Passionate about making travel more accessible, Pierre-Louis Abel started up social enterprise Bon Voyage for All in 2014. By creating immersive excursions in remote parts of the world — such as Maripipi in The Philippines — Bon Voyage aims to introduce travelers to an authentic way of life.
The program uses money generated from its consumer-facing arm to propel eco-tourism in the area, provide jobs, and sponsor free travel opportunities for the locals. Pierre-Louis tells The Loop why he thinks travel should be available to everyone and not just the well-off.
You’re a designer by profession. How’d you get the travel bug?
The first meaningful trip I ever went on was in South Korea. I was studying design and I went there for a design internship when I was 21. I was the company’s first non-Asian intern and I spent four months in Seoul. I loved it. What I learned is first to understand other people, and to embrace diversity, and embrace a different way of doing things. It opened my mind in a way. It was also about bettering myself. I also had time to reflect on myself and on my country.
So how’d the idea for Bon Voyage come about?
I studied design and business in Paris and I started to work for L’Oreal. I got a bit bored and wanted to do something innovative — I didn’t feel like I fit in the corporate world. I moved and went on a holiday to Palawan with a friend.
One night we were on the beach just having a dinner and we started to talk. We talked to two local guys and they asked us about where we were traveling, and where we were from. At the end of the discussion, they said that they wished they could travel the way we did.
I realized I was lucky, because I knew how travel transformed me. I thought it was such a shame that these guys may never leave the island or even go to Manila. So I had my ‘aha moment’ and wanted to find a way, to create a system, that could enable them to get exposure to other cultures and places.
So what’s the crux of the concept?
Let’s design an expedition for people who have money but are bored of the typical tourist trail. Then let’s use the money we make from the expeditions to design free travel experiences for people in the Philippines. At the same time, let’s use eco tourism to provide jobs for the locals from Maripipi. Working for a social business is about making money and using it to have a positive impact.
Why did you choose the Philippines as the first location?
I have explored a lot of the Philippines, and the purpose was to find a community. That’s how I met Antony [my local partner in the Philippines], who is leading the expeditions there. I met his friends, hung out with him, went to his house and he was telling me that there weren’t any tourists on the islands but that he loved to show foreigners around. So he was naturally already kind of doing what I wanted to pay him to do — so I took some time, explained the concept, and I invited him to do it with me.
In a way, it’s not only about finding the best local people for the explorers, but it’s also about finding the best travelers for the local people. Finding the right people, the right explorers, the right homestay is critical to the success of our social enterprise.
What’s up next?
The idea is that we will stay in the same island, so there are still a lot of things to explore. I only spent two months and there is still so much more. When Antony is ready, he’ll open another location in the Philippines. And then afterwards, I’d like to go somewhere like Mongolia or Kazakhstan — so it’s not all island life. It’d be very very different.
How would you describe a typical excursion?
I really want the explorers to experience the simplicity of life. Go to this island, go back to the basics, and forget everything they know. That means going to sleep with the dark, waking up at 4am, going out fishing, enjoying the silence of the morning. Go on a hike, and at the end of the hike, buy vegetables from a local garden, and eat with a family. It’s very simple. It’s staying with the locals in homestays, spending time with them, cooking together, and learning about their lives.
What kind of traveler do you think would like these trips?
It’s easy to go to a place, stay in a bubble and not interact with anyone. Even when you stay in your bubble, you knock at the door, go to places, have dinner with local people and share their lives.
There are more and more people who have done all the party types of holidays, people who are curious about the lives of strangers, and also want to be able to just go back to basics.
More and more people want to return to a time where you eat from the fish that you caught in the morning and food you grew on your own land. There’s more meaning. The millennial generation doesn’t do what they are told to do. They don’t want to work for the same company all their lives. You get meaning from connecting with people, especially when they’re not like yourself.