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CHAPTER ONE A - Choosing an Adventure Travel Specialist.
The many choices. Differing types of agencies and organisations. Your options. Your
first criteria to your first enquiry.

“Qualifications for a traveller: if you have health, a great craving for adventure,
at least a moderate fortune, and can set your heart on a definite object, which
old travellers do not think impracticable, then travel by all means. If, in
addition to these qualifications, you have scientific taste and knowledge, I
believe that no career, in time of peace, can offer you more advantages than
that of a traveller.”
Francis Galeton from the Art of Travel, 1855

The choice of how to go about arranging and preparing for your adventures
gets wider by the day. Besides the more recent tantalizing options for direct
booking provided on the internet, in the last 30 years the number of
companies, organisations and operators worldwide has grown from a handful
of enthusiasts, and small specialist lifestyle businesses to large corporations
who take thousands of bookings each year. Where do you begin? or as they
would say in Sikkim …Kay Gurnay? - “ What to do?”

The Gamble
It has been said that arranging your adventures is akin to buying “futures” in
the commodities market. You think you know what you have bought, you
certainly won’t have seen it, you have committed funds in advance, and you
have made an assessment that the risk will pay off and you will be satisfied
with the rewards. You have made an educated gamble, for which you have
had the privilege of committing your irrevocable credit or paying up front.
Arranging an adventure really involves you seeing your preparations in a
similar fashion. You are certainly going to be committing funds in advance for
an experience that you hope will be all that you expect it to be, and you are
putting yourself (a very important commodity) in the middle of it. So your own
care towards yourself and your plans needs to be very good! It is vital that you
make the right decision, that suits your adventure and it’s success. If you are
not taking sole charge of all the arrangements yourself, you need to pick the
right tour operator or agency to suit what you want to achieve. You will be
deciding on the delegation of much of what is described in these pages, and
paying someone else to address each of these topics for you.

What do you want?
Before you decide what kind of company or organisation to approach, or even
if you are not going to approach one at all, there are a few questions you will
need to ask yourself. Try to have some idea of the time of year you want to
travel, the amount of time you have to do so, and the adventure itself. In fact
start with what sort of adventure you want.

Is it a new quite straightforward experience? – visiting somewhere you have
only ever dreamt about before? A physical challenge requiring stamina, and


“true grit” with an element of risk or facing specific dangers, where you will
have to negotiate unforeseen hazards, perhaps plunging yourself into
situations where the commitment is total and the chance of success quite
unknown? A personal feat of endurance that takes you right to the edge of
your “comfort zone”, or perhaps a “yardstick adventure” where you can
measure various aspects of yourself against other people. Something inspired
by others who have set out before you to achieve an amazing personal “best
or first”? A quest for knowledge? An insight into differing cultures? Or a
spiritual journey even searching out fabled legends and religious myths? A
journey back in time to discover family history? An enterprise or escapade to
find “something lost”? - Buried artefacts, hidden treasures or something
“rumoured to be”, but as yet unfound - like Jimmy Angel’s gold secreted on
the vast rock plug tepuis and mountain tops of the Venezuelan forests.
If you are still unable to decide, then the adventure travel company will be
happy to make suggestions for you to consider, based on your interests, and
what you tell them about yourself, and your ambitions.

Available Preparation Time?
Next, look at your time available. Today this is the most vital of ingredients in
the pre-departure stage. How much time do you have to devote to arranging
your adventure?… Plenty? Great, plan it yourself, if you want to…..Limited to
weekends? Perhaps you could do with some professional help?…. No time at
all? You can make the airport, if someone gives you the right flight number
and departure gate. Do you even want to make the time available for
planning? Would you prefer to allocate your free time to something else? Why
not? You may feel that you do not have the confidence at this stage to plan on
your own. Fine, make this adventure an “off the shelf” escapade or one with
“bought in” services.

Who can help?
Time to look at the type of companies that can help you. Many of them are
noted by name in the reference section.

National Chains of Travel Agents
Wandering down the high street, just about anywhere it would be impossible
to miss the national branded travel agents. The core of their business comes
from conventional holidays and travel. The shop will be full of racks of
seasonal brochures and the staff will have been taught how to sell off the
page. Some of the more senior staff will have likely visited some summer and
winter resorts on familiarization trips (called FAM trips) with the intention of
giving them the ability to sell from “first hand” experience. The commitment to
bespoke planning for F.I.T.s (free independent travellers) was seen some
years ago as not being a viable profit centre to the mainstream business of
the nationals, and most of them have stopped giving this type of service.
Basically with the national chains, if it is on the shelf, and you can buy it
subject to availability.

Independent Travel Agents
Independent travel agents are also on the high street, but more often than not,
not in such a prime location, and they may need a little “scouting out”. These


are very often partnership or family businesses and very often the owners
learnt their trade in travel with one of the national chains. A good many of
them are more versatile than the national chains and give good customer
service. Some have not discarded the old skills of independent planning and
for some adventures that do not go “beyond the road head” or involve skilled
activities or specialist knowledge (wildlife or culture?). They are very good at
providing the “in country” travel facilities, accommodation, and other
straightforward logistics. Some of them hold agencies for adventure tour
operators, but do not have the in house knowledge to support any but
superficial questions. For example, it is unlikely that they could provide an
answer to the various problems a trekker might encounter at altitude. They
would have to “make a call” and while they would be happy to take a booking,
they would be nothing more than an interface between you and the tour

Adventure Travel Agents
Adventure travel agents are a new breed to the trade. Usually a sole trader, or
partnership with no interest in conventional aspects of package travel. They
only hold agencies for adventure tour operators and they are a very good
starting point for the first time adventurer. They should offer impartial advice
on the different tour operator’ products. Some of the staff may have first hand
experience of packaged adventure travel, and may have even worked as a
group leader in Africa, South America or parts of Asia. The general knowledge
will be good solid stuff, and advice and tips, practical and down to earth.
Remember that they will be passing you to a tour operator to manage your
day to day itinerary, and will not be acting or making arrangements directly on
you behalf.

Tour Operators based in UK
Tour operators based in UK, plan and operate their own programmes aboard.
They are usually privately owned and the principals have many years
experience of the countries in which they operate, and first class contact at all
levels of commerce and local government pertinent to travel, general trading
and society. They generally fall into two categories. Those that promote and
sell a more general formalised adventure providing insights into a wide aspect
of cultures and landscapes, but keep to a very well trodden and established
path and routine with very formalised and structured itineraries. There is
usually little or no flexibility in what they provide. Let there be no mistake
however, these companies have some really great programmes with well
trained managers, and they are well handled and organised in the main. Often
they cater for sizeable groups of all abilities and ages and the structure of the
daily plan is tailored to suit the widest range of needs or limitations. Such
operator’s programmes are ideal for those ”putting a toe in to test the water”
on their route to more individual adventures in the future. They provide a great
starting point for a first experience and a not too steep learning curve.
The second category often provide experienced leaders for their groups who
also know the country well, and have an in-depth knowledge of unusual topics
(the Ornithology of Central Ethiopia, Marsh lilies of Dhal Lake, the salt trading
route of Nepal and Sikkim etc).


Their programmes are invariably imaginative, off the beaten track, can
sometimes be physically more demanding, and require clients to be flexible in
attitude as well as having an easy going out look. Quite often their clients
have had some previous travel experience of a similar, but milder form with
the first type of operator and will be looking for a particular, specific adventure
that takes them deeper into the aspects of a country that is their real interest.
Operators of this type also might have fixed departures, usually for no more
than six or eight people, perhaps a maximum of ten, but very occasionally
they do not “fill” to the required minimum level to cover the costs and viability,
and they will consolidate people onto other programmes or departure dates in
an attempt not to disappoint them, and to keep the departure a commercial
proposition as well. This is not always their “fault”, bookings get cancelled,
and very often for very understandable reasons - ill health, a change in
working circumstances and unforeseen family matters are the most common.
Sometimes operators do not make the decision to cancel or consolidate until
ten weeks or so before the departure date. If it happens at all, and it is not
very often, it should not happen at less than eight weeks before departure as
by then all the clients will have paid for their adventure in full. Just so you
know - A cancellation at this point, should this happen to you for medical
reasons, should be covered by your travel insurance, so you should not be
badly out of pocket, if at all.
To ensure that you are not exposed to such vagaries of your potential fellow
travellers bear in mind that these specialist operators excel at individual
planning and bespoke itineraries, which contrary to most people’s belief,
seldom costs more than a “fixed departure” and in this category there are
those operators that only plan individual itineraries to your request. These
operators are also the core of the UK adventure industry in terms of real
involvement, concern, and sensible understanding and commitment to
ecological and sustainable tourism issues.

Operators Overseas
Operators based abroad usually began as “in country” ground agents and
they probably still are providing such services for some of the tour operators
in UK, and elsewhere. To day, they effectively have dual roles. They facilitate
group needs for the clients of western adventure travel companies under a
contract and fixed price. This will include all the logistics, client support, and
staffing. They also promote their own “parallel adventures” via the Internet
under the same or a different trading name.
It is advisable to remember that they use the best facilities and staff for their
contracts, which are their main income first, their own programmes next, and
casual F.I.Ts, Internet bookings, and “walk ins” get what ever is left over. Or
what can be hired at short notice or is available - and that is usually only sub
standard facilities or unskilled staff.

There are some very good referral only websites that set criteria for the
companies they list in their sites to meet ranging from the operators
involvement with responsible tourism, ecological projects and they way that
they interact with their clients. They carry out regular audits on the companies,
and actively ask for feed back from those who have used the site to select an


adventure or a bespoke planning service. These site are financed by a fixed
annual fee, or by a commission being paid to them if clients bock through the
website introduction.

Internet Only Operators
Getting speedy and regular replies to your email does not mean that you are
dealing with anything more than some one connected to the net who has a
website. Only make your enquires and bookings if you are completely
convinced that the company you are making your arrangements with exists, or
that you actually know the people. A telephone call does not count. Have you
met them, seen their offices, do you know other people who have successfully
dealt with them? Phantom Services are out there. People have booked all
sorts of non-existent car hire, hotels, and other services and paid in advance.
Do not leave yourself open to joining the list.

Charitable/Adventure Organisations
When it comes to planning or selecting the type of fund raising adventure that
you might like to be involved with, contact with some of the charity/adventure
organisations can be very confusing for you. Some organisations have their
enquiries and even bookings managed by their fund raising departments,
some of whom have volunteer staff that each week are giving their time to a
different aspect of the charity. Often these people, while trying to be helpful,
can only repeat to you what you already know i.e. the description of the
charitable adventure that you have enquired about -so that won’t help you
much. As this market has mushroomed, a few of the charity adventure
programmes appear to be poorly thought out, and not well managed. These
fund raising adventures are designed to appeal to your good nature, and
seem to want to provide a type of “ righteous purpose” for your efforts. Do not
be bamboozled. Look for those charities that have a three way integrity for
their fundraising adventures - a great adventure for you, sensible fund raising
targets for you personally, and well established and respectful working
relationships in the countries in which the adventure will be based.
There is also a very good book called “Green Volunteers” that will help you
see what you can do in various parts of the world that will be of very real
benefit in this type of work, and provide you with great adventures as well.

Value for Money and the Profit Myth.
There are some real misunderstandings as to the profits made through
adventure by the majority of adventure travel companies. Practically every
one of these providers, no matter what aspect they do provide for you, are in
this market place because they love it – and believe in it. Yes, they need to
pay the staff, the rent, and the overheads just like any other business, but the
real reward is seeing people return from their adventures who are spellbound
by the experiences that have been provided for them. Very often these are the
experiences of a lifetime.


The average three week long haul adventure costs about £2500.00 to
£3000.00 per person. Some of the more elite adventures will cost more and
take more time, obviously; climbing Mt. Everest is currently £26,000 per
person and you should allow two and a half months. Perhaps it will surprise
you that the average retained profit per person will be about 15%. When you
think of all the various aspects and commitments that are put into being on
your behalf, the safeguards, administrative back up here in UK and in the
locations of your adventures as well as the hard won specialist knowledge
that you will have been able to draw upon (and rely upon) before departure,
and through out the adventure, this has to be good value. You may also have
a leader who is travelling with you, who will be with you to answer your
questions, deal with your need, problems, worries and any concerns for the
whole duration of your adventure. You have a knowledgeable expert for 24hrs
a day for the whole of your adventure! There are very few other trades or
professions that are prepared to provide such services at costs like these.

The Mindset
What ever you decide, it is important that you start with the mindset that you
want to build a good professional working relationship with the individuals in
the company you eventually pick. You want the relationship to be one that is
financially fair to both parties, and you especially want their knowledge to be
pertinent to your plan, up to date and based, if possible, on personal
experience of the country and terrain

Your choice?
Adventure travel planners and providers will react to you in a generous
spirited, open, informative manner.
Some of you may be already thinking that organising your own adventure to is
not what you had in mind even from the outset. Your available time to
undertake the preparations and planning may be limited, or you may have
already thought it advantageous to “buy in” the skills.
Today (at the very simplest level) it is possible for you to make a telephone
call, make a booking, pay in advance for all services, and when you arrive in
country everything is there for you. Your only need has been to turn up on
time at the correct airport, with the right clothing and equipment. For those
people with limited time for preparation due to busy lives and work schedules
using the services of full time specialists is a very sound option. There are
even companies to get you to the summit of Mt Everest, to the depths of the
caves of Mulu and to both the North and South Poles, and hundreds more of
such “extreme” adventures.

Using a tour operator leaves you free to maximise all your time prior to
departure, to perhaps spend time with family, friends, or organising extended
time off with your employer. The services of operators that offer bespoke
planning and preparation might also give you a better chance of completing
your adventure in good style with a higher chance of success. Many have a
great understanding of local customs, situations, and an infra structure in
place to gather local news that will be of great value to you.


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