Your next (ad)venture

Trying to figure out your new business idea? Struggling to find the right market for your next startup? It might be time to go on vacation.
Cross a pass in Nepal

We started a six-month sabbatical in March that has been entirely focused on adventure travel. So far we’ve trekked the Himalayas, rafted the Karnali river in Nepal, climbed the Simien Mountains in the Ethiopian Highlands, relaxed on beaches in Zanzibar and explored post-war Northern Sri Lanka. It’s been life-changing and I always find myself thinking about the vast potential for improving the experience of adventure travel.

The outbound travel market from North America and Europe alone is in the tens of billions of dollars. Many trips are organized through domestic agencies at home and implemented by local operators abroad.

You might book a safari with a tour company based in Los Angeles but they simply hire a local operator to actually run the trip. The agencies are essentially lead generators for the local operators but are able to take a large cut of the profits because the local operators have such trouble generating their own leads. This is a problem in itself. Agencies have essentially two value adds. The most important is trust. By booking with an agency in your hometown they provide a level of service that makes you feel comfortable. Trying to call a local safari guide in Nairobi over Skype might make you feel a little nervous about how your trip is going to play out. Second, the agency processes your payment. This is actually pretty important because depending on where you go, some operators are unable to process credit cards and sometimes only take cash (do you want to be walking around Nairobi with thousands of dollars in your pockets?).

The vast majority of agencies and operators have less than one million dollars in revenue annually. Combine this extreme fragmentation with the massive market size and you’ve got an industry ripe for disruption.

Snorkel in Zanzibar
I recently stumbled across two startups doing very interesting things in the adventure market. Zozi is building a platform that allows you to discover and book your next local or international adventure with ease. They have a strong front end for discovery and a network of trusted operators to book through. What’s particularly intriguing is their Guru program. Essentially they line up cool adventures with outdoor celebrities: go on a run with Dean Karnazes or learn survival skills with Bear Grylls. This should help bump their visibility and drive a lot of traffic and referrals to their platform. Indie BootsnAll has built an easy-to-use system for booking long-term, multi-leg flights with local airlines all over the world, something that typical flight booking sites simply suck at. Nulu is developing a suite of kickass language-learning tools so you can chat up locals on your next sojourn. Know of anyone else doing crazy cool things in the adventure market? Let me know in the comments section below!

But these are just the beginning. A fragmented market this big needs dozens of new entrants turning the status quo upside down. There’s room to play for everyone. In five years we’ll see a very different market for adventure, one that will still be evolving at an extraordinarily rapid pace. So pack your bags and find a good problem to solve. Who doesn’t want to summit Everest and make a buck at the same time?