As part of our LinkedIn series titled, Travel Has Many Parts, Follow The Journey With Us, we recently had the opportunity to connect with two special guests from the Adventure Tourism Industry.
The conversations were chances to get to know some of the people behind the brands that are involved in the package travel industry. In this case, we have drawn some adventure tourism industry insights to share with our audience.
The drive behind the video series is to hear a bit about who the tour operators are, what their story is, and what they’ve been doing over the last few months during this unprecedented downtime in the industry.
Adventure Tourism Industry Insights From Niki Stuart, Rockjumper Birding
About Our Guest Speaker
In the first episode, we were joined by Niki Stuart, MD of Rockjumper Birding in Mauritius.
Rockjumper Birding offers 300 scheduled tours annually, which explore the world’s prime birding areas. The company also has a tailor-made department that custom designs dream birding locations.
The team is highly motivated to deliver the ultimate birding experience that is safe, fun, educational, and, above all, supports bird conservation initiatives, including their own Go Club, Seven Continents Program, and Early Bird Discounts, among others.
Q: Describe a birding tour and how the industry has grown over the last few years.
A: A birding tour is a highly niche travel market catering to bird watchers, birders, and amateur as well as professional bird photographers.
Birders are people of all ages who love the gamification of identification and observation of wild birds in their natural habitat as a recreation.
They are not your usual travelers and are naturally super curious adventurers. Above all, they truly believe in protecting biodiversity.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated a few years back that there are roughly 51.3 million birdwatching Americans.
Q: Over the 22 years of operating, Rockjumper Birding has built up some core values that you all adhere to. Could you share a little bit about how some of those values have come alive and helped the company through this unprecedented downtime in the travel space?
A: Our core values include being passionate about our work, fearless in our service, and a progressive and dynamic team.
The last one, which is quite fundamental, is protecting and celebrating biodiversity.
Between 2018 and 2019, before COVID hit, we had raised close to $400,000 towards conservation to support NGOs such as Bird Life International, Audobon, ABA, and others.
Then, last year our Co-Founder, Adam, was invited to join the NGO Bird Life Advisory Group to help steer the direction of the world’s largest global conservation consortium.
That alone was a massive win for us in 2019.
So, really our most fundamental core purpose is protecting, be it the natural world or the people around us. We take great pride in our service and our ability to keep our staff and guests happy, safe, and healthy at all times.
This was evident in how swiftly we acted at the beginning of COVID by postponing our tours.
We also closed down our offices, and everyone is now working virtually from home.
Looking forward, as birding adventurers, we are likely to be the first ones out the door while taking things extremely responsibly and safely.
We know that there is no silver bullet or click of a finger that will restore travel to where it was, so the steps that we take individually and collectively will allow us to travel with confidence.
Q: In its time of operating, Rockjumper has built up a loyal following, but no one is traveling right now. What is the company doing to maintain relationships with your existing customer base?
A: Just over two months ago, we set up a weekly Dream Destinations virtual tour that we have been running as zoom webinars.
So far, we have virtually traveled to Zambia, Cuba, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Tanzania, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka. For one hour every week, we can connect, forget about our current situation in the world, and just dream of our next destination.
Our audience has described them as giving them hope for a brighter tomorrow, and they’re looking forward to taking more birding tours with us in the future.
One client mentioned how the webinars have helped them to understand what the trips are like, making it easier for them to decide where they would like to go next.
Q: One trade that’s been particularly hard hit by the pandemic has been the local tour guides; there’s no work or limited work for them. What has Rockjumper done over the last few months to help support the local guides during this unprecedented downtime?
As a team, we have set up quite a few initiatives to collect donations for our tour leaders.
We set up a GoFundMe account to support them, and we sold some photos through a photo auction.
There was also a pay upfront, get a discount, and help support your guide initiative.
We set up several domestic tours and connected our guides directly to clients with no proceeds going to Rockjumper, just tips straight to the guides.
We are also offering the weekly webinars free of charge and instead ask for donations to our GoFundMe account.
Q: Looking to the future, you know the importance of travel to the world and the global economy. In your opinion, why is travel important?
A: A beautiful question! I was struggling to find the words to convey it the other day. I spoke to my colleague, and he described it so well to me.
He referenced Mark Twain’s quote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
So, you’re reminded of how insignificant your worries are when you travel and how valuable your time on earth really is.
Pause, be present, and give back.
Adventure Tourism Industry Insights From Chhatra Karki, Nepal Exo Adventure
About Our Guest Speaker
Nepal Eco Adventure is a team of experts who are experienced in the field of trekking. They cover regions in Nepal, India, Bhutan, and Tibet, offering trekking adventures, city tours, rafting, jungle safaris, and peak climbing, among other activities.
The team has a deep knowledge of trekking and experienced and accredited tour guides who place safety and client satisfaction at the forefront.
Through Nepal Eco Adventure, travelers can enjoy a personalized and authentic trip that is respectful of both the local culture and nature.
The company is also mindful of socioeconomic development and runs a charity program in Chake, a village in the Everest region.
Q: To start, tell the audience a little bit about you, about Nepal Eco Adventure, and how you got involved with the company.
A: Well, I used to be a mountain guide, leading treks throughout the Nepalese Himalaya since 1998.
In 2013 after working for so many years, I decided it was time to start my own trekking company rather than just leading the treks in the mountain. I wanted to start something and create more jobs for other people.
At the time when I started the company, the industry was transitioning away from the kind of old-fashioned travel industry with everything moving online.
Now, Nepal Eco Adventures is quite a big company in Nepal. All in all, nearly 500 people are working for it.
Q: For somebody who has never been to Nepal before, besides Mount Everest, what would be the big draw? Why would I want to visit the country?
A: Most people think of Nepal as a mountain, as Mount Everest. But aside from the mountain, there are lots of other different attractions.
Nepal is a great country for seeing sights like temples and monasteries. It is very rich in culture.
Also, out of the 14 eight-thousanders, we have eight of the highest mountains in Nepal.
There is a great river for rafting and a national park. Nepal is pretty much for everybody, with a greater focus on adventure tourism.
Besides those, there are other things for different age groups and interests. The country attracts all sorts of different travelers.
Q: What keeps you motivated in the current situation we’re in, with the last five months and the amount of downtime the world has seen, in particular, the travel industry?
A: I am an optimistic person, and that is keeping me motivated.
We have gone through a crisis before – in 2015, we had a massive earthquake. We lost business for a while, but it revived again after several months.
So, this too will be over eventually; business will be back, and we will rise again.
Q: On that note, what message are you giving to your team and your colleagues while they are all on pause right now?
A: The reopening of Nepal is not far away – only a couple of months if things go as planned and if the pandemic slows down.
I have been telling all my staff that we will come back, and based on that, we are preparing for reopening. As soon as the country starts to reopen, we will be on-site and ready to operate the trips.
Q: What’s the mindset of the travel community in Nepal when those first rounds of tourists come?
A: Safety and satisfaction of our customers is very important to us. We want to make sure that our customers have a great trip and go back with wonderful memories from Nepal that they can share with their families and friends.
They can tell them and the world that Nepal is a safe place to travel to, and we have been taking great care to ensure their safety and enjoyment.
This way, we can encourage future business and receive tourists back into the country.
Q: The last question I want to throw your way is, why is travel important?
A: Now, travel is even more important. People have been locked away in their houses for several months. Many couldn’t leave and experience nature or the outside world. So, people want to get moving and go somewhere to clear their heads.
None of us are used to staying in one place and following the same daily routine. Travelers are looking for new and exciting things. They are going to want to take time off, go on holiday, find a release, and have a different experience.
Adventure Tourism Industry Insights From Miguel Góngora, Evolution Treks
About Our Guest Speaker
This time we were joined by Miguel Góngora, Co-founder of Evolution Treks in Cusco, Perú MD.
Evolution Treks offers unforgettable experiences in hiking, trekking, cultural and ecological tours to Machu Picchu and other destinations in Peru.
Not only do they provide big adventures, but through their work, they also promote Fair Trade tourism, follow environmental and eco-friendly practices, and empower women.
Q: You have a very good mission, which is to give women porters work opportunities and empower them. Tell us more about this project, how it all started, and what are you currently working on?
A: Our mission goes beyond social inclusion. It is about social development for people who are impacted by tourism, in a variety of ways. But, when it comes to women empowerment, our mission starts because tourism can’t be sustainable if half of the labor force is excluded.
Before we arrived on the Inca Trail (which is the trail we mostly focus on), the work was performed only by men. The vast majority of job positions were occupied by men.
This is how we decided to include women as porters.
Q: What were the biggest challenges you encountered and had to overcome?
A: It was a difficult task because it is not only hiring people and asking them to carry things and start working; it goes through different phases. From working with them psychologically, to empowering them to believe that they can indeed do this work because, beyond their will, there are physical conditions.
Most importantly, they need to believe they can perform in a place like the Inca trail where they have to climb mountains of 4,200 meters above sea level, just as men do. And, in doing that, they can find economic independence, which can act as a trampoline for them to pursue more dreams. Their own dreams.
Q: It is very impressive what you have achieved so far, and I know the pandemic has impacted you as much as other people in your community and the whole industry. I’d like to ask, what are the changes you most want to see with tourism in your community after the pandemic?
A: That’s a deep question. We are going to start with the documentary “Warmiwañuska”, which is a documentary that has been received around the world.
It tells the story of one of our women porters who had to fight against her own fears, her inner demons, her past, while she starts working as a porter and climbing the Inca trail. This has to do with the other “pandemic” we have in Peru and so many other countries: the violence against women. There is way too much work to do in this regard.
So what we are doing is not only giving them a job, but also giving them orientation, professional psychological support, making them aware of toxic relationships, and how to get out of them.
In fact, one of the reasons they don’t get out of these relationships is because they are tied economically to their partners and the people they live with.
So when they can get a job, they can solve this problem of economic dependence. This gives them the possibility to escape these relationships, earn their own money and gain freedom.
And well, with the pandemic, this work has stagnated temporarily, and there might be other women suffering in this situation as well. So, as I said before, I want this to be a trampoline for them to follow and achieve their own dreams
We hope that you have enjoyed our Adventure Travel Industry insights. Sharing stories like these can ultimately help our audience with the decisions they make and provide a sense of being in this together.