Taking the Plunge

PROVO, Utah – Jan 17, 2020 – Whether BYU Marriott alumna Kylie Chenn is making three pointers, writing songs, or jumping into the freezing ocean off the coast of Antarctica, she puts her whole heart into everything she does. This attitude, along with the connections she made at BYU Marriott, are what have helped Chenn start a multimillion-dollar travel company with over thirty-seven destinations only four years after graduating.

As a student at BYU, Chenn played for the BYU women’s basketball team for two seasons before spending a semester at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England and the University Institute of Lisbon in Portugal. After her time studying abroad, Chenn decided she wanted to return to BYU and apply for the BYU Marriott strategic management program. “I’ve always been a competitive person,” says Chenn. “Honestly, that’s the reason I went into strategy. I was told it was one of the most competitive programs BYU had, so I knew I had to try.”

Chenn loved learning at BYU Marriott and took advantage of every opportunity given to her. She was a global ambassador for the Global Management Center, an avid follower of the Rollins and Ballard Centers, and a member of the Women in Business Club. “To this day when I go back to the Tanner Building, it feels like home,” she says.

As a student, Chenn wanted to learn everything she could. Some semesters she would audit so many classes that once she had to ask special permission from BYU to take twenty-five credits during a semester. She took classes in songwriting, photography, and audio engineering, and found those skills to be helpful when she was starting her own business.

With a $1,000 scholarship from the Women in Business Club, Chenn started her travel and guided-tour company Acanela Expeditions. Acanela focuses on benefitting economically underserved communities by creating hands-on tours that bring valuable tourism dollars to those areas. “In my last semester, right after I got married, my husband and I were able to travel all over Africa as part of a Nu Skin internship where we developed a framework to identify and develop leaders in communities there,” she says. “I had many valuable experiences because BYU Marriott gave me an opportunity.”

The most impactful part of her trip was realizing how responsible tourism could positively impact the economies of the countries she visited. “Every traveler and every dollar we grow is being sent into communities that need it,” says Chenn. “Tourism contributes a lot to the world economy, and a lot of those jobs are held by women, minorities, and people in rural communities. Travel is a great opportunity to bring an influx of foreign dollars in a sustainable way.”

Acanela Expeditions launched with its first trip to India in December 2014. “We started with one trip and five travelers,” Chenn says. “Now, four years later, we’ve gone on hundreds of trips with thousands of travelers.”

After launching Acanela Expeditions from her hometown of Los Angeles, Chenn realized she couldn’t reach her goals for the company on her own. In 2018 she returned to Utah to continue successfully growing her company. “I knew that because I graduated from BYU Marriott, I had a lot of colleagues and friends in the area who could become great team members,” she says.

Since returning to Utah, Chenn has continued to grow Acanela Expeditions, and her work has gotten her a spot on Utah Business’ 40 under 40 list for 2019. Acanela Expeditions was also a Sego Award’s finalist for Fastest Growing Company in Under 5 Years. Chenn is always ready for the next adventure and keeps her suitcase packed. “I travel so often now that I just bring my suitcase home, do my laundry, and put my clothes right back in my suitcase,” she says. “But I’ve never looked back.”

Kylie Chenn stands in front of a wall with many beautiful pieces of Japanese writing. She is tall, thin, wearing a blue dress with a bright red scarf. Her long brown hair is pulled into a bun on her head.
Kylie Chenn in Japan (photo courtesy of Kylie Chenn)
A group of Acanela travelers in orange warm coats sit in a blow up raft in the icy waters surrounding Antarctica
An Acanela Expeditions group in the cold waters of Antarctica (photo courtesy of Kylie Chenn)
Kylie Chenn and blonde woman pose holding a rope attached to a camel. They are standing in front of a vast empty landscape of orange sand cloudy sky in the Sahara desert
Kylie Chenn and an Acanela Expeditions traveler pose with a camel on a ride through the Sahara desert. (photo courtesy of Kylie Chenn)

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Anne Wallace