Elvira Museri is a revolutionary, of sorts. Since 2008, she has coordinated a steady coup d’état of the tourism industry in Argentina, overthrowing the idea of travel as complacent observation and rejecting the paradigm of enterprise over environment.
When Elvira founded Anda Travel in 2008, it was with a single mission: to become the pre-eminent company for responsible travel in Latin America. “We haven’t achieved that yet,” the social entrepreneur said, before diving into her strategy for 2015. It’s a Tuesday afternoon and Elvira’s voice radiates over the muffled thrum of a shared office in Buenos Aires.
Her humility might be misplaced. Now in its seventh year, Anda has grown tremendously, quadrupling its staff and preparing to formally expand tour offerings beyond Argentina.
“I didn’t study tourism, so I had no clue how a travel agency should be managed,” Elvira admits. “It gave me the opportunity to develop a different model.”
The idea for Anda arose during a trip to Southeast Asia, when Elvira was struck by the pervasiveness of western influence in the typical tourist experience – even during a homestay in Vietnam.
“I began to think that travellers probably feel the same way when they’re in Argentina, so I started to create alternative tours of Buenos Aires.”
The first tour took place at one of the country’s most recognisable landmarks, El Caminito. Unlike the hordes of visitors who come to photograph the 100-foot stretch of primary-hued houses, Elvira’s interest lay in the deeper historical and cultural significance of the neighbourhood and in the social projects that serve this vibrant community.
“We visit three organisations in La Boca, getting our visitors in direct contact with the social entrepreneurs there,” Elvira says. “When we include a visit to a social or cultural organisation, we always give a donation to that project. So from the first moment that a traveller steps inside, the organisation is receiving an income.”
Getting a sense of the culture
This emphasis on local commerce and direct cultural exchange underscores all of Anda’s offerings, which now include day trips and long-term excursions, stretching across the country’s distinct ecological regions. Trips are fully customisable, but they all begin in the capital with tango, traditional cuisine, and a trip to Iguazú Falls.
“We combine that with local visits to the jungle or to a community. People get to understand not only the falls, which are beautiful, but also the local culture, the food, and how being next to two other countries [Brazil and Paraguay] makes the culture of Iguazú completely different from Buenos Aires,” Elvira says.
Tours proceed based on individual interests: foodies head to the wine region of Mendoza, wildlife lovers to Península Valdés, trekkers to Patagonia. Elvira moves between personal anecdote and studied expertise as she speaks about each destination with ease, a testament to her multi-faceted role (she currently heads up sales, administration and PR).
“Which is your favourite tour?” I ask. Elvira pauses. “I love wildlife, so Península Valdés is one of my favourites, to see the waves, the penguins and sea lions, to get unplugged there.”
Steps to sustainability
Elvira insists that sustainability is far from a utopian ideal or a choice between enterprise and environment. “Business can be very profitable and sustainable at the same time.”
“You can make a significant difference by using sustainable hotels, public transportation, walking tours instead of car tours. From the bottles of water we use on the tours to recycling or reusing paper, we take many small steps towards having a more sustainable business in terms of social and environmental impact,” she says.
“This is not something where you are or you are not sustainable. We get more and more sustainable every year.”
This focus on continually improving and adapting is vital to any entrepreneur, perhaps even more so in the context of Argentina’s unstable economic climate. Still, with international expansion imminent, a new website freshly launched and proprietary software on the way to improve operational efficiency, Anda is poised for growth.
“We encourage our travellers to be open to new adventures, and to enjoy the unexpected. I try to exercise that for myself.”
Emily Lundquist is a social media maven by day and an aspiring wordsmith by night. She lives in Los Angeles, CA.