The Interview: Ted Martens of Natural Habitat Adventures
If you’ve entered our Polar Bear Adventure Giveaway from Natural Habitat Adventures, you may be curious about the background of this remarkable ecotourism company. Ted Martens is the Marketing & Sustainability Director for Natural Habitat Adventures and he’s also adjunct faculty at Metro State University in Denver, Colorado, where he teaches classes in Sustainable Tourism. Ted heads up marketing and sustainability efforts at NatHab, pushing the company to further its leadership in sustainable tourism. In his free time, Ted can be found playing music or exploring the slopes and trails of Colorado’s backcountry. I had a chance to ask him about polar bears and other wildlife experiences.
EP: In terms of wildlife travel, a polar bear adventure must rank up there with an African safari and a trip to the Galapagos. Why do you think it’s on so many adventure to-do lists?
You’re right, it fits up there on the list of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, especially for nature enthusiasts! I think there is something indescribable about being out there in the tundra face to face with such an iconic creature. With our unique polar rovers, guests get even closer to polar bears than they do to lions or elephants on an African safari. And with climate change on more and more minds, people are realizing just how vulnerable polar bears are to global warming and rising sea level. Now very well may be their best opportunity to view the “King of the Arctic,” and wildlife-lovers don’t want to miss that chance.
EP: How would you define the essence of a Nat Hab trip — how does it differ from what your competitors offer?
Unlike other companies, the only trips we run—the only trips we have ever run—are nature adventures, which is important when you’re choosing a nature-focused journey. Our definition of luxury is getting as close to wildlife as possible, staying in the most remote natural settings. Our trips are also smaller than other operators, averaging just 8-9 travelers per group. This allows for the most intimate encounters with wildlife, and fosters a more comfortable environment for the guests to learn from our Expedition Leaders’ extensive naturalist knowledge and experience. And, as World Wildlife Fund’s travel partner, we’ve got WWF scientists and staff by our side to help us plan and execute unique itineraries you can’t find anywhere else.
EP: What are your demographics for your trips? Does Nat Hab attract a pretty well-rounded traveler?
As you might imagine, Nat Hab travelers have quite the passion for wildlife. “Adventure” to our audience means coming face to face with their favorite creatures. While the majority of our travelers are in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, we also have plenty of families with children, and our oldest traveler to date was 102 on their last Nat Hab trip! And what’s great about our trips is that we offer different adventures geared toward different interests. For example, we’ve got a line of Photo Tours for the avid photographer (and even for aspiring amateur photographers), and we offer Natural Habitat Expeditions, which are a bit more adventurous and off-the-beaten path for the thrill-seekers out there.
EP: What are Natural Habitat Adventures’ most popular trips right now?
For years, our polar bear trips and African safaris have been the two most in-demand Nat Hab destinations, but more recently, the Galapagos Islands have become just as popular as Africa. We’ve seen a marked increase in interest in our photo tours, and we’re seeing some of our more off-the-beaten-path itineraries sell out quickly too. For example, our new trip “Mongolia: In Search of the Snow Leopard” sold out in just one day! That trip just departed a few days ago, in fact.
EP: Is there a fitness factor with some of your trips?
Most of our trips are appropriate for anyone in good physical health with an adventurous spirit. Our brand of adventure is more focused on intimate wildlife encounters than strenuous physical activity. Certain trips, our Expeditions in particular, have a more active and physically demanding component, but in almost all cases, there are alternative options for guests not up for a particular activity. I recommend checking out the Physical Requirements section on the Trip Overview of our adventures on the web – there we go into more detail on the fitness level required for a particular trip.
EP: There is a trend towards custom trips, where an extended family or a group of friends get together. What kind of numbers are we looking at – how many people do you need to make it cost effective with Nat Hab, and what would a ballpark price per person be for a given trip?
We’ve definitely seen an increased interest in custom adventures over the past couple years from families and groups of friends. Group numbers and cost are completely dependent on the destination. In certain regions, like Africa or Costa Rica, we’re often able to put together a custom trip for a family of 4+ for a similar price to some of our scheduled departures. In other regions, like polar bears and the Galapagos, a vessel or Rover must be charted, which means that a group size has to be fairly sizable (10-15 guests) to obtain prices similar to our regular trip prices. Our Adventure Specialists are pros at creating custom trips, so give us a call and we’ll work with your interests to find the right trip for your group size.
EP: Where is Nat Hab looking to expand to next?
We’re just about to launch our new product line for 2014, and we’ve got some exciting new destinations on the horizon. For the more adventurous travelers, we’ve got a gorilla trip to Congo, as well as a kayaking trip through Botswana’s Okavango Delta! We’re also excited to announce a Zimbabwe safari, as well as a host of new destinations through our Adventure Cruising program, including Iceland, Papua New Guinea, and Borneo.
EP: What is your background and how did you get into adventure travel?
I fell in love with the travel biz after university when I was living and working in Australia and New Zealand. I met people with advanced degrees in ecotourism, and decided that sounded like a better career path than my previous trajectory (medical school). Returning to the US, I earned a master’s degree in tourism from Arizona State, and during that time volunteered with a great little non-profit, Sustainable Travel International (STI). After grad school, I convinced them to hire me as their first employee, and it is through my outreach work with STI that I got to know the great people in the adventure travel realm.
EP: How about you own dream trip – where would you go tomorrow if you could?
I actually had a chance to do my dream trip this past winter – I sailed across the Drake Passage and spent a month exploring the Antarctic Peninsula on this tiny sailboat. Camping, kayaking, and sailing the White Continent with only six other people was truly an experience of a lifetime – and an incredible and intimate way to see one of the most beautiful places on the planet!
EP: With all of your travels, where do you find your center of gravity?
Skiing, playing music, and spending time with my family in Colorado. I’m very fortunate to live in Boulder – an outdoor enthusiast’s playground. While being on the road is really what inspires me, coming home to play in the Rockies can be even more fun.
For more information, visit Natural Habitat Adventures