I recently had a chance to talk to Chris Ronneseth of Trek Holidays (see interview preview) who gave me a good overview of adventure travel, an area of travel I definitely would like to explore sooner than later...
1. Tell us how you got into the adventure travel business.
I grew up around travel. My father, Allan Ronneseth founded the company in 1972 and with a passion to see the world in a different way than the norm, we had the opportunity to travel to countries that were considered exotic at that time and to some extent still are today. Venturing out on my own traveling while attending University I became more and more passionate about the world beyond North America. With a degree in marketing, I ventured off first to New York and later to Toronto working in sales and marketing for technology companies during the tech boom. Having learned the skill of sales in an industry outside of travel but backed with an upbringing rooted in adventure travel, I made the progression to heading up sales in Eastern Canada for the family business where I now provide support to our network of travel agents across Eastern Canada as well as compiling our monthly newsletter on adventure travel trends.
2. What countries have you traveled to?
Africa: Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Egypt, Morocco
Europe: UK, Greenland, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria
Asia: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Hong Kong
South Pacific: Australia, Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji
Americas: Canadian High Arctic, USA, Mexico, Jamaica, Cayman Islands,
Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia
3. Please share with us your top three travel memories of all times.
A. Peru -The last descent into Machu Picchu on the famed Inca Trail from the Sun Gate after seeing sunrise over the site, being the first to enter the site at daybreak and having a feeling of peace, harmony and strong magic in the air.
B. Vietnam - Travelling the countryside of Vietnam by motorbike and stumbling upon a hidden and seldom visited Buddhist Monastery resulting in a three-hour visit with a young Buddhist monk learning and understanding each other's ways.
C. Namibia - Skydiving at sunset at Swakopmund on the coast where the Atlantic Ocean meets the blood-red sand dunes for as far as the eye can see. One of the most tranquil moments of my life.
4. What is adventure travel and how has it evolved over the last few decades?
Adventure travel used to mean high adventure back when the company was founded in the seventies, it was time when the 'hippie-trail' was hot and buses used to travel across Asia from London to Kathmandu with itineraries that were largely invented along the way. Today it is about the small group experience and about experiencing a destination rather than simply seeing it. It is about participation and understanding of cultures, history and customs and being able to take that experience away as enrichment to your daily life.
5. Who goes on your adventure travel tours and why? What is the age, gender, nationality and income level of the people that go on your tours?
Adventure travel is largely about the passion to do it. For this reason it crosses boundaries of age, gender and income since the common goal of the travelers is the experience regardless of their life at home. However the largest demographic for us and the most important growth demographic is the baby-boomers who have experienced the traditional beach vacation several times over and now have the time and disposable income to travel to more exotic destinations. Nationality is generally made up of largely English-speaking nations with the makeup in order of numbers being Brits, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Americans, some mainland Europe, some Latin American countries and the odd Asian traveler.
We offer more than 120 countries worldwide generally just about everywhere. However countries currently deemed to be unsafe for travel (eg. Iraq, Afghanistan) are not included but we expect they will be in the years to come as the situation stabilizes.
7. What type of accommodation is offered?
We offer generally speaking anything from 2 star budget accommodation to 6 star lodge experiences in Africa and everything in between. However what is common to all places we stay is that they must be clean, comfortable, centrally-located and most important have character that is reflective of the destination.
8. How do these tours work for single travellers? Do you provide a travel-mate matching service? What happens if I prefer single accommodation?
Our tours are designed with single travellers in mind. In fact 50% of all our travellers come by themselves. We match people up of the same gender and like age to share and avoid charging them a supplement. If clients prefer their own room, we can do this on approximately 60% of the tours, usually the more upmarket ones, but at a rate that is fair and affordable.
9. What about meals?
Depending on the trip we generally include breakfasts and some dinners but almost never lunch as many people like to be out at midday making their own discoveries. However when trekking or in the countryside or where alternatives do not exist we will always include meals.
10. What are the unique benefits of adventure tours as compared to other types of travel?
A sense of achievement, quality of experience, traveling with a small group of just ten people on average, generally better value than comparable bus tours, camaraderie with individuals that share a passion for this type of travel.
11. What type of activities are offered in your tours?
Sightseeing is a major part of every tour but beyond that we want to include as many cultural experiences as possible such as homestays with local families, village visits, etc. We also have many optional activities available such rafting, sailing, jeep safaris, day treks, etc.
12. Is there such a thing as adventure tours for families?
We now have tours built especially for families to travel with other families where children are age six and up. There is a large demographic of 'late-starter' families who never had children until in their 30s. Many of these people traveled with us in their 20s or backpacked independently and now want to give that experience to their children. They are not interested in introducing them to the 'coca-cola' culture pervasive in today's society. These have been met with great success.
13. Please share with us practical advice for someone who's never tried adventure travel.
Safety is a state of mind. Most people who elect not to travel to exotic destinations do so because of a fear for their safety while in the destination. If you heed the advice of your tour leader and be practical almost any destination in the world can provide a safe, secure and memorable experience. Where we have had problems with safety it has almost always been a disregard for common sense and advice. Don't be afraid of experiencing other cultures, you will almost always find that your curiosity will be the best guide though it all and that same curiosity will be reciprocated by the people we meet along the way. It is about learning and understanding other people as much as they need to understand us. It really does shrink the world. Our second biggest problem would be dehydration, when traveling to hot, dry countries or where activity is involved such as trekking ensure you drink lots of water!
14. How much time do you travel yourself these days?
Generally 5 or 6 weeks a year. It is imperative to my sales knowledge and experience and I owe it to my customers to be the expert in what we do! All of our employees are given wonderful travel opportunities which goes straight to our company motto: Expert advice from those who have been there!
15. Where are you going next?
I plan this year on escorting a trip back to Egypt in April, to South Africa in May to experience some of our new properties we work with and to hopefully take a side trip to Mozambique. Later in the year I plan to make my way to Turkey and the Patagonian outdoors In Chile & Argentina.
Thanks, Chris, for all your information, and have fun on your trips!
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions(http://www.travelandtransitions.com). Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the transitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.