Let me tell you about my journey so far and the struggles of a small start-up company. Believe me, it’s not as easy as it seems when you read the success stories of others…
A little over a year ago, I started talking to people about how, if all travellers in the world started doing even a tiny bit of good on their visits, the world would brighten up instantly. In my head, I could just see sparks of light and smiles erupting all over the world. The world that has been crippled by the Covid pandemic and is in dire need of some tender loving care.
A systemic change is the key
A friend brought me in contact with a very smart man who listened to the goal I had in mind, changing travel itself, for millions of engaged people. He told me that what is really needed for a durable change, is an international standard. One that encompasses all elements to mutually benefit visitors and local communities, between guest and host, between traveller and nature.
The top down approach
With over ten years of experience in standard setting and certification, I drafted a standard and a code of conduct. I even made a website and Instagram account with zero knowledge and expertise to try and get people involved in my ‘movement’, that I called ‘Positive Impact Tourism’. The logo I had made was primarily certification inspired, so it could be used as a trademark for organisations that met the criteria of my standard.
But it was only me by myself working on this huge ambition in my free time from my regular job. Kind of a mission impossible, because for standardization to work, it has to be implemented by governments and the whole tourism sector of a country. A whole country somewhere. Way to go Esther, another big dream that in theory can be done for sure, but in practice…? It would probably take years if not decades before I would even get to speak to a government official in any country about it. Especially since I’m not a celebrity nor do I know any that can help speed things along.
Adding the bottom up approach
Luckily, I had been in contact with two guys that were as enthusiastic as I was about the idea of changing travel for the better. We decided to meet and discuss possibilities. Since our backgrounds were completely different, it took us some time to align our thoughts. In fact, it took us several brainstorming sessions. But when we found our common horizon, our eyes lit up. We were going to add a bottom up approach and provide positive impact experiences. We were going to provide PIEs.
Our PIEs were to be guided hands-on activities for guests that directly benefit the local community and/or natural environment. Sparks of doing good that could erupt all over the world, no matter how small.
Enter the formalities
In order to make our dreams happen, the movement had to become a registered company. All three of us still cringe at the thought of going through that legal process. It took months just to figure out that we needed PIT to be a B.V., engage a notary and draft the necessary documents. On the 14th of May 2021, PIT was officially a company.
However, the struggle of setting PIT didn’t end there, it had only just begun. Because what is a company without a bank account? You guessed it…this took another three nerve-wracking months. After filing the application, all you can do is wait, provide more information upon request and wait again. In case we got rejected, we would have to apply at another bank and go through the whole process again. The relief I felt when PIT was approved…pfieuw.
In the meantime, we had been drafting terms & conditions for guests and partner organisations and partnership contracts. Sometimes I would be grinding on after work hours till late just to keep momentum going while we waited. At the same time, we approached tour companies in other countries to see whether they would be interested in establishing a partnership with us.
Enter the grey area of something new…
My relief of having successfully navigated two bottlenecks was short lived, as the next one appeared quickly: regulations and insurances. Our PIEs, sweet as they are to both guests and host communities, are deemed ‘packaged travel’ in the eyes of the European Union. On the other hand, our PIE activities are deemed ‘volunteer work’ by insurance companies. This means that PIT has to abide by the EU guideline for packaged travel arrangements while most travel insurance companies do not cover ‘volunteer work’. The highly recommended one was so adamant about not covering our activities, they even suggested we abandon the whole core of our business and simply just sell regular vacationing tours. Ehmm…no thank you.
We are not in the business to #leavethingsastheyare, we are in the business to #travelthechange.
Starting something new that has never been done before in the manner in which you are going to do it, always means that you run into obstacles like this. You sometimes have to adhere to multiple rules and regulations that are not fully applicable to your specialty or that are even contradictory in nature. For instance, the EU Guideline solely consists of criteria that are beneficial to travellers; nothing is stated to benefit host countries, local communities or guides.
With PIT, we find ourselves in a grey area, we are not a volunteer work organisation nor are we a travel agency. But we must adhere to the criteria for both, even though we are just a small start-up company with very limited means. Doing good sounds easy, but it can be tricky making it all happen.
Tricky and sometimes downright scary
The other day, I got a letter in the mail that almost gave me a heart attack. It was from the Tax Office. It stated that PIT hadn’t filed its quarterly tax return and that we needed to pay a huge amount of presumed income tax plus a fine. My heart sank as the amount was more than the whole of PITs capital! In proper online English: WTF?! Excuse our language..
Instant bankruptcy was racing through my mind as I read that we could file for an objection but still had to pay first. And there was no telephone number to call. So I set out to find one online. As soon as I clicked on the ‘entrepreneurs’ part of the Tax Office website, I saw….the news item titled ‘inadvertently sent mail’. The post explained that a technical error had caused several letters to be sent out to companies that had in fact filed their quarterly returns. No action needed to be undertaken and no payments to be made…pfieuw.
Back to business
After that huge scare, it was back to business. At the time of writing this blog, we are still in the process of adjusting our documents and finding the right, multiple, insurances PIT needs. I am sure we will succeed, regardless of the weeks, or months, it may take. We keep our positivity up and our goals in focus. Please feel free to check our website from time to time for any progress on the formalities. In the meantime, we are emailing tour and charity organisations in different countries and setting up meetings with potential partners.
Our message to you
Grinding on your own business comes with many sacrifices, nerve-wracking moments and frustrations. Why are there only 24 hours in a day? But it also comes with the relief and joy of having completed another step. With the exhilaration of being able to celebrate milestones, such as becoming an actual company or putting the new and improved website online. The excitement of travelling to meet with potential partners and start to #travelthechange together.
Today we have a message to those that are grinding on their own businesses:
You Got This! Make it happen!