Adventure Travel Expert Jennine Cohen On Why We Need Travel To Transform

With a life’s worth of passport stamps adventuring to the farthest corners of the earth, and over 15 years of scouting, cultivating relationships, and planning once-in-a-lifetime journeys for discerning clients, Jennine Cohen has discovered the importance of finding the magic of travel in our everyday lives.

As a travel industry leader, Jennine has earned a reputation of being a resource for the media, supporting travel conservation efforts as an active member of the Board of Directors for the International Galápagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA), and of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). 

Beginning her career with UCLA’s Outdoor Leadership Program, Jennine learned how to guide in the backcountry and about soft leadership skills while leading trips all over the West. Upon graduation, she moved to New York and went to work for a high-end travel magazine that was distributed on private trips, but found that the values of the magazine were aligned with her own.

She quickly shifted her focus back to the adventure side of travel, working for Outward Bound in Costa Rica where she was head of leadership programming, leading trekking, rafting, and surfing trips all over Central America. From there, she went on to work for several prominent travel agencies included Backroads and GeoEx, handling just about every side of the business, from product and purchasing to sales and management.

Today, with COVID-19 in the equation, Jennine now helps high-performing travel professionals, hoteliers, and CEOs take their business and personal lives to the next level with her business coaching efforts. Jennine is now partnering with Regenerative Travel during the time of COVID-19 to provide hoteliers with skills, insight, and leadership tools of handling business issues and concerns during these unprecedented times of hardship for the travel industry.

We chatted with Jennine about her 15+ year run in the field, and how she has come to realize that immersive travel has the power to transform by creating meaningful connections and cultivating compassion.

Introduce yourself. Can you give a brief background of your experience in the travel industry?

I am a respected luxury and adventure travel expert and have shared insights and industry tips with media outlets including Vogue, National Geographic, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, AFAR, and more.

My secret weapon to planning a great trip is weaving together my experience as both a life coach and travel designer to listen deeply and ask questions of my travelers that help them get clarity about their goals. I love getting to know people and their values and then helping to make their dreams come true.

You are an active supporter of travel conservation efforts, sitting on the Board of Directors for the International Galápagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA), and a member of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). What drew you towards sustainable and conscious travel?

I’ve always believed in the power of travel to transform. 

For me, it’s always been about supporting leaders at the top in order to create jobs downstream and fuel local economies around the world by high paying high-level job creation. 

Sustainable and conscious tourism opportunities create the right environment for local professionals to thrive and be the best local ambassadors. This enables them to create incredible experiences that inspire the traveler to want to protect these special places. The right jobs in tourism prevent exploitation of local resources and the environment, especially important in more vulnerable areas with little to no government protection for environmental resources. 

I am also an ambassador for the Transformational Travel Council. I believe that travel can be a means to create powerful inner change in our own lives by having the space, time, and exposure to others that encourages reflection, connection, and empathy. The right kind of connected travel ultimately can make us better people. 

In this same line of thought, I interview people from around the world who inspire – from big wave surfers to sailors, expeditionary kayakers, filmmakers, and others on my podcast the Everyday Magic Project which is all about harnessing the magic of travel to have in our everyday lives. And we can all use a bit more magic right now! 

You are a small-business coach and travel advisor, helping high-performing travel professionals take their business and personal lives to the next level. Can you provide more insight into how you journeyed down this path of helping travel professionals specifically?

It started with coach training to complement my skills as a manager, but I became addicted to the work and kept going back for more coach training because I found that it was teaching me the power of deep listening and of reading the ‘field’ which is all of the unseen energy around us. It taught me about how as a leader it’s about responding to what’s called for, which is not always the same as what I want. 

Learning to talk less and listen more transformed my life and my work, and I felt a deep calling to help others in the travel industry. I decided to merge my areas of expertise as a seasoned travel professional and coach to support other travel professionals in discovering their own inner wisdom and build communities of support. 

Let’s talk about COVID-19. It’s no secret the travel industry has been hit the hardest. From your own personal experience, what do you see happening both within the travel industry and hospitality space?

I think it’s clear to everyone in our industry that it’s going to be a long road to recovery. We’re still in the eye of the storm, so it’s hard to know exactly what to plan for since the timeline is unclear.

On the consumer side, we are already seeing trends regarding broad behavior – a return to basics and a desire for more connection than ever. I think this will translate in the short to long term in travelers wanting more intimate spaces like villas and seeking even more meaning, purpose, and connection with themselves and nature when they travel. From what I see, they will want to be in remote areas with less density. 

Communication from travel companies and hotels needs to be proactive, thoughtful and personalized – while striking the right balance of honesty, authenticity, and confidence.

Travelers will be unwilling to pay the same kind of large non-refundable deposits they have in the past, so future season terms and rates will need to be thoughtfully reconsidered without negatively impacting quality, integrity, or the brand. 

On the industry side, there is a lot of uncertainty because there is a lot of money that’s been paid by suppliers, and it’s not coming back and there is no clear understanding of where the money is (the cash is being used to keep operations going as opposed to being kept in escrow accounts). Travel insurance companies aren’t covering claims related to COVID-19 and it’s not clear who is ‘on the hook’ for the money. International law varies wildly between countries and it’s often not clear how exiting law applies to an unprecedented pandemic. 

While the timeline is unknown, the general consensus is that we’re looking at big losses through the end of the year, but credits seem to have become the norm. Sellers find themselves in a perfect storm of buyers demanding refunds while they are unable to get refunds, while they are unsure that the vendors giving them credit will even be around to fulfill the promise a year down the line. 

With regard to sales channels, I think every seller is going to try to get more directly to the consumer in an effort to diversify sales channels and protect themselves and the consumer with deposits. Travel companies that cannot adapt their own terms quickly enough may find their sales continue to be impacted even after COVID-19 because of lower consumer confidence. 

What do you think we can learn from this as a travel community and collective, and where do you see travel going from here? Do you think people will shift to be more conscious about their vacations, trips, planning, and bookings?

You get from the world what you put out, so being good to travelers and partners in good times means they will be there for you in the hard times. I have seen a wild variance in how kind or vicious travelers can be to companies around prepayments and requests. In the best-case scenarios, the clients have loyally stood by the travel company and have been not only understanding but supportive. In the worst cases doing stop payments on credit cards and pursuing legal action. I believe how the traveler acts is a direct reflection of the level of trust and relationship with the travel company and how they have been treated up until this moment and during it. 

We are also seeing how important and deep cash reserves need to be and that planning for both the best case and the worst-case scenario is essential to the long term health of travel businesses as our industry is so volatile. 

We have also seen that when the hotel teams have felt they have been treated fairly, that they have stepped up to help hotel owners in incredibly meaningful and surprising ways, some even offering to work for free until the hotel gets to the other side! 

The best piece of advice I have heard in the travel industry around this topic so far comes from a dear friend, Mike Freed – founder of the Post Ranch Inn in California, one of the original sustainable luxury hotels in North America:

“I have been asked every time when we have faced a disaster if I am fearful for the future, and my response is always the same – so long as we work as a team and think how we can help those who are worse off, we can get through anything.”

Gratitude is also important right now, and to celebrate that even times are harder than ever, we are blessed to do the work we do. 

As Sir John Templeton said, “To overcome fear, the best thing is to be overwhelmingly grateful. I would think that an attitude of gratitude will prevent a life of fear.”

What are you learning about the travel industry right now during these sessions? How are the leaders you’re working with shifting their business practices around the situation?

I think everyone is finding that balance between reinvention, and staying on ‘the path’ with integrity. Our values and moral compass are being tested in a way as never before. Unprecedented challenges call for creative solutions and resourceful leaders, but more than anything, collaboration and innovation. Because in every crisis is an opportunity and CoVid will force certain trends that were already coming to happen even more quickly. 


To learn more about Jennine’s work, visit jenninecohen.com or follow her on Instagram @jenninecohen.

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