The Interview: Brian Morgan, Adventure Life
By Everett Potter
A couple of months ago, I attended the Adventure Travel World Summit in the charming colonial city of San Cristobal in Chiapas, Mexico. This yearly gathering brings together some of the best and brightest minds — and companies — in the adventure travel world. One of those I was fortunate to meet and talk with was Brian Morgan, a young guy from Montana who’s built a dynamic travel company called Adventure Life. They focus on South America, Central America, and Antartica, offering great trips at a very competetive price point. But also with some deep cultural immersion. Their adventure cruises go all around the world. I recently had a chance to learn a bit more about Morgan and his company.
Brian, how did you become an adventurous traveler?
Growing up in a rural community was great fun. On summer days, we just ran and explored as far as our bikes would take us. It was safe and secure, and I think such a background gives a person a sort of fearlessness. Once I hit college and discovered the world was a very big place, I couldn’t wait to experience as much of it as possible. That led me to different exchange programs with a year in Russia and then a year in Ecuador. Everywhere I went, I met amazing people from all walks of life, and I loved that interaction when two people from different cultures come together. I guess the “how” had a lot to do with growing up and being told to be back in time for dinner – what happened between lunch and dinner was all up to me.
How did Adventure Life start?
After my second time living overseas, I had decided I wanted to make it in Montana. So, I came home and started looking around for work. But I was a recent graduate and I wanted and interesting career, not just a job. While I’m searching high and low across this giant state, I couldn’t help but tell people all about my travelers in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and my earlier adventures in Russia. It finally dawned on me, I needed to figure out a way to pay my rent and take people with me around the world. Of course, after that inspiring idea, the blood and sweat had to be sacrificed, and I found out that the adventure travel industry required long hours in front a a computer, on the phone, and learning to manage and motivate others to help you do that.
How would you define the essence of an Adventure Life trip—how does it differ from what your competitors offer?
I think it comes from two essential starting points – the first that initial inspiration for starting the company – sharing with others the serendipitous experiences that I had while living overseas; and the second is my belief that to travel responsibly mean traveling locally. The guest host code that the Greeks talked about is alive and well on our trips, and this provides a rich experience for everyone involved in the tourism equation.
Why should someone choose an Adventure Life trip over that of another operator?
Well, I like to think we’re the best. Well, of course, that depends on what a person is looking for. We pride ourselves in two things. From the first moment you call us, we strive to provide exceptional service. We start out by listening to our customers, asking them about their wishes, needs and dreams about the trip they are planning. Then, it’s our job to work with the customer to create that trip they have envisioned. The second item is our close personal relationships with the people that will be hosting our guests around the world. Our partners are not simply suppliers and contractors. They are close personal friends. Heck, many of my employees have watched our partners raise families alongside their own. That sort of close familiar relationship translates into a warm welcoming environment for our guests in the various exotic locales we work. I think this is the sort of experience that sets us apart.
What sorts of changes – in terms of both travelers and adventure travel — have you seen since you started bringing people around the globe?
It may just be me, but I feel like the world has become a smaller place. It is so easy now to get to almost anywhere, and people around the world seem so welcoming. Part of this is flights, but a lot of it is technology too. I meet someone or our guests make friends while traveling, and we’re keeping in touch via Facebook or whatever. Now, we share pictures not only of great adventures, but of holiday dinners with family and graduations. This is with people halfway around the world from different languages, cultures, religion. It’s fascinating. I think this change has also driven people to ask for experiences that facilitate discovering and creating these sorts of relationships too. For me, these are some of the best changes in travel, and we’re happy to be part of this change.
Okay, name three places where you’d gladly drop everything and go this afternoon for an extended stay?
Antarctica, Arctic, and Buenos Aires. Wildlife, wildlife, wildlife – and then there’s great food and tango in Buenos Aires.
What destinations are new for Adventure Life this year?
We are excited to add new destinations. Most of the time, we are listening to our travelers who are returning home and asking them where they want to visit next. This gives us insight into what our travel community is looking for and provides inspiration to develop new itineraries into new regions for the “next best trips”. We are starting 2012 with some fresh ideas. Like a sea kayaking trip along the Peninsula Valdes of Argentina for upclose whale-watching in a serene and calm environment. Uruguay is sometimes referred to as the “bullied sibling” between Argentina and Brazil, but there is a lot to offer in this country that mixes remote coastlines with huge sea lion colonies, historic estancias — ranches — for horseback riding, the jetset crowd in Punta del Este, and a burgeoning wine industry. At the Uaxactun Ruins in Guatemala, we have developed a trip for travelers interested in being in Guatemala to celebrate the end of the Maya calendar. On Dec 21, 2012, our travelers will camp at the Uaxactun Ruins, a site twelve miles miles from Tikal that is known as a Maya astronomical observatory with its architecture helping to calculate the solstice and equinox with the sun’s positioning. No apocalyptic predictions here, just a celebration in a unique place for a special cultural experience. This trip is part of our Festival Series . We’re also offering cruises on the Irawaddy River in Myanmar — Burma.
Where are you scouting for future trips?
Mexico and Brazil are in my sights. They are both huge countries with enormous diversity. Myself and a couple of my most experience co-workers have already been researching Mexico for the past six months and we figure we have another six months of research ahead of us before we dare offer trips there. We take our role as destination experts very seriously which means hundreds of hours of research on the ground, in the pages of guide books, and online before we send a single guest to a new place. Brazil will be just as intense, but we won’t turn our attention there until we feel good about our knowledge of Mexico – viva Mexico!
With all of your travels, where do you find your center of gravity?
Family and friends. No matter where I am, if I’m with my family or my closest friends, I feel centered.
Where do you think adventure travel is going – less adventure and more creature comforts? Or the reverse
I hear this debate in the industry and many say that it is for more creature comforts at the expense of adventure, but really, I don’t see it as simply more comfort or more adventure or a tradeoff. What I see is that people are better informed than ever. Often they are also better traveled than ever. And this combination means I have to do my job better than ever by being aware of all the different activities, hotel, food, and transportation options in a place. I really see Adventure Life as a concierge company where we’re responsible for matching our knowledge of a place with a guests travel vision. We can’t simply send people to a place on a set tour. We have to take time to understand our guests, and we have to constantly be researching existing places as well as new ones. Then, our job is to create the right trip for each traveler.
Visit Adventure Life for more info.
Everett Potter is editor in chief of Everett Potter’s Travel Report. Follow him at @everettpotter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org