Meet the Techno Jetsetters, Sarah Belaidi and Mike LaGrotta. And yes, there’s a company dedicated to techno tourism! Since early 2011, Sarah and Mike have come a long way to become a globally recognized boutique travel agency and lifestyle brand.
Esther P: Tell me about your journey with The Techno Tourist. What’s your niche?
Mike L: It was January 2011, and Sarah and I were in Mexico at the BPM Festival having the time of our lives. It was a life-changing experience, and I wanted others to be able to experience the same. Sarah and I brainstormed and started the company when we returned to New York.
**Sarah B: **We started as a boutique travel agency and grew into a lifestyle brand, one that champions food, art, architecture, and most importantly—great music. We are passionate about helping both industry professionals and festival lovers plan life-changing trips centered around electronic music events. With over ten years of travel and music experience behind us, we are happy, flexible, and equipped to accommodate the spectrum of travel wishes, complete with personalized itineraries, luxury accommodation, and customized concierge services!
EP: How do your clients embody your services and “techno tourism”?
**SB: **Half of our clients are in the industry (i.e. artists, record labels) whereas the other half are savvy individuals who simply love and enjoy music. It’s been a wild few years with the business and our clientele growing year after year. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from both clients and festivals interested in partnering with us for future events.
EP:** **What are the perks of having your own business?
SB**:** There are many perks to the job, though there are some rough moments as tradeoffs. Mike and I can travel aimlessly at minimal to zero costs. Sometimes we play until 6 AM, go back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep, wake up to an alarm or someone knocking on our door, get in a taxi, head to an airport, and repeat the process all over again every couple weeks. It’s not as bad as it sounds when you’re having so much fun at the same time.
EP: Who are your techno heroes?
SB: DJ group, Apollonia.
**EP: **What are some challenges and roadblocks you’ve encountered?
SB: Running a business is not what I had expected at all. It’s like having a baby who never grows up, and who needs my constant love and attention. The stress of sorting flights is something I’ll never really enjoy!
ML: For me, running The Techno Tourist exceed my expectations. Because I already had exposure to the industry, my expectations were pretty realistic. Having industry relationships coupled with our time and hard work helped The Techno Tourist find its place in the space in no time. One roadblock would be payments! Receiving payments from our clients have been very difficult with different currencies, high transaction fees, slow turnaround times, and slow-to-pay clients… (laughs)
EP: Have you thought of ways you can improve the payment infrastructure at The Techno Tourist?
ML: We currently accept payments via Bitcoin, Bank Deposits, Wire Transfers, Cash, PayPal, Square, and Venmo. The issue is not so much about the lack of available payment methods, but about the extra transaction fees that add up when our clients choose to pay in any method besides Bitcoin or Cash. Even with Cash, our clients are required to walk over to an ATM and risk their safety in hand-delivering the bills to us.
EP: I totally agree! As a business, the last thing you want to do is to compromise the safety of your clients.
SB: If all of our clients paid in bitcoin, the transactions would be fee-less and timely efficient for both our clients and The Techno Tourist.
ML: Many payment platforms such as [Stripe and Square] prefer not to work with travel agents. They hold your money for a few days, and if you need the customer’s payment to turn around and pay for accommodation, waiting seven to ten days for the payment to come through is very inconvenient. You begin to wonder where your money is and if it’s ever going to get to your bank account.
**EP: **How did you gain exposure to bitcoin?
**ML: **I first read about bitcoin in June 2011. As months passed, I began to see more of it, and immediately bought myself some bitcoin! Now, I’m so excited about it that I can’t go a day without it.
SB: I was initially skeptical of bitcoin and Mike’s unending enthusiasm for it, but grew to understand and value the currency over time. Mike and I wanted to stay client-oriented and decided to extend it as a payment method at The Techno Tourist.
ML: It’s our hope that festivals will begin to accept bitcoin too. Last January, the BPM Festival experienced an immense amount of chargebacks. This year, all charges are being processed via PayPal. Could you possibly imagine all the fees?
EP: Yikes, chargebacks sound awful. PayPal sounds better, but bitcoin payments would be the best alternative. Private, too. On that note, what is your favorite place to spend bitcoin?
**ML: **My favorite place to spend bitcoin is Gyft.com. Believe it or not, Gyft was one of the first places to accept bitcoin! Whole Foods, CVS, Sephora, you name it – Sarah and I make a conscious effort to do all of our shopping with bitcoin via Gyft. It allows us to upload, buy, send, and redeem gift cards in stores or online.
EP: I’d love to hear about your next Techno Tourist adventure. Where are you off to next?
**SB: **The annual 10 day-and-night BPM Festival, founded by Craig Pettigrew and Philip Pulitano, will take place on January 8-17, 2015 in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Playa Del Carmen is where The Techno Tourist all began. It’s a picturesque beach town that runs along miles of soft white sand beaches and sparkling turquoise waters on the Mayan Riviera.
**ML: **Now entering its ninth year, BPM is a dance music lover’s tropical paradise and the perfect winter getaway. If anyone is tempted, it’s still not too late to attend!
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