BYU alum curates cultural experiences abroad

BYU alumna Kylie Chenn is the founder and CEO of Acanela Expeditions in Lehi, UT. (Kylie Chenn/Acanela Expeditions)

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BYU alumna and entrepreneur Kylie Chenn loves traveling the world and learning about the people around her. During her undergraduate degree in business at BYU, Chenn spent time studying abroad, which inspired her to found Acanela Expeditions.

As the CEO of Acanela Expeditions, Chenn hopes to give others the opportunity to see what she sees.

Acanela Expeditions is a boutique travel service located in Los Angeles, Boston and Lehi. Acanela works with local “artisans” around the world to plan tour experiences. According to the company’s website, it offers private and group expeditions to over 80 countries. A few activities offered include photo explorations, culinary trips, cultural excursions, train journeys, immersive experiences and educational programs.

Even though Chenn notes there will always be “DIY” travelers looking to personally customize their trips, she sees the future of the travel industry shifting toward Acanela’s business model.

“There will continue to be a huge audience for a tour, an experience that’s been curated for travelers to experience everything in a few weeks while leaving a positive impact on the communities they visit,” Chenn said.

Chenn relocated to Los Angeles after graduating BYU to build her network and influence in the travel industry. Now, at 25, Chenn has returned to Utah Valley, where she manages Acanela from its office in Lehi.

Chenn said the atmosphere in Utah Valley as a motivating factor in relocating Acanela to Lehi. Chenn said talented individuals from local colleges and universities like BYU and UVU are an asset to her company.

“As a growing company, we’re looking for people that can fill many hats. We have openings, experience-based internships and a lot of people who intern with us end up joining our team,” Chenn said.

Some of Acanela’s most popular trips include a safari in Botswana, Africa, sightseeing in Peru, and visits to the Taj Mahal in India. Chenn notes that many of these locations can be high-risk for travelers. By planning a tour through Acanela, tourists can explore other cultures with some extra support.

Chenn said Acanela is focused on giving travelers an opportunity to explore the world while leaving a positive impact. While customers experience a fresh, interesting cultural experience, designated artisans see a direct benefit. This model is what makes Acanela different from other touring companies.

Acanela’s business model focuses on working with artisans who are often hand-picked by Chenn and her team. Artisans are contracted for each trip and receive the profit for their work, according to Chenn.

“We are paying them well to provide their services, and we’re always looking to build our artisans up,” Chenn said. “The way we like to work with our artisans is they are on our team. They’re not a third-party and really are part of the organization.”

Chenn said while artisans are invited to work with Acanela, they’re not expected to act as exclusive business partners. Chenn said she sees this as helping artisans build sustainable business models and promoting autonomy and independence.

Even though artisans are often hand-picked, Chenn said Acanela receives offers and proposals from prospective artisans around the world.

One of these artisans is Abdul, a guide for Acanela’s Mount Kilimanjaro expedition in Tanzania. “When I first met Abdul, he was working for another company. He wasn’t making enough to sustain his family, so we helped him grow his business,” Chen said.

Under his previous employer, Abdul was paid very little and was expected to work long hours, which limited his enjoyment doing his job, Chenn said. Acanela approached Abdul because of his leadership skills and talent in leading expeditions and proposed a partnership.

“We helped him get some shoes, camping gear and other equipment he needed to start his own business,” Chenn said. “We also helped build some infrastructure that allowed him, as a leader, to select the right people for his team.”

Today, Abdul is able to employ his entire village as guides and support thanks to Acanela’s assistance in spotlighting his services. By arranging tours in the area, Chenn and Acanela give travelers the opportunity to give back to the local economies.

Chenn said Acanela’s contracted artisans are what truly makes Acanela unique.

“Why not take an experience that will be beautiful for you as a traveler and make it equally as beautiful for the talented people in the area you’re traveling to?” Chenn said.

Thanks to Acanela’s rapid growth, Chenn doesn’t picture herself leaving anytime in the future. Instead, she hopes to step away from day-to-day responsibilities so employees with fresh ideas can help grow the company.

“My focus is to build my team and train other people to be a part of what we do today so we can continue to positively impact the world,” Chenn said.

Although many women in business face challenges or are disadvantaged, Chenn said she sees her status as a female entrepreneur as a positive influence and an asset. She said it’s exciting to be a woman in business, and she lends a different perspective to a traditionally male-dominated field.

“Men and women think differently, and we have different talents and skill sets. Having a better (gender) balance is beneficial,” Chenn said.

Chenn said she hasn’t seen any professional challenges or setbacks due to her gender. Instead, she feels like she receives more support in her role as CEO of a growing company.

“Being a woman in business is different, interesting and something worth sharing,” Chenn said. “It’s a huge asset, and I’m going to ride it while I can.”

Kylie Chenn explains Acanela’s goal and business model in this video from Acanela Expeditions.

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