The PURE Award for Contribution to Experiential Travel is reserved for an individual whose efforts have directly influenced the development of the experiential travel movement – a true maverick whose commitment, curiosity and daring sets new standards for the industry at large.
For 2016 the PURE community voted on an immensely impressive shortlist, choosing eventually to present this year’s accolade to Roque Sevilla, founder of Mashpi Lodge in Ecuador. Travel journalist Marcella Echavarria interviews the man himself.
Sitting in his office in Quito, Mr. Sevilla’s passion can be felt by the way he talks and the emphasis he places when talking about his country, Ecuador. He talks about his latest interest: chocolate, and tells me how recent discoveries show that cacao was in fact originally from Ecuador. He enthuses over Ecuadorian roses and the unique light that makes them the most beautiful in the world.
Mr. Sevilla is a true visionary, a renaissance man and an rare inspiring creature. His journey features an endless list of accomplishments – including being Mayor of Quito, forging a super successful business career in the insurance world, and becoming chairman of Metropolitan Touring, the leading travel company in Ecuador, and the founder of Mashpi Lodge and Casa Gangotena. “I am only interested in iconic projects, impossible projects”, he explains, describing the latter, which offer jungle and urban experiences on the front line of nature and culture.
Opened in 2012, Mashpi Lodge occupies a conservation area in the Chocó rainforest, one of the most biodiverse in the world. “When I was looking for land in this area and ran into an empty space that was left after a wood company went out of business, I decided to build the lodge there, expanding 1,400 hectares of primary forest into a protected area of 17,200 hectares”. An orchid lover, his real interest in the reforestation of the area was sparked when he learned that his favourite species were threatened.
Designed as a glass box with no intention of competing with the surrounding forest, Mashpi is literally a hotel in the clouds. Since the beginning, the purpose has been to minimise the impact on the environment while providing an intimate connection with the forest. Guests at Mashpi can choose their level of interaction with the surroundings – including trail walking; partnering with one of the resident biologists to explore the forest more deeply; riding a “sky bike” over 200 meters of gorges; or simply contemplating and surrendering to the immensity and grandeur of the landscape.
When asked about the interaction between luxury and sustainability, Mr. Sevilla explains, “Sustainability should not be a luxury, but unfortunately it is in many cases. We are facing a time of transition where people are changing their lifestyles and this shift requires a lot of new benchmarks, new experiences and new behaviours…. We are talking here about a new way to define luxury as an opportunity to make a difference – and this comes from new experiences.
“Sustainability needs to be understood from an ethical point of view, because it is the right thing to do. Hopefully in the not-very-long distant future it will be relevant because it makes business sense and it offers great new opportunities.” Such is Mr. Sevilla’s vision. He has put his contribution forward, building from his own experience and love of Ecuador, while setting a high standard for how conservation should be done. His legacy is one of passion, commitment and a true sense of place.
Marcella Echavarria is a Colombian-born, New York-based entrepreneur contributing regularly about cultural and adventure travel, design and food to magazines in South America and the US. Alongside her work as a travel and lifestyle photojournalist and travel designer, Echavarria covers artisans around the world and works with them to preserve their craft by developing links between these vanishing communities and developed markets.