Adventure Alternative is an independent adventure travel company which was started in 1991 by adventurer and mountaineer Gavin Bate, and developed during many years of organising and running expeditions around the world. It is now an established company with an emphasis on responsible travel and a high level of knowledge and experience. We have run trips to the summit of Mount Everest and to the middle of the Sahara Desert! We guide many types of trips from mountains to jungle, desert and arctic regions but the majority are feasible treks and adventure holidays for the enthusiastic hiker.
A lot of our trips are to iconic locations such as Kilimanjaro:
Our office is on the north coast of Ireland and we have long looked after Irish and northern Irish walkers and adventurers going round the world, but we also have many happy clients from England, Scotland, Wales, Australia, Canada and America, with a smattering from other countries like Norway, Netherlands and elsewhere. Chris and Andy have worked in the office for nearly fifteen years and have gone on many expeditions and trips themselves, and Rosie manages all the book keeping and finances of the clients.
Portstewart in Northern Ireland is where our main office is, but we have offices in all the main countries where we operate.
Over several decades from 1996 Gavin invested money into setting up local companies in our most popular places like Kenya and Nepal. Some of those staff have been with us for over fifteen years! We plough profits back into training for our local staff so that they can have a long term career with us. We believe that this attitude and the loyalty it brings is a big part of what being responsible means, plus our groups have a more enjoyable holiday. In fact the feedback we get always mentions the professionalism and friendliness of our staff, most people describe it more as a family than a company!
This business model has won us several awards and also a lot of interest from the academic sector. Plenty of theses have been written with Adventure Alternative as a case study, and even a book on Tourism and Social Entrepreneurship. We now run workshops for tourism professionals and students in Nepal and Kenya and Gavin is a lecturer in Tourism at the Business School at Oxford Brookes University.
We re-invest profits much like a social enterprise and this attitude came from Gavin's experiences while travelling and working as an expedition guide for many years, mostly in developing countries. Our approach is not to run this type of business on the basis of KPIs and financial bottom lines solely, but to take into account the importance of social equity in the people and places we employ and promote. We see our responsibility as helping to protect as well as promote the destinations we go to, and we see ourselves as part of those communities where we have been visiting for so many years.
A lot of people ask us "what's alternative about your company?" and the answer lies a lot in the responsible business ethos and the staff who have remained employees for many years. It has created a personality about the company which is anything but corporate. We are an adventure travel company founded on many years of travel and mountaineering, and Gavin has built the company slowly and organically over many years. Fundamentally the company reflects friendships formed during a lifetime of adventures.
Young monks in training at one of the monasteries we re-built after the Maoist conflict in Nepal, near the villages of Bupsa and Bumburi where we regularly take visitors to meet our Sherpa friends and experience life in the Himalayas.
For UK staff we use International Mountain Leaders, Mountain Instructors and Mountain Guides for the climbs, and our ratios and mountaineering principles for safety come from the Mountain Leader Training Board and the UIAA. We have a really good approach to providing proper advice before a trip, giving people a complete service when they book with us.
Adventure travel company
Adventure Alternative complies with the UK Package Travel laws and the European Travel Directive for tour operators and travel companies and recognises that we provide accommodation and activities as part of a package which falls under those rules. We are a principal which means that we are responsible as the organiser of the holidays that we sell and we respect the Consumer Rights Directive 2015 which indicates the level of our responsibility to our clients.
Tour operator - We are not an agency or a Linked Travel Arrangement, but we do use suppliers in-country to provide components of the holiday, including staffing and activities. We do check the standards of these suppliers - in fact in many cases we invest heavily in their resources, training and management - and we do have agreements with them which are revisited regularly. This contractual documentation is part of the requirement for compliance with the British Standard 8848 for overseas expeditions on our youth trips.
Trademark - Adventure Alternative logo is a registered trademark under Adventure Alternative Limited, under the number UK00003263490 in the United Kingdom in respect of Class 39 for tour operating activities. Our brand is a promise of an experience and level of quality that offers our clients assurance about the nature of the service they will receive, and we would aim to protect that brand quality and intellectual property right. Our main regional companies in Kenya, Tanzania, Borneo and Russia are all licensed to use the trademark.
Financially bonded - We are financially protected with a bonding scheme run by Travel and General Insurance Services which means that our clients are protected against insolvency.
Advertising ethos - We take care with our advertising and sales process to ensure that our clients are fully aware who is involved and who will be looking after each stage of the holiday. Our clients can communicate directly with our local companies and suppliers if they wish, and we will always endeavour to do our best to manage any situation as fast as possible and take our liability seriously as an organiser.
Cancellation policy - We do have a cancellation policy (clause 7) in our terms and conditions and we endeavour to operate an appropriate and justifiable termination fee when it is necessary.
We are a member of a number of organisations in the tourism and travel industry which are as follows:
Association of Independent Tour Operators
This association represents independent tour operators in the UK and membership criteria include a minimum share capital of £15,000 and providing financial protection for consumers with a bond. We are members of AITO since 2010 have twice won the AITO Roger Diski Community Award.
Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust
The Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust Limited (ABTOT) provides financial protection under the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992 for Adventure Alternative, and in the event of their insolvency, protection is provided for the following:
1. non-flight packages commencing in and returning to the UK;
2. non-flight packages commencing and returning to a country other than the UK; and
3. flight inclusive packages that commence outside of the UK, which are sold to customers outside of the UK.
1, 2 and 3 provides for a refund in the event you have not yet travelled. 1 and 3 provides for repatriation. Please note that bookings made outside the UK are only protected by ABTOT when purchased directly with Adventure Alternative.
Fair Trade Volunteering
We are founding members of this movement which endeavours to create equitable partnerships between sending organisations and host partners in foreign countries when trips are offered to volunteers and schools. We believe very strongly that these types of trips should be carefully arranged so that expectations from the visitor and host community are properly met, and also that the benefits for the host community are properly agreed and are fair.
Information Commissioners Office
We are signed up to the The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
We also have an updated data protection policy which is in line with the latest GDPR requirements, and we have data sharing agreements with all of our regional companies and with any schools or charities we work with.
British Standard 8848 for overseas expeditions
We have been independently assessed by the Young Explorers Trust to comply with the British Standard for organising and managing visits, fieldwork, expeditions, and adventurous activities outside the UK. We now self assess and maintain the high standards of the Standard for travel companies.
The standard aims to reduce risk from injury or illness and provides those that comply with the standard with a way of being able to demonstrate that they are following good practice to manage the venture safely. BS 8848 specifies operational requirements for organisers of adventurous and educational activities abroad including university and academic fieldwork, gap year experiences, adventure holidays, charity challenges and research expeditions.
Safety and care
Our staff are medically trained and experienced in first aid and health and safety, and the guides receive specific training in altitude-related illnesses and how to cope with an emergency. The staff all carry mobile phones and satellite phones if necessary. On the mountain trips we carry pulse oximeters, oxygen bottles where necessary on the higher mountains and first aid kits which are regularly checked and replenished.
We work hard to ensure that all of our staff adopt high levels of sanitation and hygiene, especially with regard to food and water. Food is stored and transported carefully, and bought fresh from local trusted suppliers. We always check the restaurants and lodges that we use for their standards in food hygiene. Drinking water is provided from the kitchens boiled and strained and we promote a policy of not buying and using disposable plastic bottles where possible.
For school and youth groups and volunteers we always provide training in health and safety prior to the trip, and general advice on how to manage yourself personally while on a visit abroad. This is then emphasized again on arrival in country and our staff are always careful to ensure that people are looking after themselves. They have a long experience of looking after foreign groups and understand the pitfalls of travelling abroad for the first time.
When we start corresponding with people about their trip we aim to make sure the group works well together and our staff are well experienced in managing all types of people and keeping everyone happy and satisfied. Nobody feels anonymous and our staff in the main office and in the regional offices communicate all the time about upcoming groups and personal preferences.
For mountain trips we have clear guidelines on client:guide ratio and we follow the established guidelines of professional organisations such as the UIAA and Mountain Leader Training. Climbing teams will have the opportunity to meet in the UK for some specific training prior to their trip if they wish to have it, and we often manage individuals and small groups through a training programme to achieve a particular aim. For example someone wishing to climb Mount Everest may wish to have a five year plan in preparation for that trip.
For school and youth trips we provide a higher number of logistical staff and also male and female pastoral care staff with specific experience and qualifications in looking after young people. These might be teachers or youth workers, social workers and of course medical professionals. Volunteers and charity groups and school groups are all provided with personal care and training in preparation for their trip.
Many of our trips are scheduled for groups, but we provide just as many trips for private groups who have preferences for dates or itineraries. A large part of our time is spent creating these bespoke trips, for which is there is no additional cost. We find this is especially useful for charities, since we do not impose contractual conditions for this service.
All our volunteering trips, electives and school trips are organised with this charity Moving Mountains that was started by Gavin Bate at the same time as the company in the early 1990s. It determines what any visitor will be doing when they visit a place, and it ensures that the visit is relevant and meaningful and beneficial. It also ensures that any charity work is controlled and monitored correctly by an organisation that is registered to do that work and that it contributes properly to the needs of a community.
Moving Mountains Trust - UK
Moving Mountains began unofficially in 1991 during many years of travelling and developmental aid work in east Africa, Nepal and latterly Borneo by Gavin Bate. It has the bulk of its administrative overheads paid for by Adventure Alternative, and all the Trustees work voluntarily. Gavin and two other Trustees - Chris Little and Andrew MacDonald - also work at Adventure Alternative and they donate a lot of their working hours to the charity as part of the support.
The primary aim of Moving Mountains UK is to provide grants to the other 'MM' organisations for the relief of hardship, poverty, suffering and inequality. This is done through education and vocational training, medical treatment and health care, personal development and employment.
It also provides capital to build, renovate and maintain schools, childrens homes, community centres and environmental projects, all of which must show a positive socio-economic impact on the population.
The money for Moving Mountains is mostly fundraised by volunteers and groups who come out on a trip which is organised by Adventure Alternative. A lot of attention and effort is made to ensure there is efficient spending on relevant aims, and the trustees manage day to day correspondence and management of the charity.
Moving Mountains Kenya
Moving Mountains Kenya is a registered NGO in Kenya with a remit country-wide for charitable work including schools, orphanages, clinics, rescue centres, family support centres, community centres, sports programmes and the welfare of hundreds of children and their families currently receiving support. Additionally it provides long term career opportunities to people who would otherwise struggle to get full time employment.
All the office administrative costs of 'MMK' are absorbed by Adventure Alternative and the local AA company provides the charity with vehicles, extra staffing and support.
All projects are developed slowly over a number of years with the local community and their committees and after completion they are handed over to the community to manage along with the Moving Mountains Kenya committee.
Many of the Moving Mountains Kenya Board, staff and volunteers are former street children or beneficiaries of the charity which has resulted in a strong, dedicated team who want to give back the opportunities that they received as they were growing up.
Moving Mountains Nepal
Moving Mountains Nepal is a registered NGO based in Nepal which operates all of the projects and programmes in Nepal. Adventure Alternative funds the logistical and administration costs for Moving Mountains Nepal. MM Nepal works in a specific mountain environment in the Solu Khumbu where it builds hydro-electric power facilities, schools, monasteries and clinics.
MM Nepal provides capital investment for businesses and social enterprises, and Adventure Alternative then provides access to revenue streams by bringing previously remote areas to market and enabling villages to benefit from tourist income. This business model has proved very successful and been the catalyst for several local social enterprises which have since become self-sufficient.
Putting purpose before profit
For a long time now brands have been forced to rethink the way they do business as consumer consciousness has grown. In particular travel and wellness brands are now shaping wider business models in prioritizing purpose over profit.
Since it's inception Adventure Alternative has always believed in a business model which shared the profits of tourism in order to benefit the local staff and companies which are part of the tourism experience. Tourism can be nastily exploitative and historically there have been many cases of negative impact on destinations. Put simply it's a lot to do with an inequality in how the money is shared out.
Back in 1991 when Adventure Alternative began as a small concern, founder Gavin Bate was travelling extensively and living in mostly developing countries. The experiences he had led to the creation of an alternative adventure company, one that would aim to use tourism to help local people out of poverty and gain worthy careers. Those initial influences still form the basis of the ethics of the company today, and we feel the strapline 'responsible travel company' has been well earned. We aim to put purpose at the same level as profit and use tourism to help improve society.
The benefits are obvious and clear, the best workforce will be attracted and retained by thinking big on positive impacts. In tourism this principle didn't seem to apply to illiterate porters in poor countries however, and a core ethic at Adventure Alternative is to treat everyone respectfully and equally. All of the staff have a proper salary and training and a chance to turn their competence into a career, and their career into an income which will help with the inequities in life and enable their children to grow up without the privations that they did.
Companies which demonstrate ethical practises set themselves apart of course, and brands which set out to improve people's lives are outperforming those that don't. The consumers are choosing with their feet, and it is clear that fair practises and strong core values really do make sound business sense.
Adventure Alternative now has staff who have been involved for over fifteen years, some as many as twenty years. This measurement cannot be put into a balance sheet but it has helped us form a 'brand personality' that is our biggest asset. It's something we're very proud of and any new client going to Nepal or Kenya or Tanzania or Russia always comes back speaking in glowing terms about our staff. It really does help the holiday become an experience.
Investing in people and our local businesses
As members of the association of independent tour operators and the PROTECT programme we have made the following pledge:
"Adventure Alternative is dedicated to sharing the benefits of tourism with our local staff and companies, and we are well known for being responsible and fair as well as professional and fun. We believe in compassionate leadership and have a company ethos to put collective social and economic development bottom line . In fact most of our employees have been with us for nearly twenty years and our clients describe our corporate personality as more like a family than a company. That integrity and reputation is something we’re very proud of!
We empower our staff through training and working together and we invest in their future. Each local Adventure Alternative company receives financial support and training so that it can develop as a success story. It takes long term commitment and money, knowledge and friendship.
In 2017 Adventure Alternative pledge to invest £2000 in training for our around 50 staff in Nepal, Kenya, Tanzania, Morocco, Borneo and Russia. This will include English courses, mountain leadership, first aid and IT training. Plus another £1000 of assistance with their websites, social media and online promotion and an additional £1000 in personal equipment and technical clothing. We know that this makes our staff happier, helps their long term careers and ultimately provides safe, happy holidays which in turn leads to satisfied clients who want to travel with us again!
This investment in people will, alongside the social development we provide with our charity Moving Mountains, continue to help breathe new life into communities and help people become the architects of their own success."