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Hilary Matson, Founder & CEO, Yūgen Earthside

Hilary Matson: Making Sustainable Travel More Accessible

Often people love to travel to different cities worldwide and experience scenic and cultural beauty. Traveling is an excellent medium for exploring different places and interacting with native people. However, traveling is also a significant contributor to the global pollution index. Reports suggest that traveling leaves behind a lot of carbon footprint, which is irreversible. However, you can reduce the environmental impact of your tours significantly if you plan your trips efficiently. It is often challenging to plan sustainable trips independently, and package tours are either hard to find or too heavy on the pocket. Hilary Matson thought for a solution to this critical problem and came up with Yūgen Earthside, a company specializing in sustainable travel.

Hilary previously worked with Amazon for a decade and later chose a profession that better aligns with her values and interests. She founded Yūgen Earthside with the concept of providing hassle-free sustainable travel solutions. Travelers did not have many viable traveling options before, but with Yūgen Earthside, they source package trips from responsible tour operators around the world to make it easier for travelers to discover and book sustainable holidays. They offer different travel activities like Cycling, Hiking, Safari, Cultural tours, and many others. Yūgen Earthside has an Earthsider Eco Shop, which houses zero-waste products like Keepsie Kits (all-in-one sustainable travel kits) and Eco-friendly toiletry bags. It is working towards making travel an environment-friendly activity and providing customers with packaged or customized sustainable travel options.

Insights Success interviewed Hilary to know about her personal and professional goals and her thoughts about her company, Yūgen Earthside.

Below are the excerpts from the interview:

Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at Yūgen Earthside. What challenges you have to overcome to reach where you are today?

My career launched right after undergrad – I landed a job with Amazon and worked there for nearly ten years in a variety of roles ranging from inventory management to marketing management. Eventually, I started to want “more” from my career – a deeper sense of fulfillment and pride and work that was completely aligned with my values and interests. This prompted me to leave Amazon, earn a top-tier MBA, and then launch my sustainable travel company: Yūgen Earthside.

Launching a company is always challenging and launching a travel company amid Covid was no exception! We overcame this challenge by focusing on building the foundation of our business as much as possible so that when travel resumed, we would be ready to help build the industry back up responsibly.

Tell us something more about Yūgen Earthside, its mission and vision.

Our mission is to shape the future of sustainable travel. We help travelers discover and book sustainable travel, saving them time in finding the perfect adventure vacation they can feel great about. We also focus on educating people about what sustainable travel means and getting them to think about their trip holistically. Not only are our trips sustainable, but we also offer sustainable resources, carbon offsetting advice, sustainable travel insurance, and zero-waste travel products.

Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?

Yūgen Earthside is a completely virtual company, so technology is integral to our success.

We have leveraged solutions in the following ways:

  • WordPress: We built our site on WordPress, which allowed us to be scrappy and frugal in getting a prototype of our vision out into the world.
  • TypeForm: We use the sleek, professional interface of TypeForm to collect all kinds of information, from what types of sustainable actions our tour operators take to collect emails generated from our lead magnet (a great, free, sustainable packing list, by the way!), to intaking client information about custom trip preferences.
  • Stripe: We integrated with Stripe to ensure seamless, secure payment processing.
  • We use a host of other technology tools ranging from design (Canva) to SEO (Moz) to focus on automating and optimizing everything we can. This allows the bulk of our time to be focused on building and selling our product.

If given a chance, what change would you like to bring in the economic development?

The change that I would most like to see is a clear connection to sustainability and economic development. This is a complex topic and requires input and buy-in from many stakeholders, including local governments, tourism boards, travel providers, and travelers themselves. Travel and tourism have an incredible potential to assist in the healthy economic development of regions, but it must be done so sustainably. Sometimes, optimizing revenue comes at the cost of harming the environment or local communities – and that’s not sustainable. We need economic development that focuses on the land and the people as well as the economies so that our actions are creating more good than harm.

What, according to you, could be the next big change in the virtual operations? How is Yūgen Earthside preparing to be a part of that change?

I think we’re currently in the midst of the ‘next big change.’ Covid ushered in the work from home movement. I expect many people to continue working from home, at least part-time, even as we settle into the “new normal.” For Yūgen Earthside, we launched during Covid, so we’ve never had a physical office, and we don’t have plans to move into one. A silver lining of the ‘virtual workforce’ is that you can find the best talent anywhere. We capitalized on this by partnering with a marketing specialist from California and a sustainability specialist from Switzerland; meanwhile, we’re running the company from Paris, France though we’re registered in Washington State!

Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run and what are your future goals for Yūgen Earthside?

I envision Yūgen Earthside being the go-to platform for travelers to learn about and book sustainable travel. Whether you’re looking for a sustainable country guide of Portugal, a responsible trekking company in Nepal, or plastic-free travel essentials, we want to be who you think of.

Our goals are to shift travelers towards a more sustainable mindset and to nudge their behaviors to be aligned with that mindset. We need sustainability to be a no-brainer, and to achieve that, we have to make it really, really easy for people.