Adventure Alternative began in 1991 as a small expedition company which Gavin Bate started during many years of travelling and climbing around the world and working in different industries, which included tourism in developing countries. The trips were based around his favourite places where he had created many friendships, and many of those friends are still involved and employed by AA. As a mountaineer Gavin included many mountain trips in the itineraries, but also developed the concept of authentic youth trips based around community action and adventure.
At the same time Gavin also set up his charity Moving Mountains, which was initially a personal concern after having worked with various aid agencies in East Africa. The money for the charity was raised by his personal expeditions, lecture circuit talks and articles. MM is now a large concern with a remit in Kenya, Nepal and Borneo.
Adventure Alternative offers a wide remit of products in the field of adventure tourism from mountain climbs and treks to safaris in East Africa, Gap trips, specialist expeditions into remote areas, charity challenges and visiting the rainforest. Most of them have a direct and beneficial link to the work that Moving Mountains does in that area, and are set up to generate revenue streams to local communities.
At the same time the company prides itself on providing a high quality, professional service with reliable, knowledgeable and very friendly staff.
Company ethos in the early days
Adventure Alternative was built on a management principle to provide long term careers for some of the young people who were being supported by the charity. That is how Kelly Kioko began life as street kid and ended up becoming the Director of Adventure Alternative Kenya some fifteen years later, and how Rosie Gathirimu became the Director of Moving Mountains Kenya.
"My experience working in developing countries was very formative for me," says Gavin, "Whether on the ship scrapping beaches of India, or in refugee camps in Africa, or in the tourist industry, I couldn't reconcile the disparity that existed between the first world and the developing world. So I wanted my company to be alternative in its approach to employment, support and opportunity, but I also wanted it to provide a really authentic adventure holiday. Essentially I wanted to run a company that had a strong ethos towards tackling social injustice, but at the same time would still be a viable profitable concern".
The Millennium and after
By 2000 Adventure Alternative was a Limited Company with satellite offices in Nairobi, Kathmandu, Moshi and Moscow. Each office received funding, training and investment. In Northern Ireland overheads were kept low to facilitate this, with minimal expenditure on marketing and promotion. "I always knew the process would be slow and organic, but I trusted in the quality of the product to do the selling for me" says Gavin.
In 2009 Gavin won the prize for Best Personal Contribution at the Virgin Responsible Tourism Awards, and since then Adventure Alternative has been showcased regularly as an example of a small travel company with a strong ethical stance and a professional product. "I want to prove that responsible business practise in the field of tourism can and should be synonymous with a profitable balance sheet" says Gavin.
The company still has Kenya, Tanzania, Nepal and Russia as its main destinations, with a formidable amount of resources in each place. But trips occur in many other parts of the world too, many of them dreamed up by Gavin and some never to be repeated. Solar eclipse trips, big mountain climbs, jungle expeditions, trips retracing historical journeys, Arctic challenges and specialist expeditions for niche market adventurers. "It's important to keep alive the nature of exploration and passion for adventure," continues Gavin, "that is after all the reason that I started the company".
Adventure Alternative and Moving Mountains now has a large number of staff around the world and it seems natural that all those people should be linked up to each other and to our clients. This is the next stage in taking tourism to the next level, whereby clients can talk directly to guides, drivers, cooks and administrative staff in advance of their holiday. Having spent years establishing the quality of the holiday with investment and training, it is now time for the Kenyan, Nepalese and Russian staff to interact at the point of booking, not the point of arrival in-country.
We look forward to expanding our range of trips and increasing our staff numbers, and continuing to improve our holidays so that they are the best on offer in the marketplace.
Secure and established tour operator
Adventure Alternative is a registered tour operator (No 04121105) and follows the legal requirements for tour companies under the European Travel Directive. We have been established in the industry since 2001 as a Limited Company and our offices are based on the north coast of Ireland, where we employ a core staff of six people who manage the arrangement of all trips.
We offer a variety of trips in the adventure tourism sector including mountain climbs, trekking holidays, safaris in East Africa, Gap holidays and medical placements in East Africa and Nepal, jungle trips in Borneo, and specialist trips for small groups to remote destinations.
Company auditors: Edwards Veeder, Oldham since 2001
Company bankers: Ulster Bank (RBS) since 1995
Company underwriter: Royal Sun Alliance (brokers Cork Bays & Fisher)
Company Director: Gavin Bate
Financial status: £10,000 share capital, no debts or loans
Financial protection: Member of AiTO, the Association of Independent Tour Operators
Health & Safety: compliant to the BS8848 industry standard
Claims made against company: none
Offices outside UK: 4 - Nairobi, Moshi, Kathmandu, Moscow
Staff outside UK: 29
Average number of years of employment: 10
UK & Ireland: 60% of clientele
Rest of World: 20%
Scheduled trips organised (found on website): 45%
Personalised trips organised (schools, charities, bespoke): 55%
Youth trips: 40% (average age 17, average holiday length 4 weeks, average spend £1600)
Adult trips: 60% (average age 35, average holiday length 2 weeks, average spend £1500)
Clientele: annual increase of 15%, repeat customer rate of 45%
Our name has become synonymous with high quality, responsible adventure tourism providing authentic trips for discerning people who appreciate personal, knowledgeable service and a well-priced holiday.
We provide a bespoke service to groups such as schools, colleges, and charities, developing a sense of identity around each holiday which is another hallmark of our success. Over the years we have established some very long term relationships with a number of organisations who have benefitted from being able to create their own trip.
Both the main UK employees Chris Little and Andrew MacDonald have been with the company almost since it started and their involvement over so many years has been critical to our success. Their attention to detail and understanding of the holidays, and the background of each company that has been set up to manage them, is comprehensive. As the first point of contact for any enquiry, their response is an important part of the process of booking a holiday and forms part of the first impression of a quality company.
For our mountain and trekking trips we use qualified and experienced mountain guides, international mountain leaders and local staff who have had extensive training in the field. We work to accepted ratios of safety for guide:members and we are compliant with the safety guidelines as set down by British Standards 8848.
All the AA operations in Kenya, Nepal, Tanzania and Russia are standalone companies and registered as tour operators. The staff adheres to a standard of quality which has been rigorously taught and applied over many years, such that their ability to manage and lead a group is second to none. They receive annual training and development and equipment from the UK office and each office is required to complete risk assessments in all areas of their operation.
Our resources are extensive in each of the countries where we have offices, and the company has a huge network of supporters through its charitable wing, ensuring an enviable level of safety for all clients. Our ethos towards local employment has made us an extremely popular company to work for. We have invested heavily in transport, equipment, guesthouses and other local companies which from part of our supply chain.
Our website is highly interactive and allows you to access a trip management section where you can alter your trip, personalise it and keep an eye on all the details. You can add in all the information relevant to yourself, your group and your preferences. You can communicate directly with our country staff via email or Skype, enabling you to feel confident of every stage well in advance.
Finally we are a member of the Association of Tour Operators which provides financial protection as well as many aspects of kudos in the industry.