10 Questions for Steve Cox, International Expeditions
International Expeditions has long been the go-to company for nature travel. They’ve been in the forefront of environmentally responsible expeditions to places like Tikal, Brazil's Pantanal, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Machu Picchu, Papua New Guinea and Patagonia. They offer small ship voyages to the Amazon and Galapagos Island. And they were named one of the Best Adventure Travel Companies in the World by National Geographic Adventure in 2008 and 2009. I spoke with Steve Cox, IE’s executive director, to learn more about them.
What are the origins of IE?
I worked for nine years during the late 60's and 70's for a US Senator who became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and that is when I began traveling internationally. After my Senator retired from politics I helped set up a travel department for a regional magazine and then in 1980 helped found International Expeditions. We originally started International Expeditions as a way to fund our conservation projects (specifically in the Peruvian Amazon and Belize) through nature tourism. This was before anyone ever heard of ecotourism or sustainable development. We were practicing these concepts from our inception. We were avid wildlife conversationalists who needed a way to fund our passion.
How have you seen the world of adventure travel change since IE was founded?
The changes we have seen in our industry niche have been very gratifying. Adventure and nature travel companies are made up of some of the finest people you could ever hope to meet. There is a genuine dedication to "giving back" to the destinations we visit and ensuring travel is sustainable into the distant future. They now think in terms of how many lives we can better through tourism.
There are dozens of adventure travel companies out there. Why should someone consider IE for their next trip?
We set out 30 years ago to specialize in nature travel to some of the great natural history destinations on our planet. We have the most experienced native guides in the industry who promise an unrivaled educational experience. Our guests come away from their journey with a deep understanding of the wildlife and history of a location, but also with an appreciation of local culture and conservation issues that these cultures encounter every day. While some companies focus on lectures to give the education on these destinations, we go a step further with going into the most remote areas for the best interaction with wildlife and culture–providing education through lecture and experience. For 30 years, we have refined our itineraries and limited group size so that these educational opportunities provide the greatest impact on our travelers, while making a minimal impact on the environments we visit.
What kind of travelers do you attract — are they pretty savvy about adventure travel?
International Expeditions truly has the best travelers in the industry. They are highly educated and curious people who want to understand the world. They take full advantage of every opportunity to experience their destination and are extremely inquisitive. Many of our guides have personal friendships with the guests after their trip ends because of the deep bond they now have with someone local to that region, formed during excursions or informal discussions. We have several travelers who will take the same trip multiple times in hopes to learn even more about the destination they have already been to – and introduce their grandchildren and friends to the regions they have already "discovered." They are generally over 55 years old, but we also have many families that enjoy this type of travel. Of course, they love the natural world but are not necessarily avid birders or naturalists themselves. They do a lot of research before making their travel decisions.
How are you dealing with price-sensitive clients in this tough economy?
The focus International Expeditions has always had is to stress the value of our programs for the price -great value for a fair price. We have not changed this stance, but we have looked at ways to refine and reorder our itineraries in order to pass cost savings on to our travelers when we can. The real value comes with their experience – the best guides, the best access to remote destinations and the best education.
What trips are popular right now? And what are people booking for 2010?
Both the Galapagos Islands aboard the Evolution and our Amazon Riverboat Voyage remain popular. These destinations remain popular with the full breadth of our clientele base – from grandparents, to parents, to children and grandchildren. They provide an engaging adventure and unique educational experience for all ages, and their biodiversity provides the ultimate classroom! We are seeing an increased interest in educational travel for extended families where volunteering and service work are larger components of the trip.
Any new destinations for in 2010?
Laos & Vietnam are new for us in 2010, and we are bringing back some programs we did years ago such as Australia. We will also introduce opportunities for voluntoursim in Peru that are customizable based on the guests' interests. They can help with wildlife preservation, educating young children on rainforest preservation, helping communities cultivate gardens, help to build water treatment plants for villages and other options that provide a way for locals to participate in conservation.
What can't you leave home without when you travel?
Of course I take a good pair of binoculars but I always travel with a package of crystallized ginger. I learned my lesson after being on an old Aeroflot plane about 35 years ago that was as rough and bumpy as our stock market.
What's on your short list of places you're dying to visit? And why?
Laos & Vietnam. The cultures of Southeast Asia are fascinating and I want to see the results of our combining culture with natural history in those areas.
Where are you off to next?
After Virtuoso's Travel Mart in August I'm returning to Adelaide and the Great Ocean Road in Australia.
For more info, contact International Expedtions