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.

 

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.

 

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.

Send Fewer and Shorter Emails – so says the Universe

It seems like the universe is uniting to say this message in unison: Send Fewer and Shorter Emails. I witnessed the effects of this early on from several years with a former business partner who was email prolific. I frequently had to play fixer when the fallout would hit from his many midnight manifestos, or his litany of new initiatives sent out to all staff, completely bypassing any chain of command. With recent consulting clients, I’ve found myself making the suggestion numerous times to cut out huge chunks out of an all staff email, and often recommending not to send an email at all. Now, I meet an author that has written the text: Message Not Received: Why Business Communication Is Broken and How to Fix It. Phil Simon shares examples of how wasteful scheduling through email is, or when it can make more sense to just pick up the phone. I appreciate when messages come from many places. Universe, I am listening.

http://www.philsimon.com/books/

Thank you for visiting my site!

Pandion was formed with a mission to advance the quality and integrity of adventure travel and the travel industry overall. With this as the foundation, our services work with businesses to address obstacles of running a sustainable, high quality operation. Hands on, outcomes based consulting and collaboration are at the core of our approach. Your business’s success continues to be our priority, even after your project is completed. We look forward to working with you!