay Wilder, we did not specifically set out to be “innovative” but we set out with the aim to make eco-friendly travel affordable, scalable, and appealing to millennial and Gen Z travelers.
This has forced us to get creative with the hospitality experience to eliminate the bloated costs of traditional hotels, redefine modern luxuries, and find ways to delight our guests in low-cost ways.
We’re doing this on the consumer side by creating touchless resorts with automated check-ins, security and noise detection, guest preference profiles that allow for custom scents and bath products to be placed in each unit, local food and good box deliveries, in-room shopping, and custom content and itineraries. Just a few things up our sleeves!
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?
Millennials want to stay in cool, photo-worthy places. They also care about the planet.
Our innovation is centered around making the best experience possible for our market at an accessible price point, while ensuring we are minimizing negative impact and maximizing our positive impact.
Our vision is to replace the destructive way we travel and live, with a way that regenerates the planet, and so every decision around innovation ladders up to that vision.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
Our hope is to ultimately make regenerative, eco-friendly the norm for travel, rather than its own separate category. It’s sad that we live in a world where we have to label things as “ethical” or “eco-friendly.”
Our vision and long-term goals are to help pave the way for greater change across all aspects of tourism and everyday lifestyle.
As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?
- Low-touch services and amenities: This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Hospitality companies that innovate around the number of touch points their services and amenities require will be less impacted by COVID fluxes, and start to see operational benefits from streamlining their services with technology. The key will be ensuring these new touchless experiences are seamless, simple and delightful for your core guests.
- Alternate forms of community: Community and connection is an important part of travel, and often an important value-add for hospitality and tourism brands. The new world does not mean community can’t exist, but it means it needs to be creative in new ways. Finding authentic ways to build community and connection around your tourism and hospitality experiences will be a huge challenge for brands that rely on them to maintain loyal customers and good reviews.
- Guest empowerment: A theme that was present before COVID, is even more apparent now — tours, cruises, and bus loads of people are out. Discovering and exploring on your own is in. With COVID affecting the ability to deliver in-person group tours, travel companies that find ways to uniquely empower guests with amazing experiences they can carry out on their own will thrive.
- New ways to add value: Like all sectors, tourism constantly needs to think of new ways to add value to the guest experience to recover. But I specifically think often about the rise of wellness tourism and retreats in the last decade, and how that will be impacted by COVID. Health and wellness retreats will need to evolve to find new ways to add value and deliver equally delightful, safe experiences, in a post-COVID world.
- Better for people and the planet: COVID and 2020 shed light on the downfalls of modern society and more people than ever are demanding better. Standards for tourism and its impact on people and the planet will rise along with the growing concern for climate change and social justice.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
My perfect vacation is a mix of adventure, inspiration and good food. I love finding more remote, “wild”, off the beaten path destinations, and staying in places that are immersed in nature, but still close enough to cute local restaurants and shops. I truly love spending time exploring both the local lifestyle and culture, and the natural world in different destinations, which is probably why I absolutely hate traditional resorts. They have neither.
That combination of nature and local inspiration was one of the founding principles for the Stay Wilder experience. We are ultimately trying to create places we’d want to stay in.
Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In 2020, we made it our goal to start working on issues that mattered to us before we launched our company. So, this past year we planted 250 trees and did 15 beach cleanups in Vancouver, B.C. I also took on some mentees who were working on their own small businesses, and created a local mastermind group of 50 female entrepreneurs. It’s also been important early on for our brand to provide education on eco-friendly living, and so our focus from day one on Instagram has been to share quality, valuable content that will support our communities journey to lighter living.
Next year with our launch, our hope is to plant 10,000 trees, achieve carbon neutral status, donate one percent of our revenues to the planet, and support local small businesses.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The Stay Wilder mentality is that we can replace the destructive way we live and travel with a way of life that can regenerate the planet. This #wilderlife movement is just getting started as we launch Stay Wilder next year, and I can’t wait for it to grow.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow us on Instagram at @gostaywilder
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!