Corps to Career: Promoting off-the-beaten-path travel through the Peace Corps network
Every Peace Corps Volunteer wants to create a project that outlives their service – but a project that also employs them after service is particularly rewarding.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do that, by turning my Peace Corps project into a startup. Keteka is a tours and activities marketplace that leverages the Peace Corps network to connect travelers with off-the-beaten-path experiences all over the world. We are currently in five countries and we’re working to expand globally, but the idea began at the community level.
As a Community Economic Development Volunteer in rural Panama (2010-12), I struggled at first to develop the local economy. After a few failed projects and a lot of thinking, I realized that a community tour would be an excellent way to create a consistent source of income that utilized the locals’ skills and traditions.
I lived in a beautiful river valley on an indigenous reservation, so there were abundant opportunities to experience local traditional culture and interact with nature. We created a day trip that combined hiking, cultural demonstrations and traditional food. It wasn’t polished, but it was totally authentic and much better than shuffling in and out of a tour bus.
After a few months, travelers were consistently telling us how much they loved the experience. We knew we had a great product – our biggest challenge was getting the word out about it. I knew that if we wanted to make this a steady source of income, we needed an online presence.
Two other Volunteers from my training group (we would become co-founders) had similar projects with similar limitations. How do we create a significant online presence for communities without electricity or internet access? While it’s simple enough to create a website for a Peace Corps community (e.g. in Wix, Wordpress, Squarespace, etc.), it is difficult to grow that website so that people can find it when they are searching for travel options in the area. We figured we weren’t the only three Volunteers in the world with this issue, so we built a website that Volunteers could use to load information about their community tourism projects.
As the word spread worldwide, we started receiving submissions from Volunteers all over the world. We realized that with over 7,000 Volunteers in more than 60 countries, we could use the Peace Corps network to connect travelers to community tourism efforts and other authentic experiences.
After completing our Peace Corps service, we started thinking about making Keteka into a business. From what we had seen in our community projects, tourists loved the authenticity and uniqueness, so we began to research to see if there was a greater market.
There is. Adventure travel is a $263 billion market that is growing rapidly. People are increasingly demanding tours in small groups that get off the beaten path and interact with locals. Who better for modern travelers to connect with than the people we know from our Peace Corps service?
Keteka is currently in five countries – Panamá, Guatemala, Ecuador, Perú and Chile – and we hope to be in the rest of Latin America by the end of 2015 and in at least 60(ish) countries by 2017. It has traditionally been very difficult for communities like the ones in which we serve to connect with and benefit from the global economy. Tourism is a great way for communities to create a sustainable source of income on their own terms. As PCVs and RPCVs, we are uniquely positioned to help them get the word out online.Together, we can make an impact that outlives our service.