Penny Walker is the founder of The Adventure Creators, an adventure travel company that specialises in offering fully personalised multi-day adventure trips in the Pyrenees mountains.
British Penny has always been a Francophile. She has lived in the Central Pyrenees for over thirteen years and she decided to start The Adventure Creators to share her passion for this lesser-known mountain range.
Penny is also a seasoned entrepreneur. She left her stable, well-paid corporate job over twenty years ago to take the plunge into entrepreneurship.
In this interview, Penny shares her valuable tips and insights on what it takes to build a successful adventure travel company.
How did the idea for The Adventure Creators come about?
I’ve always been passionate about France. Back in 1998, I set up my first business; a reservation service for charming B&B accommodation in France. For the first few years, the business was very successful. But when Booking.com and Airbnb came along I just couldn’t compete any more. So I knew it was time to diversify.
I wanted to find a way to combine my passions for the the outdoors, for adventure and for the rugged and unspoiled Central Pyrenees. I knew this mountain range very well and I was keen to share my passion for all that the area has to offer. It was a very natural process.
Despite the high level of competition in the adventure travel industry, you have managed to create a very successful business. What do you think makes The Adventure Creators stand out from the crowd?
One thing that has really helped us stand out from the competition is having a very clearly defined niche. The Adventure Creators specialises in providing adventure holidays in the Pyrenees mountains. Having this a clear location niche has made it easier for us to become known as the expert adventure travel provider in this little known area.
In particular I’m finding that outdoors and adventure lovers are really excited to discover a great value and authentic alternative to the expensive and busy Alps mountain range.
I would recommend to anyone starting an adventure travel company to find a niche. This will really help you differentiate yourself from your competitors. Your niche doesn’t need to be location related. You could also specialise in a specific type of clientele or activity.
Preserving the local environment and cultural heritage is clearly at the forefront of The Adventure Creators. How do you ensure your guests are getting a real local experience?
I have over thirteen years experience of the Central Pyrenees so I know the area like the back of my hand. I know the locals, the best restaurants where guests will savour the best local produce and the places where they will receive the warmest welcome. When I compile trips for our guests, I use all of this knowledge and these connections.
But even more importantly, we work with 100% local guides and instructors; people who have lived in the area for ever and who are as passionate about the Pyrenees as we are. We also provide our guests with information on local traditions and artisans so they can get a real taste of the local culture.
Creating a local experience for our guests is a huge driving factor for us so it’s really important that we collaborate with local people and businesses and to make sure that the area benefits from our activity.
The Adventure Creators offers a range of different adventure holidays and you are regularly adding new activities to your portfolio. How do you decide which types of trips to offer?
The decision-making process is very much based on my own passions. If I come across something that fires me up, that gets me really excited, then I just want to share it so other people can experience it too. Sharing this personal passion is very much at the heart of the business.
Another big criteria for the trips that we put on is that they have to give a real, authentic flavour of the Pyrenees. They have to be immersive adventures that will give guests the opportunity to get to the heart of the Pyrenees mountains. I want our clients to see the wildlife, to get immersed in the rugged landscape, to meet the locals and to experience the delicious local gastronomy too.
Speaking about adding new adventures to your portfolio; you recently launched a Wellness And Adventure Retreat, which looks amazing. Can you tell us more about this specific package?
We provide this experience in a stunning mountain environment and it’s a combination of wellness experiences such as thermal spas and yoga, and soft adventures like for example mindful hiking. There are some exceptional natural thermal spas in the area because of the geo-thermal activity in the Pyrenees. They even include the only natural hammam in Europe!
We have flexible accommodation options and we recommend a set of activities to our retreat guests, but the activity program is entirely flexible. Each trip is tailor-made so we can combine the retreat with any activities that clients want to include. In this respect, it really is a unique retreat.
We’ve also just launched a new Nature And Photography Course, which I’m really excited about! It’s a fabulous opportunity for keen amateur photographers looking to spend some time in a stunning outdoor environment, working on improving their photography skills with a local professional photographer.
What has been your biggest challenge since starting The Adventure Creators and what have you done to overcome it?
I think the biggest challenge has been getting the business known in such a competitive market.
It’s the starting out, the first couple of years, that are the most difficult. It takes time and a lot of work to gain that base, that initial recognition and awareness. And especially if you need to make a living from your business it can be very frustrating when the money is not coming in as fast as you would like it to.
But I’ve learned that you need to be patient and keep putting in the work. It’s important to be consistent in getting your message out. Patience does pay off if you go about it the right way and deliver a high-quality product that you feel passionate about.
Based on your experience, what have been the most effective strategies when it comes to spreading the word about your adventure travel company?
Networking, most definitely. It’s the only way, in my opinion, to build a firm foundation for your business. It’s all about building relationships in the industry, making your voice known, gaining trust, showing people that you know what you’re talking about and that you are an expert in your field.
Networking doesn’t necessarily need to involve live or in-person events. I’ve found Facebook groups very helpful to connect with people in the adventure niche. The Lightbulb group, in particular, has been a brilliant resource to connect with travel writers and journalists. I’ve also been using LinkedIn and TravMedia to connect with journalists in the travel industry.
Many of our clients also learn about us through word of mouth. If we provide a top-quality product then our clients will rave about us to family and friends and effectively do the marketing for us.
This happens organically but we also encourage our guests to share about their experience with us on social media. In return, we give them a small reward, like for example a contribution towards the cost of a meal in a restaurant on the last evening of their holiday. This initiative has been a really effective way for us to spread the word.
What are some of the trends that you have observed in the adventure travel industry since starting The Adventure Creators?
Environmental sustainability is very much at the forefront these days and we’ve certainly seen a big shift in that over the past eighteen months. People are much more aware of their impact on the environment and they want to do something about it.
Another trend has been the demand for immersive, mindful experiences. Many people are coming to the mountains to switch off from their busy lives. They are looking for a way to destress and reset the balance in their lives.
They’re wanting a far deeper experience than just a fun adventure holiday. And from the feedback we’re receiving, the Pyrenees provide this by the bucket load!
What would be your top tip for someone dreaming about starting their own adventure travel company?
Be passionate about what you’re doing. Because if you don’t have the passion and the enthusiasm, there is no point. It’s a crowded market and it takes hard work and patience to succeed. Your passion is what will keep you going.