Starting an Adventure Travel Company: If I could go back in time, what would I do differently?

 

In 2008 I started full time helping to build and run the adventure company, Evergreen Escapes (www.evergreenescapes.com). For the prior year I had been flirting with the idea of quitting my day job, a park ranger at a nature park in Seattle, USA, to come on board full time at Evergreen. May of 2008 I finally jumped off the cliff and made it happen. I learned a ton over the next 6 and a half years, and I am very fortunate for the experience I had. While there are no doubts that this was a great move, there are a handful of items I would recommend doing differently if I were to do it all over again. There are three major areas to be aware of: profitability, risk management, and authenticity.

 

The number one thing I think everyone needs to know about running an adventure company is that it is difficult to make a profit on the outfitting / supplier side. There are lots of costs, and especially if you are in a seasonal destination, it will be difficult to manage cash flow. Many people look at the price tag for a quality adventure experience and they assume someone is making a ton of money. The reality is, running this type of business is not cheap. First, you are paying quite a bit for insurance – not something you want to skimp on. Second, for you to be able to charge a high enough price to make a living, you have to make sure that every experience Isn’t just good, but amazing. Who is primarily responsible for the success of your trip? The guide! He / she is on the front line representing your company, and quality guides are not cheap. Second to the guide are the amenities on your trip. Food may seem like an afterthought, but if you read reviews from top adventure companies, no doubt you will read reviews that talk about incredible food. This is a basic need identified by the researcher Maslow. It is no doubt that spending some extra money getting high quality, and hopefully sustainable, food options will be rewarded. This costs money and requires a bit more logistics. So, to increase profitability it is important to have a clear and conservative budget, price your experiences high enough that you will be able to make money to get through slow periods, and have a product that is quality enough to ask for high prices.

 

The next recommendation is to be very aware of the risks that go into running an adventure travel company. Yes, people are signing up for your trip because they are excited to be pushed slightly out of their comfort zone, but the irony is they expect everything to be 110% safe and all variables accounted for. This paradox requires you to have your emergency procedures locked in. Evaluate every activity on your trip to determine what risks exist. What is the likelihood that one of those risks will become a reality? If the probability is high and / or the severity is high, then you likely need to come up with a treatment to reduce either the severity or the probability. Once you know what risks exist, you can then build out an Emergency Response Plan to prepare for what you will do when the probability is not in your favor. It is not just enough to have a plan; you need to practice the plan. At least once a year, simulate an emergency and allow your whole staff to go through all the steps they would take to deal with an emergency.

 

Despite all the preparation you might take to make sure that you never have an emergency, there is enough out of your hands that you will need to have appropriate insurance to cover your operation. Make sure your insurance actually covers the activities you are offering. This is a key mistake that can become a very costly mistake. Be sure to read the policy carefully. Is every activity you provide listed in your policy? Are you confident that there are no exemptions that apply to your operation? The best is to have a broker that is an expert in adventure travel to make sure that you have a professional set of eyes reading your policy.

 

As stated previously, your number one asset in the field is your guide. It is crucial to provide solid training of your guides and staff both for safety AND quality. From the recently released Adventure Travel Guide Qualifications & Performance Standard: “An Adventure Travel Guide is a guide with a general knowledge of a variety of skill competencies (i.e. interpretive, medical and sustainability) required to facilitate a group of clients through a range of terrains, environments and locales in a safe, manageable and respectable manner.” Making sure your guides have the proper training, and fully understand your companies value proposition is essential to fully harnessing their potential.

 

Another item to be aware of is to make sure you have addressed specific government requirements, and obtained permission to access the land where your trips will operate on. In the US this is sometimes not thought about until it is too late, and businesses find they are unable to obtain permits for public land. Other parts of the world might have company licenses that are required before you work with the public. These regulations are not always welcomed by our industry, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to address them.

 

Finally, I want to encourage everyone involved in tourism to realize that we not only have an opportunity, we have a responsibility to do more than just create a “fun” experience for our guests. The impact of flying people around the globe and inserting them into our communities is not miniscule. What about traveling can change the world? How can we curate the experiences for our guests to create a net positive for our destinations? This is the question that we should face from the inception point of our companies.

 

I am confident that the adventure tourism industry will not shy away from these bigger picture issues. And I know there will be many passionate individuals that will want to dive in head first to start adventure companies. Let’s work together to make sure we create sustainable businesses that are benefitting the communities we live in, and the industry as a whole.

 

About Dan Moore:

Dan Moore has over 15 years experience as an entrepreneur, professional adventure guide, and educator. Dan is the CEO of Pandion Consulting & Facilitation, a travel industry consultancy and facilitation company based in Seattle, Washington (USA). Pandion’s mission is to raise the standards, quality, and sustainability of the travel industry. This is accomplished through facilitating community development workshops, designing and delivering industry training, and direct consulting with businesses and destinations. Pandion is respected worldwide for designing cutting edge tourism education products. The team’s vast operations knowledge, including guide training, permitting, sustainability, and staff management is what differentiates Pandion from other consultancies. Dan sits on several non-profit boards, and is a member of the faculty for Adventure EDU, the education and consulting arm of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. He also teaches Ecotourism, Adventure Travel, and Guide Training at Peninsula College in Washington State. Dan is the Chair of the International Adventure Travel Guide Standard.

Can Adventure Travel Save Communities From Economic Leakage and Industry Consolidation?

Tourism is growing. According to the UNWTO international travel has increased 4% this year and accounts for 10% of the world’s GDP. Adventure Travel has also been rapidly growing, increasing from $89 billion in 2010 to $263 billion in 2013. As history has shown, when an industry grows and becomes mainstream, more people enter wanting a slice of that pie, including large corporations. So the question is; how can adventure tourism maintain its integrity and ethos to the communities it serves, while continuing to expand its reach? In search of the answer, this past October we interviewed four top level tourism operators from South America at the Adventure Travel World Summit, in Alaska, to gain the perspective of what is happening on the ground:

Watch the interview with Camila Barp from Gondwana Brasil:

 

Sebastian Grisi

Marketing and Sales, Magri Turismo

La Paz, Bolivia

Give a brief overview of your company:

Magri Turismo is a 43-year-old company that has been in the family since its inception. We own Ecolodge La Estancia, which abides by environmental ethics using solar energy, recycled rainwater, composting, passive architecture. Magri Turismo works with “Hormigón Armado” by supporting Technical Training Program Project that aims to support underprivileged shoe shiners and their family members through scholarships for technical skills courses. We set out a personal ethics code that aims to promote the environmental, social, cultural, and ethical development of the company and its stakeholders. Magri Turismo desires to be recognized for its integrity and is currently implementing a project that protects the natural reserves in the amazon region.

Describe the ethos of adventure travel & the ecotourism industry – how does this differ from mainstream travel?

Adventure travelers are much more interested in the places they visit than the mainstream travelers. They want to learn more about the places, local communities and try to be very cautious on the terrain they are travelling. It goes much further than taking “pictures”

As adventure travel & ecotourism become more mainstream, do you see a risk or threat to your adventure travel ethos?

There is probably no way to stop mainstream tourism, but there are many effective ways to protect everything mentioned already. Training in all levels possible is the best way to protect! Trainings from CEOs (in travel agencies, tour operators, hotels) down to guides, drivers, etc. If everyone taking part in tourism, adventure tourism and ecotourism are trained and prepared, they will also pass this wisdom to the end consumers and everyone involved in this activity.

What do industry leaders need to do to continue the adventure travel ethos? What type of methodology would be most effective?

Training, adapting ourselves to global changes, implementing new technologies, be prepared to whatever could happen! Try to integrate more communities to be part of adventure tourism and try to create a “green” mind!

 

Raffaele Di Biase Cuomo, Head Guide & Director

BirdsChile, Adventure, Birding & Nature Tours

Puerto Varas, Chile

 

How can communities that rely upon tourism stop economic leakage (money not staying in the community)?

We all go to the communities to speak about how good it could be for them to get into tourism. But we don’t do a follow up. We need to dedicate more time to the communities that we work with. This cannot be only a “sell & buy” relation, this must  go much farther having a strong and durable relation of understanding, growing and partnership where we share with the communities our experience and skills to make their business sustainable and solid. Today with the pressure and competition, many operators are cutting costs and guess who are the first to be affected?

Do you think there are economic impacts on communities and on your business from industry consolidation? Any other positive or negative impacts from this?

We are experiencing so far positive economical impacts. Customers are one step forward and many of them are trying to not be swallowed by the new adventure travel mainstream. They are being more analytical in their decisions and the quest for a real experience. The risk is still very high, but the biodiversity also has a voice, and the communities have a voice – both of which are louder than ever thanks to the spot that adventure travel has gained in the past years.

What do industry leaders need to do to continue the adventure travel ethos? What type of methodology would be most effective?

Leaders of the adventure travel industry must become real activists. We cannot be scared to say that our companies are activists in protection, conservation and regeneration of the cultural and natural identity of our country. We must lead our communities, be involved in their projects, dedicate time to spend with them, be in the field and in the first line supporting the good practices and report the bad ones. We must keep our souls connected to the land that we use for living. Even if that means we have less travelers, we will surely have better ones!

Have you observed industry consolidation in you community? If so, what have been the economic impacts on the community and on your business? Any positive or negative impacts?

The travel industry is growing but it is still seen as a distant activity in many communities. And often only as a simple economic opportunity that can provide a potential income, not as a life changing activity that must, in the first place, improve and guarantee the community’s quality of life.

At BirdsChile we are being benefited by the constant increasing numbers, but at the same time we are extremely worried about the fact that we see the industry and the government mostly concerned about numbers of visitors. There is no measure of the impact that these numbers are having and will have in the communities, or in the natural habitats involved. I would like to have for my country less travelers but better ones!

 

Rafael Mayer, Founder

Say Hueque

Buenos Aires, Argentina

 

Describe the ethos of adventure travel & the ecotourism industry – how does this differ from mainstream travel?

The main difference between adventure travel and ecotourism and mainstream travel is the way in which the travelers are interested in approaching the destination. Adventure travel and ecotourism focuses on the local culture (people, food, music) and experiencing nature in a conscious way. Travel companies specialized in Adventure Travel are truly interested in the experience that they can deliver to the traveler, while mainstream travel usually the main goal is to take the tourists to different highlights in a short period of time. Adventure travel and ecotourism goals are much deeper in terms of the relationship between the visitor and the destination. Adventure travel intends to help experience the destination in a meaningful angle. We’ve been in the business for the last 18 years organizing trips in Argentina & Chile. We’ve noticed a big increase in the interest of clients in prioritizing getting to know the destination’s essence, rather than visiting a lot of places in a short time. Travelers’ interests are changing quickly, and fortunately, towards a much more authentic and meaningful way of knowing a new destination.

 

Report from 2015 Adventure Travel World Summit, Puerto Varas, Chile

By Dan Moore, CEO Pandion Consulting & Facilitation

The Adventure Travel Trade Association, an industry trade group headquartered in Washington State, held its annual Adventure Travel World Summit in Puerto Varas, Chile, October 5-9 2015. This is the organization’s 12th Summit, including the first two which were in Washington State, and was the 8th that I have attended. The sold out summit included over 700 delegates from 55 different countries. Delegates included outbound tour operators such as National Geographic Adventure and REI Adventures, inbound suppliers including Seattle’s own Evergreen Escapes, and some of the best-respected travel media such as Outside Magazine, Travel Weekly, and National Geographic.

 

The theme for this year’s Summit was “Viva la Revolución de la Aventura”. This theme relates to two aspects of the Adventure Travel industry. One, acknowledging the trend that Adventure Travel is one of the fastest growing sectors of the travel industry (growing from $89 Billion in 2010 to $263 billion in 2013*; 4 and 10 travelers choosing adventure*). And two, the efforts made by this industry to address issues of social and environmental sustainability – big challenges for the travel industry.

 

Speakers included the President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, celebrity chef Rodolfo Guzman, Canadian Ambassador Tim Martin, and numerous experts from across the travel industry. Sessions included diverse topics such as risk management, conservation travel, adventure travel product development, big data, and indigenous travel. I delivered a presentation on the recently released Adventure Travel Guide Qualification and Performance Standard. Created by 18 professionals from 15 different countries, this standard gives destinations and companies a resource to meet international standards for guides. In addition to the inspirational and educational programming, the Summit is well known for the world-class networking. There are formal sessions, such as the one-day Marketplace (similar to a tradeshow), and the innovative Media Connect, which gives participants a one-on-one opportunity with the top tier travel media in attendance. Plus the coffee breaks, meals, and afterhours were priceless opportunities to share ideas and swap business cards.

 

For the destination, the Summit is an enormous opportunity to show of the best they have to offer. Attendees got to experience Chile’s adventure offerings on a multi-day Pre-Summit Adventure in places like Patagonia, Easter Island or the Atacama Desert, and on a Day of Adventure activity in the volcanoes and lakes region surrounding Puerto Varas.

 

Next year the Adventure Travel World Summit will be in Alaska. It is exciting to have the Summit coming home to the United States after traveling the world for the last 10. This will be a great opportunity for Washington State for many reasons. One, many of the international flights, and even some domestic will fly through Seattle opening up the possibility to host familiarization trips and promotions. Two, many of the outbound operators and media will be those that already work with the Western US and will be good contacts for Washington businesses to make. Three, the proximity to Seattle means Washington State delegates will pay less, and travel less to have access to this summit. Who knows, the Summit might be in Australia or India in 2017! Washington State is a robust and diverse destination. It stands very solidly as an Adventure Travel destination due to our diversity of geography, quality outfitters, and solid travel infrastructure. Attending the Adventure Travel World Summit is a great way to ensure we are on the map globally and able to tap into this growing and lucrative segment of the travel industry.

 

Links:

More on the Adventure Travel World Summit 2015:

http://www.adventuretravelnews.com/adventure-travel-world-summit-kicks-off-a-revolution-in-chile

Video highlights of the Adventure Travel World Summit 2015:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yG7cj6ciP8c

 

*Outbound travelers from the Americas and Europe – 2013 Adventure Tourism Market Study – Adventure Travel Trade Association and George Washington University Study

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Visa Waiver Program is Good for Security and the Economy

In our society public figures make statements that on the surface may make sense to some people but when you dig in are really just wrong (I know, huge understatement right now). Regarding the Visa Waiver program I’m hearing a lot misinformation and I would like to share a bit to reduce the threat of it being scaled back or cut.
 
This is a program that is a win win for our country’s economy AND for our security. This is not a short cut for travelers at the expense of oversight of who is getting in to the U.S. On the contrary because of this program we have increased security standards for both the United States and the partner nations. “The program provides information sharing, allowing us to know far more about citizens visiting from participating countries.” This is a good thing when it comes to security.
 
It is also a good thing when it comes to our economy. Because of our reaction to 9/11 the first decade of the millennium left the U.S. dramatically trailing most other countries when it comes to receiving foreign travelers (officially an export because the money originates from outside the U.S.) In the travel industry we call it the “Forgotten Decade”. For one of the largest industries in the country, this is a big deal. The Visa Waiver Program, and the recent enhancements made to it, are a common sense approach to keeping us safe and improving our economy. It should be celebrated right now, not threatened.
 
For more information, visit this link: https://vwp.ustravel.org

Quinquén – the Mapuche community that saved the Araucaria tree

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Community based tourism (where local communities deliver and benefit from tourism) to indigenous communities is not only a way to increase economic development, it is a way for indigenous communities to finally tell their history themselves. In the case of Quinquén, a Mapuche community in the mountains 8 hours South East from Santiago Chile, their history spans thousands of years and centers around the Araucaria (or Monkey Puzzle) tree.

I had the opportunity to visit this community after attending the Adventure Travel World Summit in Chile, thanks to Juan Ignacio Marambio of Travolution – a Chilean company that connects international travelers to indigenous community based tourism. Juan has been working with the Quinquén community for several years and assisted them in developing a program that shares their story and specificaly their work to save the Araucaria tree from being wiped out.

The Araucaria produces a piñon, or seed, that people in this region have depended on forever as part of their diet. That is why this groups name for themselves is Pehuenche. Pehuén is the Mapudungun (the Mapuche language) word for Araucaria, so they are people of the Araucaria. The Araucaria is sacred and viewed as brothers and sisters.

In the late 70’s and into the 80’s Chile was in the midst of its neo-liberal experiment, where corporations were given lots of power to reap profit from Chile’s vast natural resources. The timber industry expanded rapidly during this time and the ancient Araucaria forests were a prime target. Without any recognition that the land they were clearing was home to communities that have cared for and depended on these trees for millenia, the loggers moved in and spared no tree. After the pain of seeing their sacred tree nearly eliminated from the landscape, the community of Quinquén had enough. In the mid 80’s, with the support and advice of some international conservation organizations, they placed their own bodies on the line. Litterally forcing the logging companies to kill them if they wanted the trees. The military dictatorship sent the army in to do just that, but the Pehuenche people asked the powerful Araucaria trees to bring a snowstorm to stop the military. That night clear skies turned dark and it snowed more than anyone had ever witnessed in one night, and the army was prevented from committing their atrocities. This gave the community and their NGO allies more time to save their remaining forests.

The Araucaria is now a protected species in Chile, but the powers that be have a way to turn this against those that fought to save the tree. First, the loggers, upon leaving the territory committed numerous acts of deliberate sabbotage – felling trees that they had no intention of using, setting forest fires, etc. Additionally, the law says that no part of the Araucaria can be used. So it is officially illegal for Pehuenche people to harvest the Piñon or the downed trees and branches, as they have done for milenia. The final dagger in the gut is that their is no mention of this struggle in the conservation of the Araucaria. The official story is that the governement realized the importance of the tree and decided they should be saved.

Responsible and sustainable tourism is more than just creating economic benefits to communities. It is about giving voices to people whose history has been excluded from history books and whose contributions have the power to inspire future generations to conserve and respect the balance of nature.

 

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Tour Operators, Guides and Outfitters Training in Central and Southern Oregon

Travel Oregon has invited Pandion back to Oregon!

Last February, Pandion designed and delivered a two day workshop in Portland for Oregon guides, outfitters, operators, packers, entrepreneurs and tourism businesses looking to develop or expand upon their outdoor recreation tour product. The workshops attracted 50 participants ranging in experience from about-to-launch to 30 year veterans.

This Fall we will bring the workshop to the adventure hotbeds of Central Oregon (Bend) and Southern Oregon (Ashland). Central Oregon, in the high desert, is well known for world class rock climbing at Smith Rock, Skiing at Mount Batchelor, and rafting the Deschutes River. Southern Oregon’s treasures include the mighty Rogue River, Crater Lake National Park, and the Oregon Redwoods. Existing businesses as well as those still in idea phase will benefit from the scope and breadth of the two day workshop.

These workshops spend time on the unique marketing needs of adventure travel and outdoor recreation businesses, and connect participants to the numerous resources from Travel Oregon. Land managers from BLM, US Forest Service, and National Parks will be on hand to give detailed descriptions of how to obtain commercial use permits and discuss best practices. And just as important is the opportunity to learn from, and network with, diverse businesses from throughout the region.

To learn more and to register click on this LINK. To bring Pandion to your community to conduct similar workshops email info [at] pandion.biz

October 28-29, 2015 in Bend, Oregon

November 18-19, 2015 in Ashland, Oregon

 

Is Consolidation Good or Bad for the Travel Industry?

We are often told by merging businesses and corporations that consolidation will bring better services to more customers and will lower prices. Even regulators, whose job it is to protect the consumer, will often say this. This goes against both the capitalist theory of competition and my personal instinct. Why would a more powerful company with less competition want to lower its price if it doesn’t have to? Consolidation of essential positions (HR, finance, etc) might lead to increased profit for the fewer people that own the now larger company. And the now larger company might have more power in the marketplace to insist on lower prices from suppliers. But one should not assume that this cost savings will be passed on to consumers. In the travel industry, both mainstream and niches like Adventure Travel, the trend has been moving towards consolidation. I have personally seen very good ground operators lose significant amounts of business due to a tour operator upstream being bought and the now larger business unifying the entire business around a different supplier. This might seem good for the other ground operator, but this means greater homogenization of the products offered, and a company that might not have been ready for such an increase of growth now responsible for a much larger share of the market.

I haven’t seen a ton of attention given to the potential pitfalls for businesses and consumers with consolidation in the travel industry. There are two recently published articles, that, especially seen side by side, outlines some of the negative sides of consolidation. The first is in Adventure Travel News and outlines the separation of a young mega company: Peak Adventure Travel Group, a strategic venture between TUI Group and Intrepid Travel. This is the merger that saw ripples in the supply chain internationally. In addition to the possible impacts on businesses and consumers, it appears that mega mergers can sometimes be hard on the two merging businesses themselves. TUI and Intrepid are still huge, but I think this separation is ultimately good for the industry.

TUI-group and Intrepid Travel to Part Ways – Adventure Travel News

The second article was in the New York Times on July 1st. It initially caught my attention because the lead is about price collusion between the four major airlines. As a frequent flyer I get concerned with lack of competition amongst airlines, leading to poorer service and higher prices. The article digs into the fact that consolidation in the airline industry has made it easier for collusion to occur even though “[executives] actually hate each other, truth be told. But with so few of them left, there’s almost a natural oligopoly.” Airlines have gone from near bankruptcy to record profits. One reason is the extremely low fuel prices. Yet, ticket prices have not dropped as you would expect with lower costs. Says Senator Chuck Schumer: “It’s hard to understand, with jet fuel prices dropping by 40 percent since last year, why ticket prices haven’t followed. We know that when airlines merge, there’s less price competition.” Senator Schumer has called for a Justice Department investigation.

Airlines Under Justice Department Investigation – New York Times

To maintain a vibrant and sustainable travel industry it is important to be skeptical of the promises made by merging companies. We need to hold regulators accountable to do their jobs and make sure they apply scrutiny when approving such mergers.

 

U.S. Legislation Needed to Give Native American Tribes More Control of Tourism

Travelers are consistently requesting authentic cultural experiences; specifically, travelers visiting the United States from other parts of the world. This could suggest there is an opportunity for Native American Tribes to tap into this demand and increase economic benefit from tourism. As has been the practice during their couple hundred years relationship with Native America, the U.S. Government continues to disproportionally control resources on Tribal land. In this case, the decision making about where to appropriate funds for tourism development and needed infrastructure investments.

Native America should have an opportunity to thrive in a tourism economy that is seeking out authentic cultural experiences. According to a recent article in Indian Country Today, there is legislation that could change this dynamic to better benefit Native communities: “The NATIVE Act, or the Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience Act, was created to “enhance and integrate Native American tourism, empower Native American communities, increase coordination and collaboration between Federal tourism assets, and expand heritage and cultural tourism opportunities in the United States.” The act would, among other things, get federal agencies like the Departments of Commerce and Interior to consult with Indian tribes and the Native American community on their inclusion in Federal tourism activities.”

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/01/23/aianta-pushing-legislation-give-tribes-more-control-native-tourism-158838?_tmc=xUIPM7R_v3ziiUv9EdOomejdDGSpKxzJ4DCqZbfa7M4

 

Pandion to Conduct Two Adventure Travel Workshops in Oregon: Feb 24-25

If you are based in Oregon, please consider attending one or both of the upcoming workshops we are conducting in Portland Oregon February 24th and 25th:

WHEN: February 24 & 25, 2015 | 9:00AM – 5:00 PM both days

WHERE: Jupiter Hotel Portland | 800 East Burnside St. Portland, Oregon 97214

RSVP: Here! Registration closes Feb. 20, 2015 and is limited to first 50 registrants

COST: $10 for 2 day registration

DAY 1:  FEBRUARY 24
Connecting your business to the world: Understanding and attracting the international and high-value traveler

Key Takeaways:

  • Strategies to connect to global supply chain
  • Attracting media and PR
  • Product development for international travelers
  • High impact marketing methods

DAY 2:  FEBRUARY 25
Navigating Permitting, and Setting up Successful Operations

Key Takeaways:

  • How to understand and obtain required permits and licenses
  • Designing and implementing an Emergency Response Plan (ERP)
  • Creating risk management protocol
  • Properly insuring your operation
  • Vehicle/equipment certification and maintenance best practices

 

Food & Drink:

  • Morning pastries and a catered lunch will be provided daily
  • Coffee, tea and water will be available throughout the workshops
  • Basecamp Brewing reception following each day

More information HERE.