Exclusive Interview of Bárbara Büchel of Viatu. Edited by Powered Magazine
We are thrilled to present an exclusive interview with Bárbara Büchel, an accomplished professional at the forefront of sustainability and regenerative travel. With a graduate study in Sustainability from Harvard Extension School, Büchel brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her work. As the Founding Advisor of Regenerative Travel, she has been instrumental in driving positive change within the travel industry. Join us as we delve into Büchel's insights and experiences, exploring her remarkable journey and her vision for a more sustainable and regenerative future.
Tell us about yourself and your business.
I, Bárbara Büchel, was born into a nomadic lifestyle and have a Swiss-Argentine passport, but I've lived in 10 countries, 12 cities, on 4 continents, and have mastered 5 languages. Given that travel is a fundamental part of who I am, I am deeply committed to Viatu's mission of democratizing sustainable travel.
Viatu is disrupting the last offline frontier in travel worth US$30 billion with a data-driven marketplace that makes planning and booking sustainable multi-day trips (a.k.a. itinerary-based travel) as easy as booking a weekend getaway to Paris. Leveraging technology to address NextGen's sweet spot of holiday planning, Viatu empowers consumers to book authentic and sustainable trips directly within a single platform, minimizing friction, time, and cost.
What were your biggest challenges when starting your business?
At a personal level, the biggest challenge was daring to reinvent myself and break away from a comfortable life in advertising in my late thirties. It can be intimidating to enter a new industry and embark on a very steep learning curve, but if it is better aligned with your true values and passion, all elements will align, and it is never too late.
From a Viatu team perspective, the challenge was timing. Incorporating the company mid-pandemic (July 2020), we were confident that this was the opportunity to rethink how travel is managed, but we did not expect the pandemic to last this long. As soon as restrictions were lifted, everyone was eager to tap into their wanderlust again, but a majority of investors kept a “wait and see” attitude, making our fundraising journey quite extensive and challenging.
How have you handled success and failure over the course of your career?
To me, success and failure are very relative to one’s personal values. It is important to have clarity on what success means to you and not navigate through choices based on external paradigms of success. From an external perspective, I had a successful career in healthcare advertising, scaling and managing a global network of independent agencies. I will always be incredibly grateful for the decade of learnings and collaborations with colleagues across 20+ countries, but the truth is, that I wasn’t entirely inspired or fulfilled by the industry I was in.
The switch to travel was challenging, and I caught myself making many mistakes or being at a loss for many answers. But I feel fulfilled and motivated to keep learning and evolving. And as long as I am able to reap the learnings from the failures, I personally feel fulfilled to have left a successful career behind and to finally align with what I care most about.
What motivations drive you to keep pushing forward in the face of adversity?
The belief that the travel industry can be transformed to ensure it ultimately has a net positive impact on people and the planet
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their chosen field?
In such a fragmented industry, it is key to collaborate. Markets like travel are large enough to foster healthy competition, so rather than isolating yourself in the attempt to be the best at everything, look at which strategic partnerships can be mutually beneficial and, more importantly, deliver a more streamlined and impactful offering.
How have technological advances affected the way you conduct business or operate your venture?
The timing for Viatu is now possible because of the more widespread presence of technology in the travel industry. We are just getting started, though; the evolution of our platform will be never-ending as we optimize and enhance the level of personalization by incorporating advances in AI and machine learning.
In what ways has customer feedback or response influenced how you prioritize goals or objectives for your business or venture?
The Viatu journey is still in its early days, but as a B2C marketplace, it is essential for us to nurture feedback loops with our customers and continuously evaluate how to improve our product to effectively serve and delight the customers.
How has working remotely or online impacted your business or venture over the past year?
Personally, I have been used to working remotely for over a decade. In my previous career, I managed a network of agencies across 20+ markets; therefore, I worked for many years remotely from Barcelona and Buenos Aires (starting in 2010).
Viatu was founded mid-pandemic with the premise of establishing a fully remote team. Despite the geographic dispersion, we have been able to nourish a strong team culture and streamline work processes that leverage the abundance of collaborative tools that now exist. That said, we do believe in the power of in-person time and always strive for team gatherings and co-working days in our Swiss and South African hubs.