I recently spoke with Brittany Palmer, a Massachusetts-based environmental lawyer turned travel start-up founder. Last week, Brittany launched Beeyonder, a one-stop shop for finding and booking both live and pre-recorded virtual tours and experiences throughout the world.
Needless to say, the popularity of virtual tours has boomed as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought travel to a screeching halt over the past 9 months. Beyond targeting those of us who are hunkering down at home for the time being, Brittany founded Beeyonder — a creative combination of “beyond wondering” — with the intent of reaching the 40+ million Americans who have disabilities. As a bilateral amputee herself, she understands that sometimes travel can be challenging or even impossible for many.
What’s your travel background?
I always liked traveling and going to new places with my parents growing up — mostly the Caribbean and Mexico. I had always wanted to go to Europe, and my husband and I went for our honeymoon — Barcelona for a week and several parts of Italy — and I immediately got the travel bug. I thought, ‘I have to see every part of the world!’ We’ve been trying to travel as much as possible over the past several years — we’ve been to 13 or 14 countries and every continent except Antarctica.
What fueled it even more was doing environmental safety and consulting work — most of the work I did was international. Doing research on 100 different places around the world really opened my eyes to what else is out there.
How’d you get the idea for Beeyonder?
When COVID hit, and we had a bunch of travel plans cancelled, I started to see virtual tours popping up everywhere. They just looked so cool.
My disability doesn’t really prevent me from traveling, but I have joint issues that make it painful to walk long distances, so that’s a bit of an inhibitor. Also, my husband once had a brain aneurysm, and he was in the hospital for two weeks followed by months of recovery. All we did was watch reruns of sports games and whatever else was on daytime TV. I started thinking how amazing it would’ve been to have gone on these virtual tours — to get away from everything, and have something to focus on that was meaningful and interesting.
I started doing research on other people that might be affected by different types of disabilities or conditions, or mobility issues that might inhibit or prohibit travel — we’re talking 40+ million people in the U.S. alone. So out of that and some market research that seemed promising, Beeyonder was born.
What’s your main goal with Beeyonder?
The goal is to be the one-stop marketplace for virtual travel experiences — to aggregate and host virtual experiences, so that they’re not so hard to find. We put them all in one spot.
Does Beeyonder have a focus area or speciality?
We’ve had interest so far from all over the world — Africa, Asia, Europe, as well as Latin and South America, and the Middle East. We want our experiences and their coverage to be as broad as possible, so there’s no limit where people can go. Most of the interest so far has come from individual tour operators and guides with smaller businesses.*
* Editor’s note: As of its launch, Beeyonder offers nearly 300 tours and experiences.
How does Beeyonder benefit these small businesses?
We make it easy for them. A lot of these companies have only been doing tours in person, and they don’t necessarily have the ability to post tours online for purchase. Beeyonder gives them that ability. We also do a lot of marketing, PR and social media — they get the benefit of our team for additional visibility. It’s a really easy-to-use platform as well.
We’re happy to support any company who needs it — a lot of them are small, and even though they’re interested in providing virtual experiences, they don’t know what to do or how to do it. We help them think through ideas and the technology needed.
How do you find them?
A lot of research — just looking at who’s doing virtual tours now. We’ve also done a lot of outreach on Instagram.
Are any of them new to virtual tours?
Some that have always provided in-person tours modified their approach when COVID hit and started doing virtual tours. Others are still struggling and looking for new ways to get business.
We’ve been talking to a tour guide in France who normally does in-person tours who’s now thinking about all the different kinds of virtual tours they could offer. And in Africa not many of the small operators are doing virtual tours yet, so there’s a lot of interest there.
How has the disability community responded?
We did some user interviews in the beginning when we were testing out the idea. Market research was targeted toward people with mobility issues and other disabilities — everything from movement limitations, like not being able to walk far, to someone who has a complete fear of flying and hasn’t been on a plane for 10 years — and we got great feedback.
One of the most surprising and wonderful things was when we asked, “How often would you do something like this?” Some said they’d do this once a week or a few times a month.
We want to give everyone the opportunity to immerse themselves in other cultures and see places in the world they’ve never thought they’d see.
What other audiences are you targeting?
I also did some market research on parents with younger children. The person who has a fear of flying is homeschooling her young son, and she looked at this as an opportunity to enrich his learning experiences. Overwhelmingly, parents said they wanted to give their children international experiences but might not necessarily be able to afford going overseas. We want to give everyone the opportunity to immerse themselves in other cultures and see places in the world they’ve never thought they’d see.
Do you have any additional ideas to support people with disabilities?
We think virtual tours can help prep for in-person trips. A lot of people mentioned that when they get to a particular place — no matter how much conversation they’ve had with a hotel or tour operator about accessibility in advance — it’s not accessible. And everybody’s accessibility needs are different, because no one is exactly the same — everyone requires different things when they travel.
So one of the ideas we’re currently exploring is being able to hire a local guide to go to locations and film the area — either going live or recording it — to show how everything is set up. That way they (people with disabilities) can have a piece of mind that they’re going to a place that’s accessible for them.
Are there any tours that you’re personally excited about?
I’m going to be doing a live koala walk in Australia in a few weeks.
What’s next after the launch?
Beeyonder will definitely be giving back to the environment in some way. I’m hoping to have different types of experiences geared toward supporting conservation. Another idea we’re looking into is providing local souvenirs for people to purchase — we want to make it feel like you’re “there” as much as possible.