Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) Adventure Champions are the vanguards of the adventure travel industry, having been members of ATTA and leaders in the community for a minimum of 15 years. They are true believers in the power of adventure travel and have made an impact on the direction of ATTA and on the industry as a whole. To honor their commitment to their ethos and lasting contribution to the adventure travel industry, we are spotlighting Adventure Champions through a series of interviews.
Wilderness Group – UK & Ireland
Inbound Tour Operator
Headquarters: UK & Ireland
ATTA Member Since 2008
Introducing Stevie Christie, Managing Director of the Wilderness Group:
We’re an inbound adventure tour operator, delivering incredible experiences across the UK and Ireland. We work B2B as an incoming operator for several ATTA members (let’s chat if you are interested!), and also operate our own-brand trips. Our main activities are hiking, road cycling, wildlife and luxury/custom travel. Our aim is to deliver outstanding experiences, every time, and to do so in as sustainable manner as possible. We’ve won multiple awards, including being named ‘World’s Leading Green Tour Operator’ (twice). We were among the first tour operators to provide a carbon score for all of our trips, and are working to reduce our carbon footprint by 90% over the course of this decade. We have offices in the Scottish Highlands, the Yorkshire Dales in England, and on the west coast of Ireland. We’d love you to come and visit us!
Why have you stayed an ATTA member for 15+ years?
It’s refreshing and inspiring to step out of the bubble of our day to day operations and find out what’s happening in our sector globally. The networking opportunities are fantastic, both with media and with B2B trade partners. The content at the events always stimulates discussion and ideas to further progress back at HQ. Further, the informal support network from the ATTA team and also from many industry peers is invaluable and something we’ve leaned on frequently in our time as members. Finally, it’s not an exaggeration to say we’ve made many close friends across the ATTA community … I hope to travel with each of them in the future … look out guys!
How has your company changed over the last 15 years?
Our company has certainly grown in the past 15 years, but has also grown up. Like many operators, the early days was very much a journey of discovery … how do we do this, and do it well? We’ve worked hard and applied learnings and are now seen as a leader in our sector. We started in Scotland, expanded to Ireland, then England, then Wales, to now offer complete coverage across the UK and Ireland. The destinations have mostly changed for the better, with a stronger focus on food and more interesting accommodations. While some micro-areas can get busy, there is still plenty of space to explore and find your wilderness.
What is the greatest force that drives you to work everyday?
The people in our team have me smiling every day. I love working with them and seeing their commitment to Wilderness. We’re bound together by a dual purpose of delivering amazing experiences to our travelers, while doing whatever we can to minimise our impact on the planet or, better, create a positive outcome for it.
What gives you hope about the next generation of adventure travel leaders?
I suspect that the next generation knows a lot more about key climate and sustainability issues from the outset, and there is a better support network to set them on the right path from the beginning. For example, we put a huge amount of work into providing carbon scores for each of our trips. We then shared our methodology with the industry, free of charge. We don’t want to sit in isolation, we want our practices to see much wider adoption. We’ve had conversations with over 30 tour operators about our carbon scoring, which is a really positive outcome of our work. I believe that the next generation of leaders will see sustainability as a normal but key part of their business, which is a major change from 20 years ago.
What is your advice for young adventure travel companies?
Figure out what you want to do and why, and then focus on doing it really well. If the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ are too general, you’ll find it hard to stand out in the crowd. And of course – we rely on a healthy planet to take travelers on adventures, so put a strong focus on sustainability from the start and make it an integral part of your company’s DNA. Finally, join the ATTA and make the most of it – newer members should not be afraid of approaching any ATTA member to discuss working together, sustainability, or anything else. When we were new members, I was pretty nervous about approaching someone that I was keen to connect with. They were well-renowned as being the lead for new product at one of the major US tour operators. When I was finally introduced to them, I soon found out that, far from being intimidating, they were one of the most open, welcoming and inclusive people I’ve ever met … and we’ve now worked together for over a decade. I imagine that many newer members will feel some of the same nervousness that I once felt but I’d reassure everyone that members are friendly and inclusive. While not every conversation will lead to a new business relationship, it can still have a positive outcome, so go ahead and introduce yourself!
What gets you excited about the future of adventure travel?
Adventure travel becoming more mainstream may dismay some people, but it excites me! We know that true adventure travel follows a model which helps protect the planet, local cultures, and brings many benefits to the local economy. So long as we stay true to those principles, there is plenty of space on the planet for us all to keep exploring and sharing these wonderful places and experiences with our travelers.