The Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

Former Bainbridge resident travels
the world on “working vacation”
By Rodika Tollefson
   Alyssa Johnson often considers her work a “working vacation.” The owner of the OroAzul international business development company has traveled to 32 countries around the world, visiting most of them as part of her job. A self-employed entrepreneur since 2001, she recently returned from the Maldives, where under contract with the U.N. Development Program she completed a disaster preparedness program for more than 40 upscale resorts.
   “I like to go and explore as much as I can, and learn as much as I can (about other cultures),” she says.
   Johnson, who grew up on Bainbridge Island, landed her first job overseas right after college in 1997, for a Caribbean sustainable tourism association. Since then, she has returned to the Caribbean many times.
   After returning to the United States in 2001, she decided to take the plunge and become her own boss. Although she currently lives in Seattle — to be closer to activities a single young person may enjoy — she works from a Bainbridge Island office several times a month and is also a member of the Bainbridge Chamber of Commerce. She could work from anywhere in the world actually, with her business set up to manage clients and projects virtually.
   “I love being my own boss, deciding where to go and when,” she says. “I love being able to be flexible and keep my door open to opportunities.”
   Johnson has seen quite a few opportunities come her way. Shortly after opening her business to offer product development, marketing and environmental services, she got a contract in the Dominican Republic to organize a sustainable tourism conference. She decided to stay in the country for a while to offer services for small businesses. An environmental science major, she has used her knowledge to expand into the environmental arena. And because a college internship taught her Web design and graphic design skills, she offers those services as well. Johnson sees herself as a true entrepreneur, always on the lookout for new possibilities.
   The work under the U.N. contract in the Maldives is a highlight of Johnson’s career so far. Maldives is a country in the Indian Ocean that has 1,190 islands — so disaster preparedness is a big issue for the tourism industry there. She delivered a workshop for hotel staff, organized a tsunami evacuation, fire safety and other events. That was her third work trip out of the country last year, and she sees a big potential for growth. “I feel my foot is in the door, so I’ll be able to do more,” she says.
   During her trips, Johnson takes the time to explore the land, take photos — she’s a photographer as well — and learn about the culture. It’s a great way to make a living, she feels. “I’m able to see and learn, and spend a nice amount of time making a difference, and also being paid well to do that — sort of like a working vacation,” she says.
   OroAzul is a “triple bottom line business” — meaning it considers people, profit and the planet. She balances those aspects in her business and tries to work with organizations that have a community or environmental focus.
   One of Johnson’s recent additions to her business is importing. Johnson keeps this side business, Splash of the Caribbean, somewhat small but plans to continue importing unique gifts along with her other ventures. Through Splash of the Caribbean, she supports four schools and neighborhood in the Dominican Republic. The imports — crafts, paintings, jewelry and carnival masks — are sold at various stores in Puget Sound including New Morning in Poulsbo. New Morning, along with Pinecone Gifts and the Luna Bella restaurant in Kingston also carry her photography.
   Johnson hopes to focus more on eco-tourism and international consulting as her business continues to grow. “I hope to do more international work in new countries,” she said.