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…
Tell us how you got into the adventure travel business.
I grew up around travel. My father, Allan Ronneseth, founded the company in 1972. With a passion for seeing the world differently from 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 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.
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
Would you mind sharing with us your top three travel memories of all times? Peru -The last descent into Machu Picchu on the famed Inca Trail from the Sun Gate after seeing the sunrise over the site, being the first to enter the site at daybreak, and having a feeling of peace and harmony and strong magic in the air. 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.
Namibia – Skydiving at sunset at Swakopmund on the coast where the Atlantic Ocean meets the blood-red dunes for as far as the eye can see. One of the most tranquil moments of my life.
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 a time when the ‘hippie trail’ was hot, and buses traveled across Asia from London to Kathmandu with itineraries 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 cultures, history, and customs and taking that experience away as enrichment to your daily life. Who goes on your adventure travel tours and why? What is the age, gender, nationality, and income level of the people on your tours?
Adventure travel is largely about the passion for doing 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 numbers being Brits, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Americans, some mainland Europe, some Latin American countries, and the odd Asian traveler.
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We offer more than 120 countries worldwide, generally just about everywhere. However, countries currently deemed unsafe for travel (e.g., Iraq, Afghanistan) are omitted, but we expect they will be in the years to come as the situation stabilizes.
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 importantly, have a character reflective of the destination.
How do these tours work for single travelers? Do you provide a travel-mate matching service? What happens if I prefer single accommodation? Our tours are designed with single travelers in mind. In fact, 50% of all our travelers come by themselves. We match people of the same gender and like an 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 fair and affordable rate.
What about meals?
Depending on the trip, we generally include breakfasts and some dinners but rarely 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.
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.
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 such as rafting, sailing, jeep safaris, day treks, etc.
Is there such a thing as adventure tours for families?
We now have tours built especially for families to travel with other children aged 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.
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 through it all. The people will reciprocate that same curiosity we meet along the way. It is about learning and understanding other people as much as they need to understand us. 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! It really does shrink the world.
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 there!
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 the new properties we work with, and to take a side trip to Mozambique, hopefully. 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 deal with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real-life travel experiences, interviews with travelers 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.