Few have seen as much in the adventure travel industry than our very own CEO, Sue Badyari.
Since she began with World Expeditions, she has successfully navigated Australia’s first adventure travel company through the most testing of times, including numerous conflicts, political unrest, airline collapses, unprecedented natural disasters and now, a global pandemic.
There are a very few that match her experience - and success - and that’s why we thought you might enjoy reading some of her thoughts on the Covid years, and the year ahead.
With regards to adventure travel, have there been any positives as a result of the pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the adventure travel industry, causing widespread closures and cancellations.
However, for the World Expeditions Travel Group, we saw opportunities to fulfill some long held ambitions which has created positive changes in the way we work, as well as new products and business divisions.
The pandemic created a boom in domestic tourism in every market where we have offices. This allowed us to continue our pioneering heritage to develop unique active experiences and even creating entirely new brands. Examples of this has been the establishment of an Eco-Comfort Camp in a third destination (the first two being Nepal and the Larapinta Trail), on the stunningly remote and tranquil Flinders Island off northern Tasmania and the development of Australian Cycle Tours, which now has 38 self-guided and guided cycling holidays across Australia's most inspiring landscapes.
The pandemic also gave us more time to focus on our processes, staff and Thoughtful Travel initiatives. Our organisation is now virtually paperless, our staff are enjoying the balance of working from an office and from home each week, and we’ve launched our Regenerative 2030 program, which sees our ambition to bring a regenerative travel program into each destination we operate in by 2030.
What’s returned strongly from the pandemic?
Domestic travel continues strongly, while overseas, places such as Nepal, Japan, Georgia, Europe and New Zealand are popular for travellers seeking remote wilderness travel where they can connect with nature on a trekking holiday.
We’re also thrilled to see the Blue Mountains region of NSW, Australia, with all its fantastic canyons and hikes back strongly after the disruptive years of bushfires, floods, and lockdowns.
Which destinations haven’t reopened that you’re most looking forward to seeing?
Turkmenistan is the only country in our offerings that is currently not open. We are looking forward to it reopening so that we are able to offer our Silk Road tours through to Iran and our Five Stans itinerary, which was proving to be one of our most popular Central Asian adventures pre pandemic.
Are there still any hangovers from the pandemic travellers should be aware of?
While they are hugely lessened, there are still some hangovers from the pandemic that include some countries still with restrictions or vaccination certification requirements in place.
Airline schedules to several regions are still limited and therefore airfares can be expensive, particularly if booked with a short lead time.
Travel insurance premiums are high and, for certain market segments, particularly the more mature travellers, some health and safety concerns around travelling overseas still exist.
We believe these contributors are what continue to drive the strong demand in travellers exploring their own backyard. We relish the notion that so many people are enjoying adventures within their own country, particularly in Australia where we are spoilt for choice in our diverse and ancient landscapes which are often more pristine and wild than most popular international destinations.
How has the definition of “adventure” changed from 2020 to now.
Our definition of adventure travel hasn't changed since our first trek in Nepal in 1975, which is an active exploration of the outdoors, preferably in a sustainable and self-sufficient way, that tests your limits and provides personal growth opportunities.
What has changed is a growing appreciation for our style of adventure travel. The Covid bike boom has turned into a cycling holiday boom. Lockdowns and travel restrictions have redefined not only how eager people are to get back to exploring the natural landscapes of our globe with nature based activities, but also how they travel.
There’s also an increased focus on sustainability, health and safety with many of our travellers.
What was your proudest achievement for 2022?
Winning the Brolga Award for Best Adventure Tourism product in the Northern Territory was a wonderful recognition of our Larapinta Trail operations.
That's our fourth Brolga for our Larapinta trips, the first three for Ecotourism.
We’ve put a lot of time and love into creating this unique Australian walking experience along the West MacDonnell Ranges supported by our exclusive Eco-Comfort Camps and an incredible guide team, of which one guide, Anna Dakin, was recognised as the NT guide of the year for 2022.
Others include the expansion of our Australian Cycle Tours division with a further 20 new cycling itineraries added last year.
We’re also extremely proud of the World Expeditions Foundations fundraising efforts, which during COVID to last year raised over $150,000. These funds have supported guides, porters, office staff, cooks and drivers in over 15 countries with grants to support them while there was no income.
It was also fantastic to establish new ground operations in the USA with the acquisition of Adventure Travel West, our range of trekking and cycling programs within the USA.
What’s new that World Expeditions will be doing this year?
We’re excited to be rolling out the completed Eco-Comfort Camp on Flinders Island, which is set in a stunning seaside location off the north of the island and which will support a variety of walking and multi-day adventures.
We’re also in the process of having all of our exclusive Everest Eco-Comfort camps renovated and themed, which will further build on our customers enjoyment while trekking through this dramatic region.
We have many new innovative programs that will be announced during the year which take our pioneering ‘off the beaten track’ spirit to new levels.
And, while we can't let the cat out of the bag just yet, we have a fantastic speaking event planned for later in the year, which will be presented to audiences across the country with an inspiring message about adventuring, the plight of our planet, and how your holiday decisions can help shape the world into a better place. Stay tuned to our enewsletter or socials to be the first to know!
What are your thoughts on how people should be choosing a destination?
Going remote is always a privilege for the traveller and a real benefit for the community who receive tourism dollars where it is most needed.
Slow, respectful travel is the best way to travel because it builds cultural bridges, is brilliant for the mind and body, and, engaging with all of our responsible tourism practices, means we’re able to enjoy BIG adventures with a small footprint.
What are you most looking forward to in 2023?
We were deeply troubled by the impacts that the pandemic had on our partner companies across the globe.
Its estimated that the adventure travel industry supports around 37 million jobs globally, so that was a lot of people who were without work. What I’m most looking forward to is getting back to what we all love doing in operating life-changing experiences for our travellers and all the crews around the world.
Tell us more about your Regenerative Travel Projects planned?
Regenerative travel is a type of sustainable tourism that goes beyond simply reducing negative impacts, but actively works to restore and improve the natural, cultural and economic outcomes of a region. We’re committed to having regenerative programs operating in every region we operate in by 2030 as announced last year.
Our projects are a collaboration between our travellers, World Expeditions and the project itself in the collection of micro donations from clients and WE donating $5 from every one of its travellers to create income pots that are then distributed to the projects.