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An immersive experience: Bemidji’s new travel company EthnoTrax takes people on a different kind of trip

Referred to as "immersion travel," the Bemidji company EthnoTrax will allow travelers to not only visit a tribal population, but experience the culture as well. (Submitted)1 / 2
The Bemidji-based company EthnoTrax will take travelers to remote areas of Papua New Guinea to live with a tribal population. (Submitted)2 / 2

BEMIDJI—By standard definition, the new Bemidji business EthnoTrax is indeed a travel company. However, it offers an experience unlike most establishments that take people to distant places.

Founder and CEO Dave Wall refers to EthnoTrax as an immersion travel company, where customers are given the opportunity for realistic cultural exchanges. The company, Wall said, brings a group of up to six people to live with a tribal group in Papua New Guinea for just under a week.

"My wife and I, as well as our five kids, spent 20 years there. I was a linguist with a mission group there," Wall said. "For most of our time there, we lived with a very remote group. We came back several years ago, but had the thoughts of how we can get involved with the people over there again."

Wall, who also works as a local insurance agent, said he decided on the idea to take small groups of people back into the tribe and let them experience what he and his family experienced. Before launching the business, Wall said he worked with the tribe to develop an arrangement.

"Because of our relationship, we presented it as a way to develop some income. We had numerous meetings and we came together and made an agreement to move forward with this," Wall said. "It really gives them an opportunity to showcase who they are, because they are still truly hunter-gatherers. That's how they live."

Per person, the cost of an excursion with EthnoTrax is $30,000, with the trip lasting two weeks. Wall said he hopes to build the company to allow for excursions on a quarterly basis.

Once enough people contact EthnoTrax for a group, Wall said the company begins researching the best time for them to travel and select the dates. Wall said the next step is setting up a rendezvous point.

"If we have people in a group from all over the world, we'll rendezvous in northern Australia," Wall said. "However, if it's an established group of friends in, say, Austin, Texas, we can rendezvous with them there."

Following a day for gathering and another for orientation, Wall said the group will have a day of commercial travel followed by a buffer day in cases of missed flights.

"It's a full two days to get into the tribe and another two to get out," Wall said. "So, the group will stay a total of six nights with the tribe."

Wall added that the experience won't just be one where travelers will watch from afar.

"They will be taken into that tribal environment and experience something that's not fabricated," Wall said. "This isn't like you're just an observer, you're going to be participating in the culture. It's very educational."

While EthnoTrax is a young business it's already received recognition. In April, the company won the Northwest Minnesota Foundation's IDEA MN Cup award, given to entrepreneurs launching a new venture.

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