Travel Impact Spotlight features startup company founders committed to changing how we travel. These startups bring travelers closer to the people and culture of their destination, lessen the negative impact of travel on the environment, and benefit local communities from all parts of the world. From the towering peaks of Torres del Paine to the […]
Travel Impact Spotlight features startup company founders committed to changing how we travel. These startups bring travelers closer to the people and culture of their destination, lessen the negative impact of travel on the environment, and benefit local communities from all parts of the world.
From the towering peaks of Torres del Paine to the isolated shores of Easter Island, Wheel the World opens up the most remote and inaccessible places on Earth to travelers with disabilities.
Alvaro Silberstein co-founded the inclusive tourism startup company to empower people with disabilities to travel beyond their limits. Alvaro has paved the way for others through his expeditions to remote destinations in Chile, such as Torres del Paine, San Pedro de Atacama, and Easter Island, and inspired adventurers from all over the world through documentaries about his groundbreaking travels.
Once Alvaro and his team finish an expedition, they leave a legacy for others to follow in their footsteps. Wheel the World trains local tour guides to work with people with disabilities and leaves equipment behind for exciting excursions, such as scuba diving, kayaking, and biking.
A fellow participant in the Booking.com Booster Program, Alvaro caught up with us to talk about the impact of his startup and some of the unique experiences they offer travelers.
Alvaro: I was in the engineering profession, and I worked for different firms. I worked as a management consultant, and then I worked for other startups here in Santiago. I studied an MBA at Berkeley, and then was when I decided to found Wheel the World.
The context is I’m a wheelchair user since I was 18 years old. I have always been passionate about traveling and the outdoors, and my dream was to go to Patagonia — to a national park there called Torres del Paine.
I realized when I was planning the trip with my friends that nobody in a wheelchair had trekked that national park before. So, we decided to do a project of the first wheelchair expedition to Torres del Paine, in which some equipment was involved — a special hiking wheelchair. We wanted to find the most accessible accommodations, so we decided to transform this into a project, in which we fundraised resources with brands, and we opened a wheelchair route to people with disabilities in order for them to repeat this trip after us.
Our story became viral because we did really cool videos and pictures, and we started to receive a lot of people wanting to do this trip again.
Given the lack of accessibility in general in the travel industry and the lack of tourism programs for people with disabilities, we decided to found Wheel the World, a benefit corporation to empower people with disabilities to explore the world without limits. We create accessible experiences in unique destinations of the world, and then we offer them online to people who want to do it with their families and friends.
A: Yes, so what we do is organize and partner with tour operators to whom we give the chance to receive us, and we train them so they can work with others with disabilities in the future. So we work with them to enable Wheel the World experiences.
Wheel the World experiences consider accommodation, transportation, and activities, and we partner with tour operators to create those experiences and train them so they can receive people in the future.
A: For example, in Torres del Paine, it’s a hiking wheelchair that allows someone to trek a trail that is not accessible. In Easter Island, we have hand bikes — bikes that crank with your arms, and bikes specially designed for someone who is blind to use them.
In San Pedro de Atacama, we have another type of wheelchair that is more like the mountain bike of wheelchairs. Depending on what is the reality of the destination that we want to impact, we decide what equipment is the best one to enable [people].
A: I think my favorite one was in San Pedro de Atacama, because it’s such a beautiful place with such nice landscapes. You can do very cool bike rides and hikes, and also you have a lake, so you can swim, and the hotel that we are working with is amazing. So, I think that’s my favorite one. We are working very hard to allow other people to repeat it.
A: Around 600 — 250 with disabilities, because normally people book group travels with us.
A: We are allowing people with disabilities to explore places that they never thought were available to them. And we are also impacting those communities, giving them the chance to receive people with disabilities and expand their markets. Also, we are opening their mindset in terms of who are the potential customers that they can have and the potential travelers that can visit the area.
We are also changing the mindset of society in general on how they see disabilities. One of our values or goals is to help people with disabilities and active people live their lives to the fullest, and I think we are doing that — enabling them to travel to places beyond their limits.
A: The Easter Island one — it’s very popular because you can scuba dive there and you can also have a cultural experience with the local people from the island.
A: We are planning to open four Wheel the World experiences — one in Pucon, which is a very nice place in northern Patagonia, and also in Peru at Machu Picchu, Cusco, and also in Oaxaca, Mexico.