CHERNOBYLwel.come becomes ChernobylX: Behind The Scenes Story
There is always a turning point in one’s life, the same is in the life of a company. The decision to change the brand was maturing in our heads for over two years. The promise is simple: same values, new name.
So, what is actually changing in this company that has helped put Chernobyl on the travel map since 2008?
The word-playing name of CHERNOBYLwel.come, which is sometimes confusing not just for you, dear reader, but also for our fellow team members, has now become the very simple name – ChernobylX.
You may be thinking, “Hey, I know what “welcome” means, but what does the X mean?”. You decide! It might mean eXperience, eXploring, eXcellence, eXtra mile, eXpeditions, eXtreme etc.. You may even imagine the X on a map as your destination, or a crossed sign of no trespassing. To be honest, we came up with the X as we couldn’t find an appropriate name for what makes the NO-GO destinations and stories we fell in love with – Fukushima, Baikonur, North Korea – so special. It’s the X factor. And in the future, we hope to help you uncover these X places too.
Also, X definitely means neXt chapter in the life of our company. It symbolizes simplicity, essentialism and futuristic thinking. This is how we have restructured our products, user experience, and communication.
Before I bore you to death with what changes you might expect as an eXplorer, there is one thing on the visual side that has remained unchanged – the gas mask in our logo. It is not just a symbol of safety, the Cold War times, but it is also a symbol of a human face, a human touch, something that we will continue to stress in our experiences and even more, with you, our guides, and living heroes at the very centre.
The changes you will love
Okay, Dominik, now tell me what is changing in real life for me?
- We simplified our product structure and made it more flexible for you. Now you can add a Chernobyl power plant tour (3hours) to any of our Chernobyl tours: 1 day, 2 day and private (1-7 days).
- Prices: we have decreased the prices by an average of 20% during the COVID pandemic for our private Chernobyl tours, and most of them have remained.
- Actually, some of the prices are now even lower, as we have divided our product packages (only for Chernobyl tours) into a budget package, we call “Backpacker” and the premium package we call “Hero”. For 14 years, we were only selling full Hero packages, but now we believe our one-of-a-kind experience is certainly more accessible to travelers who are also on a budget. Here is an example of the difference between a backpacker and a hero package.
- With most of our Chernobyl tours you will now have the ability to choose your preferred language (from around 7 languages). Private Chernobyl tours offer you a wider variety of options: choosing your preferred guide, the option to go by your own car to the Chernobyl Zone, and even upgrading your transportation to a Tesla S. What I have found most valuable on our Chernobyl private trips is the one and only chance to upgrade the Chernobyl power plant tour with a visit to the legendary control room #4 and the reactor hall of an RBMK reactor.
- In terms of the Chernobyl tour itself, the biggest change we made was giving you the opportunity to meet with a Chernobyl hero, liquidator, or babushka, an essential part of every tour. We will be rotating many legends of Chernobyl, like: Ivan Pavlovich of Pripyat, or former Deputy Mayor, Aleksandr Esaulov, or Head of the Police Department in Pripyat, Aleksandr Moskalenko, and also my “adopted” granny, Valentina Borisovna. Some of them will be guiding you through the streets of the ghost town of Pripyat, and some of you will have a chance to visit them at home.
- Refunds and the Guarantee: our 100% money back guarantee for our Chernobyl tours is still in place, whether you booked a Backpacker or a Hero package. No cancellation or rebooking fees apply to all of our tours. However, a few of them are having some time constraints which we couldn’t lower, e.g. especially when dealing with state agencies – Chernobyl nuclear power plant, TsENKI for Baikonur, cosmodrome for North Korea, in general, they have got their strict policies which are evolving constantly. As a rule of thumb, for any adjustments to your travel plans, be sure to leave enough time to make changes or cancellations. In COVID times this has become even more flexible.
- Giveback program: as you know we see sustainable travel as a “no compromise” reality and we are committed to give 1% of our revenues to locals, the Chernobyl babushkas and heroes, in particular. We are still struggling to find a transparent and meaningful program with the other destinations outside of Chernobyl, but we are not giving up and I believe one day there will be such a program in every flagship destination like Baikonur, North Korea, or Fukushima.
- Lastly, make sure you are now booking your adventures on ChernobylX.com, once we have all our languages translated, CHERNOBYLwel.com will be simply redirected. All our vouchers, social media, and most importantly, liabilities (such as prepayments) have been automatically transferred to ChernobylX (the legal name only changed to X a.s., so it’s still the same company operating under Slovak (EU) law) with no need of any action from your side. Emails, phone numbers etc. will all stay the same.
In the beginning, I mentioned that the values stay the same, only the name is changing. Maybe you have encountered our Core values during your travels with us, maybe you are just curious to why this Chernobyl travel company is so different from all the manushia of travel companies offering tours to Chernobyl.
Firstly, we truly love what we do. We have the passion, not just for Chernobyl and the other NO-GO places, but we have a passion for people and making them fall in love, just as we did years ago, with the stories that had shaped the history of mankind.
We are always there for you, offering you a helping hand not just during your tour, but even before and after. Even if it is not exactly connected to travelling at all. We are constantly stepping in your shoes, and we are helping you and treating you just as we would be foreigners coming to your home country. We created the customer service that we were all missing when travelling.
We always treat you with love, no matter what issues we woke up with this morning. Even if we can not find the common language, we are trying to keep calm with a sharp mind to serve and keep on loving what we do.
We love to do things differently, out of the box, in some creative way. Many times the experience proves us wrong and e.g. we were not very clear with our images or banners, creating a festival etc.. However, most of the time, we find a tremendous joy in doing things in a different way that is always challenging our brains. Based on feedback from you, it looks like you appreciate it.
Last but not least, every challenge and obstacle is the chance for us to grow. If we screw up, please tell us. Besides making everything better and offering a remedy, we are constantly gathering lessons learned so we can serve you better next time.
How it all started
Wondering how this all started? Everything started back in 2008: I remember sitting in my car driving over a bridge in my hometown of Bratislava, when my only Russian friend (at that time) asked me if I wanted to go with him to Chernobyl. I never really paid any attention to what he was asking before and replied, ”why not?”. Four months later I was sitting in that same car with two more of my friends at the Ukrainian border. At first the customs officer didn’t want to let us into Ukraine until we bribed him – Welcome to Ukraine J.
The next morning, we arrived in Kyiv and joined a Russian speaking group going to Chernobyl. We took our backpacks, respirators and I even had a hockey jockstrap filled with lead, I felt prepared. However, it felt like the Russians in our group, who were equipped with only vodka and crackers, were laughing at us. Most of them were going to the Chernobyl Zone for the third or fourth time, so they probably already knew that it was safe. Safety was made more believable when I saw people working and living there and even more unbelievable was the incredibly low readings taken from my dosimeter.
I noticed my heart rate increase when we crossed the border of the Chernobyl Zone and I could not believe my eyes when I saw the first abandoned houses, barely visible behind the trees. Winter was here and there were no leaves at all. We got out of the bus in Pripyat and I remember taking a deep breath, closing my eyes for a second and trying to imagine how this city used to be full of life. At that very moment I fell in love with Pripyat and even now it’s still my favorite place on Earth.
I decided I would come back one day, not because of a lack of information that I got on the tour, but because I was hooked on Chernobyl! I wanted Chernobyl to answer more questions for me.
Actually, I wanted to return to this special place more often and be more prepared with information and stories behind the Chernobyl tragedy. A few months later I gathered another group to visit Chernobyl, then another and the year after I started to organize regular trips by myself. First, I have to admit, the trips were pretty crappy. Despite the fact I have a journalist background and I gathered tons of stories and history of the Chernobyl Zone, I was not able to interpret it in the right way to the visitors. Also, the website looked (despite the name CHERNOBYL – wel.come) like an invitation to hell and the overall service was poor. This was only my hobby and I have to admit I was very selfish – my goal was to go to the Chernobyl Zone, and the people with me on the tour were only the veil. But despite this stumbling, I made great friends with people from the tours! I remember all the guests, each different atmosphere, all the jokes and of course, all the troubles. Solving situations when things go wrong became another education to me and I have to admit that once somebody (warm regards to Tom! ;-)) even got lost in Pripyat.
With each tour I organized I tried to think of another way to make the next tour even better, thinking about the special little details became an obsession for me. Making the tours as memorable as possible is still an obsession of mine today.
Over time, I was able to scale up my passion and turn it into an outstanding service, thanks to people I met and interviewed personally e.g. Robert Kiyosaki, Jimmy Wales, Pierluigi Collina, Brian Tracy, Jack Canfield, John Demartini, Peter Fisk, Scott McKain, Niki Lauda, Michael J. Andrews, Magnus Lindkvist, Blair Singer, Bill Pienias, David Pearl and many more. Plus, a huge thanks to all the people who travelled with me!
Chernobyl is the best lesson for all of us – one can see all the tragedy of the past and the beauty of the present. It is a place like no other, a place that shakes your set of values, a place that will show you the worst case scenario for planet Earth, a place where you can understand the power of nature.
Together with my current and former colleagues we were able to bring the Chernobyl tours to another level. Now I can proudly say, we are not selling just tours, we are giving people an experience that will change the way they look at their own life.
Let me finish this story of the present, past, and future of our Chernobyl “family” as I like to call our team, with my favorite quote of Robert Kennedy, which also drove our rebranding in 2021: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
P.S. I wrote this story to give you a look at the real face of the “gasmask” project. If it feels like a sales pitch, it is just proof I have a ton to learn. Thank you for your attention and I look forward to hearing your stories from Chernobyl.
P.S. 2 In an unlikely event of our Chernobyl story being shot as a movie, I will not be the star. Thus, let me say THANK YOU to the real heroes who have been next to me, helping me along the way. If you are one of them, your name is there: Janka, Eliska, Jimmy, Michaela, Zuzana, Sona, Aleksey, Maryna, Majka, Simon, Dan, Nico, Raffael, Katia, Viera, Helen, Mark, Kolja, Gerrit, Martin, Mojsej, Tanichka, Tanyushka, Lara, Yurij, Sergei, Misha, Andrey, Natasha, Nastya, Yulia, Yulochka, Halyna, Max, Helga, Olya, Natasha, Juraj, Irina, Karina, Katya, Michal, Lucas, Samuel, Alexander, Tomas, Richard, Nikol, Terezka, Miska, Nika, Lula, Douglas, Magda, Igor, Anna, Aleksandr, Vova, Larissa, and many more.
Special thanks for creating the supportive environment goes to my mother, Sona, my wife Jana and my three daughters, Lili, Diana, Olivia, and my son, Dominik (yes, the semen cryopreservation I did before my first trip to Chernobyl was totally useless:-)).