The “Presidential Interviews” series, which began in February this year, retains its true birthmark: interviewing people with the depth of the open sea, with the ease of chronicling and the freshness of the newness of what has already happened. Fabio Steinberg of DIÁRIO, in this interview with Panrotas President Guillermo Alcorta, translates all this with the skill of a chronicler and with the special sensitivity of good journalists. To follow:
Adjectives like “quiet”, “peaceful” or “adapted” are definitely not in José Guillermo Condomi Alcorta’s vocabulary. He is the founder of Panrotas, a publication aimed at the tourism market, but which has become the flagship of a rich ecosystem that today is a must-have guide in the sector.
Always a step ahead of trends, this dynamic Argentine paternal and Brazilian maternal has managed through his empathy and competence to present the best of both nations rolled into one.
At 83 years old, three brothers, Guillermo has a very varied background. Born in Buenos Aires, he studied at the Colegio Marista Champagnat for 12 years. There he left a legion of friends who still meet at the end of each year to this day.
There is no shortage of adventure in your life. As soon as he graduates from high school, he participates in an expedition on the Argentine warship ARA Murature around the Valdes Peninsula. He also dived as a hobby in Ilhabel, on the coast of São Paulo, after the Principe de Asturias sank in 1916.
At 18, he studied for a year at the Faculty of Architecture. Dissatisfied, he attends engineering and business administration simultaneously for two years.
His passion for aircraft led him two years later, during his mandatory military service, to choose the Argentine Air Force because he was already a civilian and glider pilot.
Due to maternal origins, Brazil has been a constant presence since childhood. He usually spends his summer holidays between Sao Paulo, Guaruja and Rio de Janeiro, always with his extended Brazilian family. You have cousins at ease. His grandfather Jose Maria Whitaker, twice Secretary of the Treasury, had 14 children – 3 boys and 11 girls. In turn, Guillermo had three children, Maria Camilla, Marianna and José Guilherme, who gave him three grandchildren.
Through his presence in Brazil, Alcorta establishes strong bonds of friendship that will bring him closer to the tourism sector in 1971. This was due to a reunion nine years earlier in New York with two childhood friends who were studying in the countryside. One of them is the heir of Banco Andrade Arnaud, who offers him to head the company’s travel agency. The experience lasted four years until Banco Halles, which included Andrade Arnault, was subject to federal government interference.
In 1974, drawing on market experience and needs, as well as relationships acquired with airlines, Alcorta identified a business opportunity. It notes that travel agencies do not have a catalog with schedules and fares for flights to Brazil. This is how the Panrotas guidebook was born. These are heroic times when everything is done by hand. There are still no computers, no internet, not to mention online booking.
“Based on the English Pronta Referência ABC (from-where) system and my familiarity with mathematics, engineering and administration, we began to publish information about the network of flights with section fares on a monthly basis,” he recalls.
“At the beginning, rates were settled on an Olivetti machine with a handle. The data received from the airlines was recorded on magnetic cards with two IBM MC82 typewriters. Two operators for each equipment in turn added, excluded and changed sections, schedules and tariffs. I was extremely concerned about the accuracy, quality and timeliness of the information. Any mistake will be fatal,” he continues.
hidden in a box
A year later, Panrotas Guide – the forerunner of the modern GDS – has already collected 1000 signatures. The company later began providing domestic fares for United and American Airlines. With headquarters in Sao Paulo and an office in Rio, the team reaches 100 people. The agreement with VASP allows you to have representatives at all points served by the airline.
Despite her success, Alcorta is not satisfied. A keen sense of smell indicates that there is even more room for exploration. Visiting travel agencies, he understands that most of the directors, despite the signing of the Guide, are not familiar with the publication.
“I found the Panrotas lying on the desk at the ticket issuer, often hidden in a desk drawer. It worked as a kind of “weapon”, as a guarantee that only he could perform this function,” laughs Guillermo.
It is necessary to distribute Panrotas throughout the agency. That’s when he decides to add an editorial part to the Guide. It includes texts and photos of owners and professionals, industry news and events. The strategy works great. With the solution, the circulation reaches 15,000 copies, with circulations up to 400 pages.
“This is the golden age of publishing!” he says.
Faced with the great consequences of including journalism in the Manual, in 1977 he decided to adopt the model at the ABAV Congress in Curitiba. Thus, Jornal Panrotas da ABAV comes out daily with news about what happens during the meeting. To do this, the hotel where the team stayed has an editorial office, a mobile photo lab and a pre-press department. Of the eight, the edition reaches 64 pages per year. Success is repeated in the events of the next forty years.
In the late 1980s, Alkorta created another publication. This is a Brazilian review published annually in English until today. It introduces the country and its tourism industry to the international market. Another successful champion.
Always with an eye to the future, the entrepreneur understands that the absolute paper dynasty is dying out. That’s why it’s about moving to the Internet. In June 2000 he created the Panrotas portal. With an immediate update as required by the new times, the project proves to be another right decision. Today, the number of unique users is 24,000 per day, and the number of visitors peaks from 50,000 to 100,000 people.
But it doesn’t stop there. In 2003, the Panrotas forum was founded, aiming to increasingly represent the sector and create opportunities for reflection and renewal. “It’s two days of inspiration and learning at an event that allows us to assess trends, rethink and innovate – something unprecedented and unparalleled in the market,” he explains.
Speaking of new times, the founder and president of Panrotas is not only grooming his son José Guilherme, but also promoting him to the position of CEO of the company. It doesn’t mean he’s thinking about hanging up his boots. By no means. In addition to a head full of ideas, this Argentine, who received Brazilian citizenship in 1997, has an enviable physical strength. On the day we spoke, he had just walked more than three kilometers through the streets of São Paulo, which was a regular part of his daily routine. But even less than 7 kilometers, which is usually your average daily allowance.
In addition, his love for airplanes, places and people makes his schedule always full of travel. Today he could be in Sao Paulo, tomorrow in Buenos Aires, the next day in Orlando for IPW, and then who knows where on the planet his endless energy and curiosity demand it.
For this reason, it is impossible to talk about the end of Guillermo’s career. His stepping away from routine work only frees up more time for what he loves most: sprouting new projects. For example, Matcher, which will open in Fortaleza in 2019. “In addition to Panrotas, the event aims to show Brazil, its products and attractions to international buyers. They come from big markets at our invitation to do business with Brazilian suppliers,” he explains.
Despite being a huge success, Matcher had to be halted due to the pandemic and the unfavorable international situation for tourism. “I do not give up hope that he will return soon, as soon as favorable conditions allow,” he says.
Risk does not always go hand in hand with success. After all, only those who try to make mistakes make mistakes. The life of Guillermo Alcorta is the best proof of this. You know that every time one door closes, another inevitably opens. “I learned from my mistakes,” his comment is laconic. He just prefers to spend his inexhaustible enthusiasm talking about what works, and especially about what is yet to come.
It is quite natural that with such a profile, he actually and rightfully became the ambassador of Brazilian tourism. This is your great merit. This can be explained: we are talking about trade, which in Brazil is characterized by fragmented interest groups. The miracle of the union really only happens under the wing of its founder, who can even be confused with the company he created.
The best proof of his personal prestige can be seen at any tourist fair. There is no one who would not like to at least visit the Panrotas booth. Get noticed, meet people, have a coffee or, if you’re lucky, take a picture next to the founder.
What is the secret of such success? “Firstly, I realized that you can’t do anything alone. Without cooperation and usefulness to others, no one will lend a hand.” What someone else said might sound like a catchphrase. But not when it comes to Guillermo Alcorte.
Just watch the team. These are people like Arthur Luis Andrade, Editor-in-Chief, Heloise Prass, Marketing Director, Ricardo Cidaras, in charge of the commercial part, Ricardo Tsugawa, in charge of IT. There are also valuable collaborators such as Artur Salvador Neto, who handled the technical part of the Guide with great quality until he left the company, or Emerson de Souza, who started 26 years ago as a messenger and today takes care of Panrotas’ photographs. In general, everyone has been very motivated to walk alongside Alcorta for decades.
This is not simply explained. Despite exponential growth, the company remains familiar yet distinctive. Thanks to the human attitude and professional respect of the founder, all participants feel part of it. It happens by blood ties or the proximity of goals, it doesn’t matter.
Guillermo’s mission is not easy and not completed. As he himself admits, tourism needs in Brazil remain. The activity must be effectively recognized by the government due to its economic strength, potential for integration and job creation.
Problems are part of its history. You don’t have to be afraid of making mistakes when you try. Eventually, with great powers of observation, a sense of opportunity and a good dose of courage, he transformed Panrotas from a timetable and airfare guide into a communications, marketing and event solutions company for the travel industry.
The brand’s constant innovation over these four decades is one of the main reasons for its success. How was it possible? According to Guillermo Alcorta:
“I never looked at novelty as an obstacle. Against. That has always worked for me as an incentive, because that’s where great accomplishments come from.”
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