How to scale, adapt and evolve during the Coronavirus pandemic: an interview with Worldpackers CEO

The travel industry is among those hardest-hit by the Coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn't mean there isn't work to be done. Read on for actionable insights on how to achieve fast and aligned cooperation in your business during this unprecedented crisis.

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Janaína

Apr 02, 2020

12min

adapting during the Coronavirus pandemic

I've been working for Worldpackers for a little over a year. A couple of weeks ago, I was enthusiastically drafting an article pitch for Forbes about our business goals for 2020.

We recently expanded our team internationally and made a ton of internal changes, all with the big-picture vision that 2020 was going to be our year to finally become the global brand we'd long been dreaming of.

For those of you who might be new to Worldpackers, we're a Brazilian startup that provides travelers with access to a database of hundreds of hosts all over the world who are looking for short and long-term volunteers.

In the past few years, we've helped a global community of people fulfill their travel dreams far and wide. For the duration of that time, our primary market has been in Brazil and other Latin-American countries, but we recently shifted our focus to the millennial North American market and were expecting to see huge organic growth over the course of this year.

Enter COVID-19, or Coronavirus, and all aforementioned business plans have been placed on hold — indefinitely. It's been an incredibly difficult and challenging time, to say the least.

Our team has been busy adjusting to all the changes that have been happening. If you're subscribed to our email list or follow us on Instagram, we've shared a little bit about how all the COVID-19 things have been impacting Worldpackers and our associated hosts and travelers.

Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down (virtually, of course) with Worldpackers co-founder and CEO, Riq Lima. In his own words, Riq created Worldpackers to "help people travel in a more meaningful way." And so he has.

Since its inception in 2014, Worldpackers has made travel a form of education accessible to two million growing members. By exchanging a few hours per day of your time, skills, and effort for a host, you can gain much more than simply a less expensive way to travel — but a richer life experience as well. You'll also become part of the worldwide community of people who travel with Worldpackers — people who believe that travel is a universal right accessible through the power of collaboration.

In this exclusive interview, Riq shares more about how Worldpackers has been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, as well as how our team is responding to the situation at hand. There's no denying that Coronavirus is wreaking havoc on our world. The travel industry is among those hardest-hit, but that doesn't mean there isn't work to be done.

At Worldpackers, we're putting our community first. In doing so, we believe we will make it through this and we'll be stronger for it. 

Read on for actionable insights on how to achieve fast, aligned, and sustainable cooperation in your business during this unprecedented crisis.

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Janaina Colomba: How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting Worldpackers? What measures have you had to take to protect the survival of the company? How have you motivated your employees?

Riq Lima: We promote travel, and travel is what should be avoided. And we agree — travel should be restricted. We value the health and safety of our travelers and hosts above all else, and we want our community to stay home and do their part to flatten the curve.

Our revenue has been severely affected. We're not making any money because people aren't buying memberships or traveling. The way we work has also changed. We've closed our office space in Sao Paulo and our entire team has transitioned to working 100% remotely.

We're doing our best to stay strong and united as a team. Fear and panic are very prevalent right now, so we're trying to stay connected and focus on the positive. But we're also well-aware that we can't fool ourselves. This pandemic will severely impact our livelihood and growth. Travel will be the last industry to make a comeback economically, and international travel is particularly hard-hit.

Our community is our priority and we want to find ways to help them. We have around two million community members that need support. We've already begun transforming our platform to help our community members keep traveling, learning, and connecting during this challenging time — without leaving their homes.

We're also extending all memberships purchased from January 1st on, 6 extra months. Anyone who has recently purchased a membership will still be able to travel with us when all this has passed.

Ultimately, I'd say we're being honest about the severity of the situation while staying positive and optimistic about the future. This crisis may shake many aspects of our lives, but we'll get past this and we'll be better for it.

The real motivation for our team is the greater truth this crisis will expose... and the connections we'll build with one another along the way. This pandemic is showing us that the way we've been living is unsustainable. People are heavily invested in consumerism and only seek happiness in material wealth. At Worldpackers, we're optimistic that this crisis will create a global shift — for the better.

Travel won't go away. When all of this ends and the world gets back to normal, we hope to provide people with more meaningful, sustainable ways of exploring the world. In the meantime, we're going to do everything in our power to support our community and give them the resources they need to stay inspired and navigate this challenging time.

Colomba: Worldpackers is a purpose-driven company; we strive to create a positive impact in people's lives and communities. You believe that the Coronavirus pandemic will lead to a global shift for the better. Can you say a few words about how you see Worldpackers being a key player in a global shift that includes people living and traveling more sustainably?

Lima: Worldpackers has always been about collaboration. We've been promoting purpose-driven lifestyles for a long time. Life is short and we believe that people should be able to fulfill their dreams and do what makes them happy.

When this crisis ends, people will be more attuned to the value of collaboration. People will come out of quarantine with a greater sense of purpose; they'll want to use their time to pursue their passions and learn things that are fulfilling — and not just live a life that was imposed on them.

Worldpackers connects people to more sustainable and fulfilling ways of living and traveling. Travel is a tool for self-development, and when the time comes, we'll be there to help even more people travel responsibly, learn new skills, and discover a deeper sense of purpose and connection to the world around them.

Colomba: How are you ensuring that your team feels connected and included while working remotely?

Lima: The great thing about Worldpackers is that all of our team members are friends. We've never had to force people to like each other... they just do. We're all passionate and believe in the company vision. If we didn't work together, we'd probably all be friends anyways.

We're currently staying connected through Slack, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Instagram... you name it. Whether it's to have a work conversation or simply offer some words of encouragement, all of our team members have truly risen to the occasion and shown their support of one another. It's been heartwarming to witness.

Colomba: How is Worldpackers providing support to its community of hosts and travelers?

Lima: We're being as responsive as we can — we're not hiding. Any Worldpacker that finds themselves stranded due to the global situation will have access to our last-minute host positions, reserved for travelers and hosts in a state of emergency. We've compiled a list of supporting hosts who have their doors open to travelers seeking refuge.

Our Community Happiness team has been working around the clock to provide assistance to our hosts and travelers, as well as sharing helpful resources to assist them. In many cases borders are closed (or closing as we speak) and there's not much we can do... so it's mostly about being willing to listen and offer support and understanding.

We've also advised all of our travelers and hosts to take care of their health and take all precautions necessary to prevent the further spread of this virus. We've encouraged our community to refer to reputable sources for information about the virus (such as the World Health Organization) and stay up to date on their government's advisories (travel and otherwise).

This will pass, and if we take appropriate actions now, we can come back as a stronger, more united world.

Colomba: How are Worldpackers hosts and travelers responding to the current situation? What have you learned about the Worldpackers community at large through this crisis?

Lima: Many hosts have had to close their doors temporarily. Others don't know if their business will survive the crisis since they have no way to generate revenue during this time.

A lot of our travelers have had to postpone or cancel trips, and those already on the road have either gone home or stayed where they are — in many cases with hosts who have offered them a home during this time.

Before this crisis, I don't think our team realized how strong the Worldpackers community really is. We're facing the greatest crisis we could ever have imagined as a travel start-up. Nevertheless, our community has come together to support us in a multitude of ways.

But it's a long road ahead. The travel industry will be seriously affected by this pandemic. Travel was so easy and that won't be the case for a while — people will be afraid. Still, I believe that people will find ways to support the travel industry and we'll come out of this crisis stronger than we were before.

What we've seen from our travelers and hosts in the past couple weeks is the power of our community... in its earliest stages. There's so much more we can do to help one another as a global community, and I'm excited for what's to come.

Colomba: What are some of the best ways people can continue to support Worldpackers (and the travel industry) during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Lima: Many businesses in the industry are closing their doors. Travel bloggers and influencers have been seriously affected and are struggling to survive.

One of the biggest impacts for everyone in the industry is that website traffic has basically been cut down to 1/4 of normal traffic — likely because people aren't planning their dream trips at the moment (understandable). This doesn't impact us financially as much as it does other sites who rely primarily on ad revenue, but it's still a hard hit.

At Worldpackers, we have opened all of our academy courses and certificates to the public. These resources have been designed to help you prepare for the trip of your dreams, develop your skills and guide you through what to expect from a work exchange.

We'll also be hosting lives every day during the coming weeks. Since you can't leave the house, we come to you every day. We have prepared a series of live chats for you to connect with other travelers in our community, share your ideas and stay up to date on what's going on in the travel world.

It would help us immensely if you stay involved — read our community blog, watch an academy playlist, tune in for our lives, engage on Instagram. We're still sharing new articles almost every week and have some fun new content planned to keep you inspired and entertained while we're all stuck at home!

Finally, our operations team is working nonstop to offer personalized support to our hosts. By the time this all is over, we'll be ready to bring you the world's absolute best volunteering opportunities so that you can travel with absolute confidence knowing you're in for a once-in-a-lifetime work exchange experience.

And, as I mentioned earlier, we're also extending all memberships purchased from January 1st on, 6 extra months. If you've been on the fence about becoming a verified member, now's the time to commit!

Don't lose sight of your travel dreams — we promise to help you make them all come true when the dust settles.

Colomba: How does Worldpackers plan to adapt to the current situation? What types of services does WP plan to extend to its members and community during this time?

Lima: We're taking action to help our community stay connected and inspired during this time. As the situation with COVID-19 unfolds, we're committed to giving you the support and resources to navigate this challenging time.

We're hosting lives everyday, and we've opened all of our academy courses and certificates to the public. We're still sharing new articles almost every week on our blog, and there's always something new and fun on our Instagram.

We're also giving our community a voice. We value what you have to say. That's why we're opening up our platform to allow travelers from all over the world to share their stories, tips, and learnings

If you're interested in collaborating with us, please contact [email protected] (lives/academy), [email protected] (Instagram), and [email protected] (community blog).

Physical borders may be closed, but our platform is borderless.

Colomba: Why is right now the best time to plan for big travel goals? How can Worldpackers help?

Lima: Post COVID-19, many people will be experiencing a different kind of economic strain that they didn't have before. Worldpackers strives to provide access to the world in a way that keeps the planet's best interests at heart and doesn't hurt your wallet. Sustainability and budget travel are cornerstones of our brand.

Right now, being a traveler means staying at home, not just for your own safety, but for the good of the planet and the billions of people that inhabit it. It's the responsible thing to do.

But that doesn't mean you can't get inspired about future trips. In fact, there's never been a better time to plan future travels. So create dream itineraries. Research where you'd stay. Make bucket lists and record future travel goals. Check out our host opportunities and reach out to our team for travel advice and tips. You might not be able to book that flight now, but you can lay the groundwork for where you want to go, where you want to stay, and all sorts of things! 

Even if this crisis has got you down, we're here for you... and we'll still be here when the time to travel returns.

It's a big world out there — and it will be waiting for you when the time is right.

Colomba: If you had to attribute WP's success — up to this point — to one thing, what would it be?

Lima: A love of learning and a passion for purpose. In the early stages, we didn't have any revenue. Our founding team members worked for free because they believed in the company vision. It was all about the cause and the purpose... that traveling is a pure form of education, that travel should be intersectional, and that the possibility of learning without a high price tag can exist — for everyone.

We've always focused on serving our community first by asking ourselves how we can serve instead of profit. We've made a conscious effort to understand our audience's needs, desires, and struggles on an intimate level. We create our products and services to serve and help them adopt a more fulfilling quality of life.

At Worldpackers, we believe in the potential of a human being. Our passion to help people live purpose-driven lifestyles is the primary driver of our growth and success.

Colomba: A comeback for the travel industry is inevitable. How is the team at Worldpackers preparing to seize the comeback and help travelers hit the road post-pandemic?

Lima: Everything is changing and the situation is developing rapidly. We don't know what's ahead. It might take a while for travel to come back. Regardless, people are stuck at home and they're dreaming about the travel experiences they want to have when this is over.

Before COVID-19 hit, the entire Worldpackers team was working to meet the demands of the latest travel trends. AI and travel technology have allowed people to demand more and more personalization out of travel; travelers want to build their trips around their personal tastes and enjoy experiences that fit their personalities.

At Worldpackers, the experience is everything. Travel helps stimulate inner growth and development, which is why we've curated our volunteering opportunities to go hand-in-hand with personal hobbies, interests, and even professional career life.

We'll be using this time to optimize our media channels and user experience so that our travelers can seek increasingly customized travel experiences based on their individual interests and goals. Millennials especially want to go "off-the-beaten-path" and have unique experiences; they want to feel they've had access to something more profound than the average vacation.

Authentic and experiential travel allows people to get connected with people around them and have a more meaningful experience. One of the greatest rewards of this kind of travel is that it builds community, and we're committed to keep building our community once this temporary crisis has passed.

In other words, our mission of delivering authentically cultural experiences doesn't stop now. When borders have opened, we'll be there to help you make all your travel dreams come true.

There's a lot of work exchange companies out there, but we believe that our commitment to our travelers is unparalleled

For as long as you are with us, we'll be there to coach you, help you, and bring unique, hand-picked travel experiences to your fingertips.



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