Contributed by Charles Odom, founder of Painted Circle
At the age of two I was preparing for my first flight. I would fly with my grandmother from my home in Columbia, SC to Orlando to go to every child’s favorite place. I took my stuffed monkey, Doc, as my carry-on. From that moment on, travel was in my blood.
Special things happen when we travel. We have new experiences, we are exposed to the unknown, and we go through the process of adventure and accomplishment. Whether it’s a luxury getaway to a familiar destination or reaching a new shore where we are faced with a world of unknowns, we come away with travel having changed us for the better, making us more experienced and confident, and more connected and appreciative of our world and its inhabitants.
Painted Circle wants to help more people share that adventure and enrich their journey.
The vision for Painted Circle has come about after many years working in the tourism industry as tour operators. Our small team built a great business focused on guided bike tours and we had outstanding reviews from our guests. And while we knew we were doing a great job on the ground with our guests, we started seeing some trends in the tourism industry that were worrisome, and costly to us and other small companies. We wished some of those behind-the-scenes problems could be addressed. A vision started to come into focus to build a better way of connecting travelers to those businesses offering outstanding guest experiences.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With the travel industry basically closed, many small businesses folded, luckier ones survived in a much reduced capacity. Despite more than a decade in the business, I found myself out of a job, and the future of travel seemed doomed. This certainly seemed the least-likely time to launch a new travel product.
But it was at this time that the travel industry needed innovation more than ever.
So I decided to press forward, knowing that the problems my team was seeing in the industry persisted. Finding myself without a job, funding, or any certainties I set out to create positive change in the travel industry, and I started Painted Circle.
Because we tend to do our best work when we partner with others, I started collaborating with trusted former colleagues and friends in the industry (some of whom were also left unemployed due to the pandemic). We started building the Painted Circle platform out of a labor of love. For us, this was an opportunity to create meaningful change in the industry, and provide the innovation we felt could address some of the key problems we were seeing develop in tourism.
With a desire to help small tour operators, we volunteered our time and expertise to build Painted Circle as a network of operators that could sell their products directly to travelers while offering special promotions or offers to our members. We felt strongly that we could develop a win-win for businesses and travelers, and that guided our vision.
We also wanted to address another issue we were seeing in the travel industry, and in our society as a whole: inclusion.
In the background of a global pandemic, the voices of injustice and prejudice in our communities were also growing louder and louder. With systemic prejudice and disenfranchisement also affecting the travel industry we looked for opportunities to address inclusion as another challenge within our platform. Finding ways to encourage inclusion and open mindedness became another fundamental element of our vision.
What resulted was a collection of people bound by a desire to find creative yet common-sense solutions to some persistent problems in the travel industry. We started work without funding or guarantees, tinkering away to build our platform in spare time and with the skills we had or could learn. As we continue to move forward, we plan to keep working at expanding the scope and reach of our platform while staying true to the foundational elements that guided our vision.
Charles Odom is the founder of Painted Circle. After studying Politikwissenschaft at the Freie Universität in Berlin he graduated with a degree in International Development from American University in Washington, DC. After working as a both a Business Development Director and Director of Guest Experience for companies in the travel industry, Charles is now working to bring innovative platforms to the travel industry that can promote growth and inclusion, and help improve the way we all experience travel.