Beeyonder: Opening Doors For Those Who Can’t Travel
Beeyonder, a one-stop marketplace for virtual travel experiences, was launched in December 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This unique startup hopes to expand access to the 40 million individuals in the U.S. with disabilities or other conditions that impede travel.
While many entrepreneurs might be daunted by the uncertainties that have impacted the travel industry, this hasn’t been the case for Brittany Palmer, founder and CEO of Beeyonder. Trained as an attorney, Palmer left a rewarding career as a principal at an international environmental, health and safety consulting firm to start this new company.
Palmer’s passion stems not only from her love of travel but also from her experience as a bilateral amputee. She was born missing both arms, just below the elbow.
“Persistence and perseverance have been a staple in my personal life and I have transferred that to my professional life as well,” says Palmer.
Forbes.com spoke with Brittany Palmer to find out more about Beeyonder and her vision for the company:
With border closures and travel restrictions in place, a host of companies have pivoted to virtual travel. What specific niche do you fill?
Brittany Palmer: We are a marketplace for live and interactive virtual travel experiences, paying special attention to the large numbers of individuals with disabilities and other conditions that prevent or inhibit travel. Even after the pandemic subsides, these individuals will still be in the same situation, and Beeyonder will be there for them.
What personal experiences have inspired you?
BP: Shortly after we went into lockdown last spring, I saw virtual experiences emerging. While my disability doesn’t prevent me from traveling, I do have joint issues that prevent me from walking long distances without a significant amount of pain. I thought how wonderful it would be to be able to see things I may never get to see in person through virtual experiences.
In addition, I thought back to when my husband suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm in 2013. He spent several weeks in the hospital and months of recovery at home afterward, mainly just watching TV and reruns. It would have been nice for him to have been able to travel from home and do something fun and different.
What role has travel played in your own life?
BP: Travel has opened my eyes to different people, cultures, experiences (both fun and a little scary), foods, and ways of life. It gives me an opportunity to unwind, as well as to learn and try new things, all of which I love to do.
The first international trip I took was to Aruba with my parents. It was an incredible trip for so many reasons and fueled my love for travel and exploration. However, it wasn’t until I went to Spain and Italy on my honeymoon, and began doing international work at the consulting firm that I joined that I thought, “I need to travel everywhere!”
What are some practical advantages of virtual over actual travel?
BP: In addition to the expense of international travel, preparing for a trip can be stressful and time-consuming. Planning has become even more onerous with COVID.
Virtual travel offers the flexibility of being able to choose a destination, decide when you want to go, and get there almost instantly with the click of a button. This type of travel only requires a computer or tablet and an Internet connection.
It allows people with travel limitations to experience places that they may never get to visit in person. Virtual travel also offers the benefit of having a personal guide, for an individual or a group, which allows for custom requests and more in-depth conversation.
How did you choose the name for the new company?
BP: Beeyonder is a mix of the two words: Beyond and Wonder. My thinking was that virtual experiences bring you beyond wondering to actually learning about and exploring a place. The extra “e” was added in because of my love of nature and conservation.
How types of experiences does Beeyonder offer?
BP: We currently offer over 350 live and interactive virtual experiences in more than 45 countries, from wandering through the streets of Venice, to a Koala discovery walk in Byron Bay, to tea time in Japan, to preparing traditional Alfajores pastries in Argentina.
We’ve partnered with a growing roster of independent local guides and top travel providers, including Travel Curious, Signature Tours (Argentina), and Essence of Berlin, among others. In addition to booking virtual travel directly on our site, travelers can also utilize the platform to connect with other virtual experiences through affiliate travel partners, such as Withlocals and Take Walks.
What are your most popular experiences?
BP: Our Ireland Castles Virtual Tour, Koala Discovery Walk, Tour to Tierra del Fuego National Park (in the Patagonia region of Argentina), and Fascinating Wildlife Encounters (South Africa) experiences are very popular.
In addition, we have seasonally popular experiences such as Holiday in Japan, Footsteps of St. Patrick, and right now Cherry Blossom season is among us! So although they may not be able to make the trip to Japan this year, people can still partake in the beauty of Sakura (Cherry Blossom time) with our Cherry Blossom Hanami Experience. Guests will get to hear about the history and culture from a local’s perspective as well as stories, fun facts, trivia, and play some unique Cherry Blossom games together online.
What advantages does Beeyonder offer above and beyond the free travel walks/tours available from tourist boards, YouTube, etc.?
BP: Our users have the opportunity to participate in live, interactive experiences with local and knowledgeable tour guides from all over the world, whom we have vetted.
It’s not just a chat via messaging; they can speak with their guide directly. It’s a two-way audio and visual experience. Small group sizes and the option for private experiences are key elements of what makes our tours unique. They can be as interactive as someone likes them to be. Larger groups (families, workplace teams, classes, those with special needs, etc.) can also be accommodated by most of the tour operators. The guides are able to modify a virtual experience to suit their audience.
Lastly, if a person or company has questions about different tours or needs assistance in deciding on a tour, the Beeyonder team is ready to assist and suggest ones that we believe are a good fit. We also help them figure out how to use video conferencing platforms like Zoom, etc.
Our goal is to fill an accessibility void, an aspect of travel so often overlooked. We hope to offer true equal access to people of every age and living situation.