Bike Hikers? Interesting. Tell us your name, what you do, and about your business. Please do mention the monthly revenue for our readers as well.
I am Trish Sare, Founder/Owner of BikeHike Adventures in Vancouver, Canada. We’re an award-winning, tour company specializing in the cycling, hiking and multi-sport adventure niche.
Just two months ago, we were recognized as one of USA Today’s 10Best Adventure Travel Companies for 2019, in their Readers Choice Awards.
We offer fully guided trips in 30 countries worldwide. The average price of our trips is about $3000 US for a 9-day trip and this includes the guides, the drivers, the internal transportation, the equipment (bikes, kayaks, rafts, horses, sometimes elephants or camels), the airport transfers, all entrance fees, the accommodation and most of their meals.
We like to focus on capturing emerging destinations away from mass tourism — like Macedonia or Bolivia. And when mass tourism hits one of our destinations, we evolve around it, to take our travelers off that beaten track. Connecting with the world, and helping others do just that, has been my focus for more than two decades.
Before founding BikeHike Adventures in 1994, I worked around the world, including living in Thailand for two years with a local family. My international experience informs BikeHike’s core understanding of what it means to truly connect with locals and is infused into the design of every BikeHike itinerary.
Our demographic is the 40s – 60s, those who are active in their everyday lives and want to have an active holiday rather than a beach or resort vacation. Travelers are mostly North American but also come from other countries
What’s your own background. Were you always proficient in this business, or did it just strike your mind one fine day?
I have been in some form of adventure travel for the last 33 years. I started when I was 20. I went on a 5-year trip working my way around the world. In that 5 year stint I stayed in Thailand for 2 years, and Australia for one, the rest of the time I was either traveling or working, to earn funds to sustain my long journey.
I returned to Canada 5 years later and spent the next 2 years studying tourism and fitness leadership at Humber College. Those courses really didn’t help me in what I’m doing today, but studying business or getting an MBA would have.
Instead, I’ve gotten a practical MBA by being thrown into the fire and figuring out each challenge as it is presented to me. It’s been an interesting journey and one that has strengthened my skills in many areas of business.
Part of the tourism curriculum required us to work in a practicum placement, and I was fortunate to be placed with an adventure tour company, training to be one of their Costa Rica guides.
Once I graduated from my program, they hired me and sent me to live in Costa Rica. From there I worked for them leading trips all over South and Central America. I learned a lot about what happens on the ground while running tours.
I recognized that I also needed to learn what happens behind the scenes, so I returned to Canada and got a job working with another tour company, but in the office, working on operations, marketing, and sales.
After 7 years of international travel, guiding, working in operations for an adventure operator, I decided to start my own company. I started with one tour, one date and $1000. The next year I added 4 more dates.
The next year 4 more destinations. Now 25 years later, we’re operating in over 30 countries worldwide and BikeHike.
I never cease to stop educating myself in different aspects of the business as each day presents different challenges, disruptions, and opportunities to strengthen my skill set.
What went into designing the initial product? Can you take us through the actual process?
I had made a lot of contacts with great guides in my 5 years traveling and living all over the world. I become good friends with one guide in particular, in Costa Rica, and he also happened to be the one who introduced me to so many incredible adventure activities.
We both had strong skills, he at guiding adventures and me at finding people who wanted to join those adventures. I decided to team up with him and develop an itinerary that was active, off-the-beaten-track and adventurous. He would lead it and I would find the market for it.
He spent months scouting different routes to build an itinerary that traveled from the Pacific to the Caribbean solely by muscle power. A support van would only be used to carry the gear and shadow the group with all of the essentials to make their trip more comfortable since they didn’t have to carry any gear.
This trip is the trip that we started with 25 years ago, and for over 15 years, it was our bread and butter.
Talk us through the process of the launch of your business
I started with $1000, an insatiable passion for adventure travel and a willingness to work really long hours. With my $1000 investment, I hired a graphic designer to design a one-page flyer about the trip to Costa Rica and then got it printed at a printer.
It highlighted the price, the date and it didn’t even have a color photo on it, just an illustration of a frog.
The internet hadn’t come to fruition at this point, so my reach was all micro-marketing. I put free ads in local newspapers in their whats-on section, advertising about my slide presentations that I was doing of the upcoming trip.
I was a fitness instructor and recognized that I needed to attract active individuals, so I reached out to fitness clubs asking if they’d let me do presentations in their gyms.
To run an adventure travel company in Ontario, BC, and Quebec, one needs to be licensed. I couldn’t afford to get a license until I knew that my idea was going to work, so I contacted another tour operator and asked if I could work under their license, and pay them a percentage of my profits.
I stayed working under their umbrella for the first 5 years of business until I developed the legs to stand on my own.
How is your repeat customer rate like? Can you take us through how you attract and retain customers?
Our repeat and referral rate is very high, at around 40% of our bookings being referrals or repeats. We as a company and our trips have also won countless awards in magazines including National Geographic, Outside, Forbes, Canadian Geographic, Outpost.
The most recent is our Bolivia trip was ranked as one of the top 8 trips of 2018 by Forbes Magazines. We develop strong connections with our customers! At the end of the day, BikeHike is 110% nay, 1000% driven by my core value, that relationships REALLY matter and connections REALLY matter.
Whether it is really, truly connecting with BikeHike’s customers or working hard to authentically connect our travelers to the communities they visit, this is ALWAYS BikeHike’s focus. It drives me nuts when I see my competitors treating travelers as mere numbers or when it takes forever to get through to a live person on the phone. That never happens at BikeHike.
Some travelers have booked as many as 10 trips with BikeHike, following us to each new destination we launch. BikeHike has a 25-year track record of successfully building lifetime experiences for people and continues to attract dedicated travelers. There aren’t single other players in our niche market that focuses on building relationships and connections quite the way that we do.
Storytelling is also key to how we attract customers, by capitalizing on the powerful stories of our traveler to help share more of what makes BikeHike so special.
What is the current situation? How do you see yourself in the next 12 months?
My focus over the next year is to expand BikeHike’s market share through increased brand awareness. Brand awareness is key to BikeHike’s market expansion. The other key players spend significant budgets and extensive outside investment on brand awareness.
I started BikeHike with my own savings, and I have never sought external investment. I am confident I can expand my market share to capture more of this niche market. I plan to invest more time and energy in strategic sponsorships and partnerships, an area my key competitors have invested in extensively.
To date, I have not invested as much as I would like in this area. By doing this, I also plan to strengthen BikeHike’s customer loyalty by having, even more, repeat travelers across destinations as we continue to expand our trip offerings.
We currently have 43 destinations worldwide, and we plan to keep continuing that at the rate of usually 2 new destinations each year. In our 25 years, this has been the rate at which we’ve been able to expand in a very sustainable way.
As a woman founder, do you see this as only financially uplifting? Or otherwise too? If yes, then how?
I have always led an active lifestyle, and while I was traveling, I would always go in search of pursuits. The seed for BikeHike was planted while I was working for another company but making very little money while growing their dream company.
I recognized that I had a knack for getting people together and I could see that there was a great need for people who wanted this kind of experiential vacation, and in those days it didn’t exist, so I knew I was onto something. I had the experience, passion and drive to build life-enhancing adventures.
I also wanted to build a life that was financially sustainable for me, rather than just working for someone else, while fueling my own passion for travel and staying active. I also wanted to bring sustainable revenue sources to these local people so that aspect is equally uplifting.
Our trips help build viable tourism businesses around responsible practices rather than deforestation or poaching of endangered animals. Adventure Tourism also leaves 65% of the money in the destinations as opposed to mainstream tourism leaving only 5%.
We in the adventure tourism industry are supporting the local economies and helping to build a better world. Also, I am one of the pioneers in this industry. 25 years ago, when I began BikeHike there were only a handful of international adventure tourism companies offering trips worldwide.
We are also one of the very few female-owned adventure travel companies. This industry, like many, is predominately male-owned. Most of the other companies that are female-owned have been passed down by their parents, who were the founders.
What tools or services did you use?
The average travelers do not have the local connections or knowledge needed to design a trip and there may be language barriers to many of these far-flung destinations.
They also probably do not have a clue on how to piece all of the logistics together, the transport, the equipment, guides, how your luggage will be transported from a to b, etc. I designed BikeHike Adventures to fill that need.
We utilize our extensive local connections and networks to provide local guides, local drivers, internal transportation, the equipment (bikes, kayaks, rafts, horses, sometimes even camels) and the airport transfers.
That is the service we provide – local knowledge and connection — and its value is truly priceless.
What are your key challenges today? How are you planning to tackle those?
We have already overcome many challenges and disruptions in our 25-year history, and we have continued to adapt to the changing needs and thrive. We know that there are many more to come and they are coming faster than ever, but we have the tenacity and drive to adapt to them.
There are a number of companies now offering adventure trips worldwide. Many of the competitors, especially in the online space (which has been a major disruptor) are trying to make so many destinations fast, easy and cheap for everyone.
And we are NOT trying to be everything for everyone. We have a niche market that we are continuing to set ourselves apart for the level of culture, connection and authenticity we offer away from mass tourism.
Which are some resources, books, articles or podcasts that have been useful to you, and would share with your readers
I highly recommend getting a mentor and even becoming a mentor. I have gained so many needed skills and knowledge through my mentors and had someone to talk to who could listen to my challenges and give their advice.
It can be very lonely working as an entrepreneur.
I also recommend building a network of colleagues from the same industry, so that when issues arise, there are people who understand the industry to help with contacts, feedback and just by their own experiences.
I’ve found Women Enterprise Centre, Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Small Business BC all great resources for developing skills. I’ve also found that entering contests that challenge me by to pitch BikeHike to venture capitalists, or that have me getting out of my comfort zone by making presentations to be very worthwhile, for example, Small Business Awards and Women of Distinction Awards.
I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts, but I definitely should, and it is my goal to do more of it this year. I often read Inc Magazine, Harvard Business Review and subscribe to the newsletters of Adventure Travel Trade Association and Brendon Burchard, just to name a few.
Many times, women feel that businesses are for only for men. What’s your take?
It’s true and rather unfortunate. The adventure travel industry reflects this thought pattern though. BikeHike Adventures is one of the very few female-owned adventure travel companies.
This industry, like many, is predominately male-owned. Most of the other companies that are female-owned have been passed down by their parents, who were the founders. So, there are very few females leading in this industry just like many industries.
Traditionally, men are believed to be better go-getters and deal makers, but I think women make great business leaders too. We bring so much to the table, and we lead in a different way than men. Some might say, we lead with more heart.
I know in my business, my focus on building connections and relationships is very heart-driven. I care. BikeHike Adventures is my baby, and I treat it as such. This might not be an attitude men bring as much into business.
For me, BikeHike is so much more than just a business.
Looking to kick start your own venture?
Hi! This is Misha.
I interview women founders in building profitable businesses
My idea is for other women to get inspired by these actionable tell-all stories and start their own profitable enterprises.
I am hugely inspired by inspirational interview series starters like IndieHackers, StarterStory by Pat Walls, Failory, SpaceBandits and have put significant efforts in reaching out to women founders in order to get started.