A few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Florie Thielin at the Ecotourism & Sustainable Tourism Conference in Quito and learning more about the Hopineo initiative. It’s a deliciously simple, but an impactful idea! In exchange for sharing best practices and providing specific recommendations for how a sustainable hotel can enhance their marketing efforts, Hopineo provides access to experienced sustainability, marketing and/or photo/videography professionals, among other skills, who only ask that their room and board accommodations be waived.
For the last year, Florie has been traveling through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador sharing her knowledge and skills about how to best market sustainable tourism to customers.
As she transitions onto Peru and through the last few months of her journey, I had a chance to ask her a few questions about her specific goals with this sustainable hotel project.
What made you think to swap your professional skills for free room accommodations in Latin America?
Yes, it was a crazy idea!! I’m a hotel marketing professional and I was looking for a way to travel that would allow me to continue to grow my professional skills while practicing my Spanish, get to know the people of Latin America and their culture and to travel without spending too much.
Truth is, the dream took a long time to materialize. During my studies and internships (in France, Russia, Germany, and New Zealand), I made a lot of friends who came from Latin America and thought that it would be great one day to visit them in their hometowns. Then, while I was in Spain, I got to talking about my professional experience with the owner of the hostel I was staying at. To my surprise, the hostel owner offered me a chance to stay for free in exchange for providing him an “Express Course” in Pricing and E-Distribution Strategy. As a result of that experience, I got the idea to do this sustainable hotel project.
How did you connect with like-minded people for the project?
The first thing I did was to develop a website presenting my “Hospitality Tour” initiative to hotels. Then, three days before I was due to leave, I received an invitation from a French couple, Justine and Mahery, who were about to start their own type of Tour de France by swapping their skills for not only for room and board, but also to specifically collect and share best practices in responsible tourism and sustainable hotel projects.
They wanted to learn from sustainable hotel owners themselves the best practices for having a positive impact on both the environmental and social aspects of a destination and share their experiences via an online platform, called “Hop Solutions” so other hotel owners could be inspired by their peers and implement even more responsible practices.
As we discussed it, we realized just how many small and independent hotels feel so islolated, and that maybe we could be the link between them by traveling and sharing “tested and approved” sustainable practices and creating a “collective intelligence”.
The benefit of course is that the “Hop Tripper” gets to live a very special and exclusive experience both growing his/her own knowledge and gaining insight for other stories s/he is visiting.
So, I accepted the invitation and my initial “Hospitality Tour” became a HopTour!
How many hotels have you collected and shared best practices information with thus far?
Since starting on July 1, 2014 in Mexico, I have worked with 50 hotels throughout Latin America. My ultimate goal is to get to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’ve helped all kinds of accommodations thus far, from 5-star luxury boutique hotels to indigenous community-owned eco lodges, hostels and bed & breakfasts.
I’ve found that whatever the price range, my goal is to work with owners who are trying their best to engage with their local communities and respect their surrounding natural environment.
During my stays, I give them specific recommendations about how to improve their digital marketing strategy and increase their occupancy rates. In fact, I’m working on developing an e-book for helping small hotels with their marketing efforts, and making it available to everyone via my blog.
Where are you now? Are you looking for additional ideas for hotels and best practices?
I just entered Peru this week and the plan is to stay through August. I’m looking for responsible small hotels to visit in Peru as well as Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina from September onwards.
Although I haven’t purchased my return ticket back home to France yet, my idea is to celebrate this Christmas with my family.
How can folks get in touch with you to ask for your services and, perhaps, share ideas for sustainable travel?