PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A local travel agency is working to bolster Oregon tourism and helping their travelers discover adventures all over the world, even as they face the challenges the pandemic has placed on world travel.
Modern Adventure CEO Luis Vargas said he expects a big comeback to the industry down the road, despite the immediate challenge of the COVID-19 Delta variant outbreak.
For that reason, he recommended people start dreaming now for their next adventure, even if that means booking it for 2023.
“Having something to look forward to, I think, is such an important thing,” Vargas said. “Because essentially, all of the trips that we’re planning for 2020 are now being pushed into ‘21. Like, you know, it’s not going to be trivial to get space, if you will, in some of the world’s premiere destinations.”
The Portland-based Modern Adventure partners with brands and individuals, such as chefs and artists, to create curated trips for travelers.
“We look through the lens of that brand to bring a place to life. And then we do that both here in our backyard here in Oregon and all over the world,” Vargas said.
Vargas said the COVID-19 pandemic has posed a significant challenge to the business. Though it started on a strong foot before the pandemic began, they only recently completed their first travel experience package since the global disease outbreak started.
“We’ve been able to get great support from the investment community and frankly I think had a tremendous start and then the pandemic took all the oxygen out of the room,” Vargas said. “But we are more bullish than ever on the return of travel. We’ve already seen bookings come back in a meaningful way since the end of the year.”
In mid-July, that magic window after Oregon largely re-opened from COVID restrictions but before the Delta variant outbreak reared its head in full force across the country, Modern Adventure partnered with Willamette Valley winery Adelsheim for a trip experience catered to locals and visitors.
“It really was a celebration of Oregon. Adelsheim recently had its 50th anniversary. And it’s really along that lines where the wine region as we know it really started,” Vargas said.
The trip included two nights in McMinnville doing intimate tastings in the heart of the Willamette Valley, including at the Adelsheim winery and family home, along with tastings at other wineries in the valley, such as Soter and Beaux Feres.
There was also a two-night portion of the trip dedicated to the Oregon coast, featuring crabbing and a prepared meal by the head chef of the Stephanie Inn.
“I think having people from all over the country come here to our backyard, frankly, I think they’re just completely blown away, both in terms of the story and the narrative of that collaboration of pioneering spirit, the quality of the wines, you know really across the board,” Vargas said.
Modern Adventure is a certified B-Corp, which means it is a company that opts into adhering to certain social and environmental ethical standards. For instance, the company is Climate Neutral Certified and is an Adventure Travel Conservation Fund Member.
Vargas said travelers taking on a conscientious approach to exploring the world, when it comes to social and environmental impacts, is part of a larger societal trend that he views as a shift “from the age of things to the age of experiences.”
“And frankly, we believe that there’s, you know, a golden age of travel coming, both in terms of the demand, the pent up demand of people who are so excited to go out and see the world again. And then also just this evolved consciousness around what type of experiences are really going to make that direct deposit to you that you’re going to carry forward with a renewed sense of that responsibility around how we travel.”
Vargas co-founded Modern Adventure with who he described as some world class talent, including Joanne Vargas, his wife of 21 years and who boasts a storied career at Walt Disney company and others. Scott McNeely, a former digital publisher for Lonely Planet was also a co-founder of the company. The three of them, collectively, have nearly 100 years experience working in the travel industry, Vargas said.
As a testament to the life-changing power that travel can sometimes have, Vargas said he met his wife while at a campground in southern Mexico, in Palenque.
“We started guiding together and she’d done some other guiding stuff. And we’ve had quite the adventure. And all of our 20s we lived out of a storage unit, really, we just were on the road full time.”
Eight years ago the Vargases settled down in Portland and started a family. But with the formation of their business, travel has still proven to be a central pillar in their lives.
“We know travel is the only thing that we can buy that truly makes us richer,” Vargas said.