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Party On: Booth MBAs Make Leisure Travel Their Business

Modo Travel began as an effort by a pair of Booth MBAs to organize a spring break trip for their classmates. Interest ballooned, and 350 attended. Courtesy photo

It’s “the perfect way to kick off your MBA experience,” “Not a trek, #TheTrek” — a “unique” and exotic outing with “varying degrees of party, culture, and activities tailored to the pace desired by each traveling group.”

Sounds great, right? Especially as students wander onto campuses in late-summer readiness for the new school year, the prospect of a little fun to mitigate all that looming learning must be very appealing. That’s the hope of a pair of Chicago Booth Class of 2019 MBAs who got started this year in the business of “bespoke travel for adventurous groups” by organizing the annual Booth spring break trip to Colombia for 350 of their classmates.

Now, as they embark on their final year of B-school, Andreina Chacin and Moises Numa think they may have found their calling. They are working with Booth and other schools to organize more tours. They do bachelor and bachelorette parties, too — and, most extravagantly, they’re planning a series of pop-up “floating festivals” in 2019 that will offer attendees a chance to “explore private islands and beaches, party until dawn, and get immersed in just effortless indulgence.”

“It’s the type of high-quality service at a good price that also gives you a great experience where you bond with friends,” Chacin tells Poets&Quants. “We got such great feedback from our friends that we felt confident enough to try to do this.”

A GOOD TIME HAD BY ALL, AND THE LAUNCH OF A ‘PROPER STARTUP’

Andreina Chacin. Courtesy photo

Chacin got her bachelor of science degree in finance from New York’s Stern School in 2010, and Numa earned a bachelor of science in business management and master of science in accounting from Babson College in 2011. Both hail from South America — Numa from Colombia and Chacin from Venezuela, though she lived in Bogota, Colombia before coming to Booth. During their pre-MBA tours of Booth, other students asked them whether they would be involved in the annual Colombia spring break trip, which has been a staple for first-years for the last few years. “It was a thing where people said, ‘You’re from Colombia, you’re going to lead the trip, right?'” Numa says. “It was like a joke, but talking to fellow Colombians at Booth and other MBA programs, it was a tradition that seemed like a lot of fun.”

In the early days of September 2017, as they first got involved, the trip started small. Chacin and Numa say they had no reason to think it would grow past 200 students, the size of the previous year’s excursion. But as the weeks went by, it did grow — and grow and grow. And they had only themselves to blame. “It became more developed as time went by,” Chacin says. “It was a week-long trip that included visiting three major cities, and we were expecting to have, like, 200 of our classmates given the attendance from a year before. But Moises and I got so involved and so passionate about taking people to Colombia that it got to the point where we ended up bringing 350 people.

“Apart the three major cities that we visited in Colombia — Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena — and the parties that we had in each of those cities, we also had extra activities, like a yacht party in Cartagena to end the trip. We loved the experience of how excited everyone was at Booth to join us and participate, and we wanted to make it an awesome experience. Everyone was so grateful after that that we saw it as an opportunity to kick it off and try to launch Modo Travel as a proper startup.”

A VALUE-ADD TO MBA PROGRAMS

Moises Numa. Courtesy photo

Chacin and Numa are now working to stage trips for not only Booth but Michigan Ross and the Harris School at the University of Chicago. They are “pretty far along in conversations” with a few others schools, Numa adds, including the Wharton School and Dartmouth Tuck. They haven’t taken any seed money yet, but “we would be open to that conversation,” Numa says. Their trips consist of a few days in major cities in Colombia or Mexico, centered on one main big-party event per city, one cultural event per city, and unique add-on activities “to round-up the experience,” according to the Modo Travel website. “Our favorite itinerary, and the one we first recommend, is getting to Bogota Friday evening and leaving Cartagena the following Saturday, so 8-9 days” at between $1,000 and $1,600 per person, Numa says. Then there’s the “floating festivals” that will be held through summer 2019, featuring “fast-paced activities, DJs, and meeting new people to the fullest,” capped by a giant multiple-school party in Mexico at the end of the 2018-2019 school year, four days of “beaches and boats” at the end of April or beginning of May.

Group size can be small, 30 to 50 people, Chacin says, with an upper limit of around 350. But that’s not set in stone, they’re quick to point out. “We’re working with Michigan right now, they’ve said they want to make it as big as possible,” Numa says. “They want to take the first-years and the second-years. The way we have it set up is that it can easily be arranged to do more (than 350). If Booth says take 400 next year, then we take 400.” But size is secondary. The chief selling point of Modo Travel, Chacin says, is that the trips serve as a “value-add” for MBAs, an “end-to-end experience” unlike any schools are able to provide themselves.

“As of now, when people have organized these kinds of trips they have usually done it in a very informal manner,” Chacin says. “They’ve been planned by people who don’t do the extra events and parties, who miss the things that really make up the experience, like the local experience — we show people what locals like to do, and we try to avoid taking them to big hotels. In Cartagena, they see private houses and the old city. Even Colombians, when they go there, they visit those types of places.

“That’s one thing. And while there are travel agencies that do offer some of these services, what we’ve realized is that they lack in the level of quality that you would expect. So our main value-add is offering an end-to-end experience — whoever is going to be the face of the trip at Booth next year, or Wharton, or Harvard, would just be the face and would not have to do all the back-end work that we had to do when we were doing it the first time. We are our clients, which provides us an advantage of knowing what people want and also being able to tailor it to different types of groups. No matter the size, we offer people the same amazing experience, something not every company can do.”

DON’T MISS MEET CHICAGO BOOTH’S MBA CLASS OF 2019 and CEIBS OFFERS BOOTCAMPERS ENTRY INTO VAST CHINA BIZ LANDSCAPE