Sequestration and De-carbonization No Substitute for Reducing Consumption

I just got done reading an article by Christina Beckmann in Adventure Travel News titled “Carbon Offset Prices Are On the Rise; Adventure Travel Businesses Consider Their Climate Strategies“. The main emphasis of the article is that, due to the increase in demand and clearer guidelines, the price for carbon offsets is increasing. As part of the clearer guidelines, increased demand, as well as a way to differentiate from competitors, there is a greater emphasis on the quality of the carbon offset. Specifically, the article states, in four major measurements:

  • Additionality: would the project have happened anyway, without the revenue received through the purchase of the offset?
  • Uniqueness: is your offset the only offset linked to the carbon dioxide equivalent emissions and not double-counted?
  • Measurability: can the emissions avoided or removed be quantified with recognized standard tools?
  • Permanence: is there an emissions avoidance or sequestration commitment over a set period of time (eg 100 years)?

I am pleased to see that there is greater emphasis on the quality of the carbon offset, as outlined in this article. I have been concerned for years that offsets have been a too-easy way to reduce people’s guilt about traveling, without accountability to know when a company is just green-washing. I agree with Court Whelan, Chief Sustainability Officer at Natural Habitat Adventures, who was quoted in the article about the need for third-party verification systems. I also agree with Court’s statement about de-carbonizing as a type of risk mitigation, versus a strategy to make travel climate-friendly – which it never will do. Just like we need to have a plan for coastal cities and island nations for when seawater rises, our primary focus needs to be on drastically reducing what is causing seawater to rise in the first place. There is a lot more we can and should be doing to prevent the carbon BEFORE it gets into the atmosphere. Even if technology will help us cope or lessen the catastrophe, it won’t save us. Only changing our behavior and reducing our impact will.

Therefore, what I am not pleased with in this article, and in our industry overall, is how little attention is given to reducing our overall footprint (carbon and otherwise). I think this is true in all industries – we love a technology fix that conceals our issues with over-consumption, and gives an entrepreneur (or hedge fund) something they can make money on. But the real issue is, the wealthiest on this planet are consuming WAY too much and this consumption, and the waste that comes with it, is destroying this planet (and the potential extinction of the human species). There is a “net positive” approach that CAN overcompensate for the negative impacts with positive ones. But this needs to be genuinely measured. For example, saying it is a net positive to build a luxury “eco” lodge in a pristine area because the guests’ increased awareness of the nature, culture, etc, will help those causes overall, needs to be measured and held accountable. Otherwise it is greenwashing. Regarding using “eco”, it doesn’t matter if the lodge gets 75% of its energy from solar or wind if the lodge uses 300 times what local people use, and the non renewable energy is coming from diesel generators. 

Technology clearly has a place, but rather than focus so heavily on technology to clean up the mess we have created, such as de-carbonization, we should focus on practices and technology that reduces the carbon and other impacts in the first place. For example, there currently is technology for hybrid boats and ships that run on cleaner burning fuels, versus the bunker fuel most ships currently use. Every tour vehicle (buses and vans) could be electric. We need to push for regulation that fast tracks these technologies, and simultaneously educate the consumer to increase consumer demand.

For the most carbon intensive part of the travel industry, air travel, there are plenty of ways that airplanes could be we way less polluting. We have learned how to do this (albeit not quickly enough) in the regulation of the auto industry. Regulations requiring airline fleets to have an average carbon budget would provide a market for manufacturers to design and build planes with lower emissions. We should be focusing our energy on THIS technology that will reduce the carbon (and other pollution) going into the air NOW.

While I found this article to be informative I feel it falls into the trap of focussing on workarounds, such as sequestration and de-carbonization, rather than focussing on the more effective solutions of reducing our consumption all together. The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), who publishes Adventure Travel News, has been working since their inception on ways to increase the sustainability of the travel industry, and has had many successes to be celebrated. I am proud to be a member of this organization, which is unafraid to call to task all of us who need to do more, as CEO Shannon Stowell did at the 2018 Adventure Travel World Summit.

But I think ATTA is giving too much attention to the de-carbonizing company, Tomorrow’s Air, which Christina Beckmann is a cofounder, distracting us from the more effective, but harder choices, of reducing our impact in the first place. Yes, humans have waited (and are still waiting) too long to take climate catastrophe serious, so carbon sequestration and removal will be needed as part of the way we cope with the inability for us to be completely carbon free in the near term. But by emphasizing these coping mechanisms without providing double the coverage for why and how we need to reduce carbon (and other impacts) in the first place, I believe is contributing to “business as usual” greenwashing that keeps the travel industry a huge part of the climate problem. I respect that people, like Beckmann, are trying to do something positive while also advocating for reducing carbon emissions. My concern is that we look at de-carbonization as the “easy” fix because we are unwilling to do the harder, and more necessary work, of reducing our consumption in the first place. As Tomorrow’s Air says “The more we cut emissions—by switching to renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency or reducing deforestation, for example—the less we will have to rely on costly carbon removal techniques”. We can and should be talking about reducing our impact first and foremost.

Surviving COVID-19

This post is NOT a discussion about the medical implications from the COVID-19 crisis. Hopefully wherever in the world you are reading this, you are practicing “social distancing” and taking this crisis seriously.

No doubt you have received hundreds of emails by now saying something like “we are monitoring the impacts of COVID-19”. It goes without saying that we are all monitoring this situation – probably more than is healthy for us emotionally. In this post I am sharing thoughts and ideas I have about how our businesses and the entire travel industry can survive this crisis. Hopefully these thoughts and ideas are useful to you. It may not be the right time, and in that case just file this away for later.

Regardless of what you get from this post I hope that you are healthy and know you are not alone. We are all dealing with this unprecedented crisis. It will be a while before we fully know what we are dealing with. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be thinking about our next steps, which is what I am discussing here. 

There are two assumptions that people are making right now. One, that what we learned from the 2008 financial crisis is relevant to this crisis. And two, unlike in 2008, this crisis is not caused by a flaw in our economic system, but an external shock – more akin to September 11th, 2001. When the cause of the shock is dealt with the recovery will begin. Let’s take them one by one. 

The economy prior to the 2008 economic collapse was built atop a weak foundation incapable of supporting what was being built upon it. There are similarities to today. While some of the rot that led to the meltdown in 2008 was shored up and fixed, some of it remained or crept back in. Once again, we are being told certain businesses need to be “bailed out”. These are the large corporations that employ 10s of thousands of people and are responsible for basic aspects of our society. In the travel industry these are airlines, cruise lines and large attractions. Tim Wu’s recent opinion piece in the New York Times (Don’t Feel Sorry for the Airlines) highlights that the need for these bailouts is due to negligent business practices by these multinational corporations – just like the banks were responsible for 2008. He says: 

American [Airlines] blew most of its cash on a stock buyback spree. From 2014 to 2020, in an attempt to increase its earnings per share, American spent more than $15 billion buying back its own stock. It managed, despite the risk of the proverbial rainy day, to shrink its cash reserves. At the same time it was blowing cash on buybacks, American also began to borrow heavily to finance the purchase of new planes and the retrofitting of old planes to pack in more seats. As early as 2017 analysts warned of a risk of default should the economy deteriorate, but American kept borrowing. It has now accumulated a debt of nearly $30 billion, nearly five times the company’s current market value.

Sadly, it appears what we learned in 2008 was forgotten (or ignored) by many companies our industry depends upon. And governments did not remain vigilant on regulating corporations to insure they can survive a major shock like this. Rather than address this problem like we did the financial crisis in 2008 by bailing out the multinationals, I suggest we instead rally our sector to advocate for initiatives that help small businesses and the workers least capable to weather this storm. Our focus should be placed on pushing policies that quickly gets cash into the hands of workers being laid off, loan payments being suspended without penalty, and healthcare available for free. For businesses, no or low interest loans need to be quickly approved to keep basic overhead covered and investments flowing so they can be ready to go when this crisis subsides. Which brings us to the second assumption.  

First, it should be noted, just like any shock to a system, while the onset may be rapid and seem out from nowhere, those who have been paying attention have been predicting it for years. Sure enough, in 2018 Bill Gates said

“[T]here is a significant probability that a large and lethal modern-day pandemic will occur in our lifetime… What the world needs is a coordinated global approach to pandemics that will work regardless of whether the next pandemic is a product of humans or of nature. Specifically, we need better tools, an early detection system, and a global response system.”

But suggesting your hotel should have had its fire detection and suppression system upgraded while it is burning down isn’t useful. Still, just as firefighters rushing in to save your hotel can be the difference between a complete loss or a building that can be salvaged, so too is how your response to COVID-19 will be for your business. The uncertainty around when this crisis will end is definitely unnerving and making it difficult to plan. But it is all but assured that it will end at some point. Again, the challenge is we don’t know when this will occur. We still need to plan to be ready for what will happen next. 

Pandion CEO Dan Moore with Ciclismo Classico Founder Lauren Hefferon hiking in Italy

There are three phases I recommend considering for weathering this crisis and coming out stronger on the other side. The first phase is to reinforce to your community – employees, customers and partners – that they can trust you and that you are there for them. Recently on a webinar offered by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (a great organization to support especially during times of crisis) I received two pieces of advice from Ciclismo Classico founder, Lauren Hefferon. Lauren said she is picking up the phone and calling all of her clients personally to check in with them and make sure they are doing okay. She said that everyone has appreciated that she called them herself. This shows compassion and gratitude for her customers and will go a long way when these people are ready to travel again. Also insightful, in past crises Lauren has taken note of her customers that are first to return – those who are more resilient. These are the clients she knows will be critical to getting trips back out the door when it is safe to travel again. So not only is she reaching out to all of her clients, she is paying special attention to those who will help her get back up and running again.

Another way to show you care about your community is to provide resources to them. Seattle based non-profit Terra-Forma Education knows that, with schools closed, parents and kids are going stir-crazy indoors. With no mention of promoting the 20 spaces left to fill for summer camp, Terra-Forma instead is passing along activities, compliant with social distancing, that parents can do with their kids in the backyard or nearby parks. It is still unknown what is going to happen to summer camps, but if we are lucky to have some resolve by summer, this act of genuine goodwill will help parents trust that Terra-Forma is an organization they can trust.

The second phase is to get creative on how you are going to survive economically in the medium term. This is the “making lemonade out of lemons” part of being a successful business. Hopefully you have access to savings or a loan to get you through the next couple months of complete lockdown. But at some point, you will need to tap into something, even if it isn’t the core service your business offers. Who will be the first ones to travel again? What will you need to do to minimize risks and assuage fears that prospective travelers will have? Assuming people will be more likely to book a last-minute trip not too far from home before they will be ready to get on a plane and fly long distances, are your services something local or regional travelers might be interested to book last minute? What modifications will you need to make to attract this audience? Can you design or communicate an experience that people will feel more comfortable partaking in despite COVID-19 fears? 

A local Seattle start-up I am working with realized just this. ROAM Beyond offers lodging in remote and scenic locations using sustainably crafted boutique trailers. Realizing the expected national and international visitor to Washington State is going to be much lower at best, ROAM realized their product will be perfect for locals who cancelled or postponed their summer holidays but still want to get away. The trailers offer a “Refuge in Nature”, much needed after several months of anxiety and being cooped up inside at home. Unlike a hotel where you are interacting with all the other visitors, each couple or family gets their own trailer. A perfect product as we transition out of lockdown but before the perceived risk is back to normal. 

ROAM Beyond’s new site in the Yakima Canyon

The third phase is to communicate your strategy – when the time is right – to your new target market. To be clear, phase one is communicating to your community and customer base that you are there for support and help. This phase is to communicate the ideas you came up with in phase two. How will you get the message out? This can be a challenge since you might be trying to reach a different audience than your usual audience. As with everything in the travel industry, remember you are not alone. Every other local business in your area is facing the same reality as you are. Your local DMO is well aware that it got tough very quickly and the future is uncertain. How can you work together? Can you team up with another business to share the burden? ROAM will be partnering with several local tour companies to comarket their “Stay-cation” ideas, such as Great Guides, First Nature Tours and Olympic Hiking Co. All businesses will benefit if the idea is successful. 

Saying it is a tough time for the travel industry is an understatement. It is unclear where we will all end up. First and foremost, in this crisis we must be there for each other. We need to advocate to make sure aid gets to those who need it most. Those of us whose businesses survive will not only be stronger, we will have a sense of solidarity with each other. I will always remember attending the Adventure Travel World Summit in Norway in October 2008. The economy had just collapsed and over half the delegates cancelled last minute. Those who showed up are still some of my closest friends in the industry and who I depend on most for advice and support. We need to have hope that there will be resolution to this crisis at some point. And when that point happens, be ready to continue to provide the life-changing experiences we are known for. This work will be more relevant than ever – when that time comes.

Please be safe and please keep in touch. We are in this together.

The author attending the Adventure Travel World Summit in 2008 (not 1976)

To Fly or Not to Fly – Is that really the question?

I was sitting in an airport in Dubai as I began to write this essay. The irony is not lost on me. I have worked in the travel industry for just over 10 years and currently spend a lot of time on the “road”. My company, Pandion Consulting & Facilitation, strives to raise the standards, quality and sustainability of the travel industry. I meet incredible people from around the world who are excited to share their home and their unique stories. My role is to help communities and travel professionals better harness the benefits of travel, while reducing the negative impacts. 

Recently, one of the most talked about negative impacts of travel is the greenhouse gas emissions from air travel. Cue the powerful speech by Greta Thunberg at the Climate Action Summit. The climate crisis is one of the most severe issues humans have ever faced and it needs to be addressed accordingly. Travel, especially air travel, contributes tremendously to this crisis – estimated to be 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. So how can someone in good conscience actually encourage people to travel knowing that doing so directly pushes the needle closer to environmental disaster? 

Most of the challenges humans face are not black and white. Just cutting out travel will not solve climate change, and perhaps there are benefits that travel provides that makes the impact justifiable? The climate crisis isn’t the only crisis that humans or the environment face, and travel, when done sustainably, can be an aid to deal with some of these other issues. Issues such as poverty, threatened and endangered species, human trafficking, and environmental degradation are all issues that sectors of the travel industry are addressing directly. 

Another industry forced to evolve

I have believed for some time that the travel industry is going to be forced to dramatically change or risk going extinct. This confrontation is happening faster than I predicted, thanks to groups like Extinction Rebellion and activists like Greta. I have been amazed with the number of my friends who have openly questioned whether they should avoid an international trip and instead take a vacation closer to home. The response I get when I talk about the places I go for work has started to shift to being less impressed and more critical. While certainly not a significant sample size, this abrupt shift should be of concern to anyone in the travel industry. 

Let’s look at another industry that was forced to evolve in order to prevent from going extinct. Imagine you are visiting a zoo in the 1960s or ‘70s. Compare the enclosures and educational information to modern zoos. While still controversial to some people, if zoos did not evolve to incorporate more humane enclosures, as well as increase their focus to education and conservation, zoos would not exist today. Thanks to breeding programs at zoos and patron donations to fund critical habitat restoration, several critically endangered species have been brought back from the brink of extinction. The awareness and genuine love for animals, familiar and exotic, has increased thanks to educational curricula and opportunities to view wild animals up close. Visiting a zoo is not just about having fun. It is about leaving more aware of the diversity of life on this planet and the importance of humans to support (and fund) conservation and research. Travel needs to evolve too. I predict the era of traveling just for fun is coming to an end. 

Is there a Net Positive to Travel?

In considering whether to fly or not, I suggest looking at the net positive of your travel. Not all travel is created equal. There are ways to travel that will add to the positive side of your balance sheet. Incorporating these aspects, while reducing the negatives, are ways to manage the impact you have on climate. 

Life Changing Experiences

The first positive impact of travel is how travel has the power to transform the traveler. There is a growing list of challenges humans are facing – some of which threaten our very survival. Transformational travel strives to put travelers in scenarios that encourage them to examine their role in solving these issues. There is a lot to learn from, and be inspired by, how other communities and cultures live. Getting outside your day-to-day allows you to view the world, and your life in it, in new ways and return home recharged and inspired. Travel is a privilege that not everyone can take part in. To justify this dynamic the traveler must return home with tools and inspiration to tackle important challenges in his / her community. It is unlikely that a weekend getaway at an all-inclusive Caribbean resort will have this effect. More thoughtfully considering where to travel, spending more time in a destination getting to know local people, and incorporating activities that are intended to help you grow are all considerations to take into account. Those with means may be inspired to contribute to social and conservation organizations after they visit protected areas around the globe. For a deeper dive on this subject, The Transformational Travel Council is an organization promoting the deliberate transformational aspects of travel.

Benefitting Local People and Environment

The second important impact from travel has to do with the communities that are receiving the traveler. At nearly 11% of global GDP, travel and tourism is one of the largest industries in the world. Over 300 million people are directly employed in travel related positions, and each day travelers spend over $20 billion. Think about the impact on local people around the globe if a large-scale travel boycott took hold? If not travel, what other industries might local people pursue? Mining? Forestry? Poaching? 

As with most of the challenges humans are confronted with, there is a lot of intersectionality. Global poverty is a serious problem facing humans around the globe. Those without access to clean fuel for cooking contribute to deforestation by cutting down trees for cooking fuel. Lack of access to healthcare and family planning leads to unstable population growth in developing countries, putting pressure on important habitat for endangered species and forests for carbon capture. Economic benefits from tourism have led to incredible conservation efforts all throughout the globe, such as in Namibia where animals, critically endangered in most of Africa, are seeing population increases. Tourism competes with other destructive industries such as mining and logging and helps to make the case that wildlife and ecosystems are more valuable intact than denuded. Additionally, connecting with local people in the travel destination raises awareness to the threats facing people on the front lines of climate change and creates a global community to tackle these issues. 

To support the needs of local people, groups like the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund are working with industry contributions to fund important conservation programs around the globe. The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) is pushing the industry to increase methods that minimize the negatives and maximize the benefits of travel. This includes local ownership of businesses so more money stays within the destination, less frequent but longer trips to reduce air travel, and promoting sustainable practices such as using local and organic foods. The ATTA has partnered with groups like ECPAT, the group that created The Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct (The Code), and the World Animal Protection to provide resources and promote best practices for the tourism industry. 

Cleaning Up Air and Sea Travel

Finally, just because I am making the case that there are important benefits from travel, that doesn’t mean we should sit back and let the most destructive parts of the industry continue on unchecked. While some strides have been made to reduce the emissions of air travel, from lighter planes and more efficient engines, a LOT more urgently has to be done. As was the case with automobile safety in the ‘60’s, consumers need to push for stricter regulation on airplane and cruise ship emissions. Placing fleetwide caps on carbon emissions will force airlines to purchase more efficient planes, and possibly stimulate innovation for next generation electric planes. Additionally, do we need to get everywhere as quickly as possible? Lighter than air technology (blimps, air ships) could provide a lower carbon option combined with a much more enjoyable experience in the air. Without consumer and regulatory pressure, there is little incentive for airplane makers and airlines to get where we need to be with the speed necessary to continue air travel. Cruise ships currently burn some of the dirtiest fuel in existence, and depending on how you measure it, have a similar per person level of emission to air travel. Strict regulations from ports on the types of cruise ships allowed to dock, as well as requiring ships to be plugged in while in port would pressure the cruise industry to clean up its act.  

Maximizing these benefits from travel by choosing the right companies to travel with and pushing yourself to allow travel to inspire you to service, while at the same time reducing your impact by purchasing offsets and choosing more sustainable travel options means that you tip the balance away from unsustainable and towards a net positive. It is not perfect and needs to constantly be questioned. And just choosing not to travel without considering all these other elements is not necessarily moving us in the right direction. 

Pandion to Deliver Certified Interpretive Guide Training Course in January 2019

Certified Interpretive Guide (CIG) Training Course
January 14-17, 2019
The Adventure Hub and Winery
2960 4th Ave. S, #115, Seattle, WA 98134
Instructors: Dan Moore and Chuck Lennox

The dramatic growth in tourism has raised and expanded the expectations of travelers globally. Your guest’s last vacation might have been on Safari in East Africa, and after you they might head out on a bike trip in Utah. You are not just being compared to other experiences locally, but instead to all travel experiences guests are having around the globe. As customer expectations continue to increase, tour guides and frontline staff require continued training. Cutting edge travel companies are incorporating educational methodologies into the content delivered by tour guides and staff.

The Certified Interpretive Guide (CIG) training teaches participants to harness thematic interpretation as a means of delivering complex content in a manner that is digestible to visitors. While this curriculum is used by a diverse range of interpreters, from park rangers to museum tour guides, this specific training will be delivered with a focus on the travel industry professional. Guides, frontline staff, and tour designers will benefit from learning this methodology as a means to deliver incredible tours that change the lives of our visitors.
You can register for the course HERE

Recent Webinar: Exceeding the Expectations of Chinese Travelers

In early June 2018, Pandion CEO, Dan Moore, and Perspective China Founder, Fan Na, held a webinar to help you better understand the expectations of Chinese Travelers, and how to exceed those expectations. The number of travelers from China is a growing market. Just like all demographics, Chinese travelers have unique needs that need to be understood by travel companies. Additionally, because this group is increasing rapidly, there is an opportunity to have a positive impact by introducing these travelers to important initiatives like sustainability. This is the first of three webinars Pandion will host this year on the Chinese market.


Can Birding Save the World? – A Review of “Birding Without Borders”

By Dan Moore, CEO of Pandion Consulting & Facilitation

I have always liked the concept of reading. Tons of emotion and information packed into a bunch of words, leading to images formed inside your head using your own imagination. It is incredible to put yourself in someone else’s adventure while making it your own. I still remember reading “Mr. Mysterious and Company” back in 5th grade.
The reality is because I spend so much time savoring all the words it takes me a while to read books and I often lose interest. I’ve tried speed reading, but I end up daydreaming when I am supposed to be comprehending what I’m reading. Stacks of unread books sit on my shelf and half-read books sit next to my bed. So when my in-laws gave me a book for Christmas this year, while the title intrigued me, I wasn’t too excited for yet another book I probably will never get to.
Not sure what motivated me back in February to pick up this book. Probably I was waiting for a friend to play a move in Words with Friends (another reason books remain unread). I started reading Birding Without Borders by Noah Strycker and three chapters in the switch had been flipped. I got up from bed (probably about midnight) and got online to sign up for e-bird and bought a new, more functional, pair of binoculars. When I went back to bed I started listing all the birds I already knew that could get me towards my (very) modest goal of seeing 100 bird species this year. I came up with 80 and then fell asleep.
I have been into wildlife my whole life, and thanks to learning from my incredible colleagues when I worked at Discovery Park, I have also been capable of knowing what many of the birds I am looking at. But I have almost never “gone birding” and certainly didn’t wake up early on a Saturday to go see what was migrating through.
Thanks to a book I have made the switch from “bird enthusiast” to “aspiring birder”. The difference being that I am not only interested in knowing what I’m looking at and appreciating nature, but now I actually seek out these animals and spend time trying to understand the subtleties between species. I am enjoying setting goals to find specific birds, and when you submit a checklist on e-bird your tally gets compiled to an international data base dedicated to bird knowledge and wildlife conservation.
As with all goals, I have now reassessed what is possible now that I have started working towards it. My 100th bird species (a Common Sandpiper) was seen in Italy over a month ago (thanks to the help of bird guide Marco Valtriani). My 100th bird species in the United States, 149th of the year, was fittingly just seen in my in-laws’ back yard (an Evening Grosbeak). Now I am going for 100 species in Washington State. 31 more to go. While the goals are fun to achieve, and quite small for most birders, what I am really loving is getting to know who lives in the places I visit – whether my backyard or a destination I’m traveling to. It is fun to look forward to waking up early on a weekend to go hang out in nature. And it is usually quite peaceful out in parks before most people get there.
Strycker’s insane goal of seeing 5000 species (about half the world’s known bird species) in one year might sound like just another tale about a man trying to add another notch to his belt – not the type of thing that typically interests me. Instead, it was a story about what can be accomplished when humans work together. The power of a global community’s love of nature and wildlife. What I appreciated about this book is the combination of travel story, wildlife watching log, and what is great about humanity. Even with the tally of birds counting in the background, the showcase of the story was the birds being described in incredible detail. And the heroes of the story were the dedicated and knowledgable birders that are now found in almost every corner of the globe. Their passion and knowledge is what helped Strycker surpass his goal by over 1000 species, and they are working hard to help in conservation of these creatures that face enormous pressures from human encroachment and climate change. Can birding save the world? I think it can at least help in conservation of wildlife. I think it also helps connect people around the globe, and better connect people to the places they travel. Most importantly, I think birding opens up our eyes to seeing the beauty and complexity of nature.
You don’t have to be a birder to like this book, but be careful you may want to become one after reading it.
Here is the book that got me interested in birding:
See Noah Strycker giving a Ted Talk in Salem Oregon earlier this year:
Get started with birding by visiting e-bird.

Case Study: Elevating Tour Guide Training at Bicycle Adventures

Pandion Consulting & Facilitation has been designing and delivering guide training for several years. Here is an article written by Pandion CEO, Dan Moore, reporting on the results of some recent training, including with Bicycle Adventures. Be sure to contact us ASAP to get us on the calendar to train your guides in 2018.

Case Study: Elevating Tour Guide Training at Bicycle Adventures

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 ( 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.