Running a Niche Adventure Travel Company with Marian Marbury

About Marian Marbury
Marian is the owner and founder of Adventures in Good Company, an adventure travel company for women of all ages. Marian has built the company from the ground up, splitting her time between guiding, trip scouting, and managing the business. 

How did you start Adventures in Good Company?

Although my background was in science and research, I had a burning desire to escape my 9-5 job. I was guiding with an organization called Woodswomen, the first company to ever do adventure travel for women.  I worked for them part-time as a guide and I loved it. Unfortunately, they went bankrupt several years later. When Woodswomen went under, I decided to start my own guiding business and that’s how Adventures in Good Company was born.

How are your trips organized?

We provide a wide variety of trips around the world.  Depending on the location or the activity, we might completely organize and guide it on our own or we might work with local companies to help bring the trip to fruition.  The latter is especially true when the trip requires large equipment, like whitewater rafting.  When we travel internationally, we know we don’t have the expertise or on the ground response capability so we always work with local guides or companies to ensure we provide a high quality trip.

Along with these local companies, we also have our own in-house guides that go on all of our trips.  They all share a love for the outdoors and are very well versed in hiking, camping, backpacking and many other outdoor activities.

What was the company structure like when you originally started Adventures in Good Company?

Since I was guiding before I started this business, I had other guides I worked with at Woodswomen.  Three of them joined me when I started Adventures in Good Company and have been with us ever since (over a18 years ago).

I think one of the best decisions I made early on was not to try and guide all of the trips myself.  I believe that’s a common mistake a lot of people make; you simply cannot guide all the time and build a business.

As of today, I still guide and I love it, but it’s only part of what I do.  When I’m not guiding I’m working on running the business or going on scouting trips.  Having the ability to work on my business and in my business is a great benefit, keeping each day fun and exciting.

What is the process like for creating your trips?

There are several ways we come up with ideas for trips.

One way is that our guides will suggest a specific area that they know well.  We will then have conversations about the location and activities to see if it’s something we can do well.

For international trips, different companies will approach us.  These companies usually come to us with an outline of what the trip might look like and how they’d like us to work with them.

Lastly, we listen to what our clients want.  Recently, several clients were interested in going to Cuba.  As more requests for Cuba came up we started researching companies we wanted to work with and drew up an itinerary.  We put the itinerary on our website and it was completely booked within the first four hours, which was a record for us!

What was your initial marketing strategy and how did you acquire new clients?

I purchased the mailing list of Woodswomen, which unfortunately did not turn out to be as helpful as I thought it would be.  We did pick up some clients from that list, but not what I was expecting.

One of my primary focuses early on was to create a nice website because I could tell that was the wave of the future, back in 1999.  I didn’t have a lot of money to invest so I felt this made more sense than paying large sums of money on advertising in national publications.

Repeat clients give us a lot of business.  We also have clients who traveled with us over 10 years ago, realized it was the best trip of their lives, and decide to join us again.  This is one of the major benefits of being in business for so long.

Word of mouth is also huge for us, but we still get a fair amount of traffic from search engines and Facebook.  We’ve focused on our online presence over the years and it has paid off.

How have you seen the adventure travel industry change over the last 10-20 years?

It was growing when I got into it, but then declined just after 9/11 and through the recession. Although we didn’t do so bad, 2008-2010 were tough years for the industry.  Over the last few years, our bookings have taken off and I think that’s true for other companies as well.  

But if your primary interest is guiding, these days you don’t necessarily need to start a business. People are setting themselves up as individual guides, specializing in very specific areas, and either advertising directly or signing up with websites where people can hire a local guide.  If all you want to do is guide, there is much more potential to do that now than there was 10 years ago.

What is your strategy for growing your adventure travel business?

Right now our main issue is handling the growth we’re experiencing, rather than looking for new ways to grow. Last year we moved to much more sophisticated software on our back end.  It’s been a long and tedious integration process that we are still in the middle of but it will help streamline our processes.

Once the integration is complete I’ll be working on recruiting new guides.

One unique advantages we have as a company is that we’re in a great niche, women who want to do adventure travel with other women.  To go along with that we offer 65 unique trips a year.  Many other companies will come up with a handful of trips and repeat them 10 times in a year, but we offer once in a lifetime trips that are truly once in a lifetime.

Do you have any other employees helping you in terms of running the business?

There are four other people helping me with the business and we all work from our virtual offices, from Michigan to Rhode Island.

Of those four, three of them guide and we have about 16 other guides on top of that.  They have all been integral to our success as I could not be doing all these trips by myself even if I wanted to.

What’s the best advice you could give to someone looking to start their own adventure travel company?

Whenever I get people asking me for advice about starting their own company, the first thing I tell them is not  I had a really good job and the first three years I kept that job part-time which gave me health benefits and a steady income. If I hadn’t had that, I would have had to give up after the first two years.

If you go the route I have, there really isn’t much of a capital investment (not owning equipment).  What you need to do is hang in there long enough for people to start going on your trips and earn yourself a living wage.

A lot of people want to do something like this because they love to travel or be outdoors, but that just isn’t enough.

For most people, guiding is tiring; not just physically but it’s very consuming.  To make a living at it you have to do it all the time, which can lead to burnout. Or you need to find something else that you can do in between so you can choose when you go on trips. I had a high paying job that was very secure, but I didn’t like it.  When I realized the only true failure was to not try something I really wanted to try, it allowed me to let go of that.

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