Recently, I interviewed Heather Howard, Director of Marketing for MT Sobek, the adventure travel company where I worked when I went on my life-changing trip to Tanzania. Curious about how the company has developed over the last 40 years, I asked her to share an update on its growth and values in a world where more people than ever want to experience an adventure when they travel. Request your own copy of MT Sobek's free adventure book detailing their trips planned for 2024.
Brenda: In the early 1980s, Sobek Expeditions offered just eight or so river expeditions. After merging with Mountain Travel to become MT Sobek, it has grown to offer over 200 adventures around the globe. Last year, USA Today rated it the best adventure travel company in 2022. Do you see more growth ahead in the future, both in clients served and new destinations?
Heather: Our goal has always been to provide excellent, high-quality adventures that meet the needs of active travelers. As well as keeping a close eye on trends to drive growth, we continue to blaze new trails in destinations such as Tajikistan’s Fann Mountains. We’ve also grown our custom capabilities to meet the needs of private groups looking to travel together. We will always be The Adventure Company™, and will continue to explore and pioneer new adventures.
Brenda: In Sobek's early days, the company tended to attract rich, older white male daredevils who craved the rush of adrenalin through their bodies. In 2023, has the profile of adventure seeking clients that sign up for MT Sobek adventures changed?
Heather: Today our guests are much more evenly split between male and female. We find the common thread among our guests is a spirit of adventure rather than a specific demographic. Most of our guests are 50-70, but they are fitter than ever.
Brenda: Some guides I worked with in the 1980s continued to work for Sobek for decades. How does MT Sobek attract and retain top-notch guides? What characteristics and experience are you looking for when you hire guides?
Heather: MT Sobek continues to work with local guides, who are truly the best in the business. Some we’ve worked with for decades, while others we have sought out for their specific destination knowledge in emerging travel destinations, such as Iraq. We look for excellent regional knowledge, expert leadership and above all, the ability to connect with our guests and provide excellent service. Our guests rate our leaders on every trip and we share that feedback so we can continually fine tune the guest experience.
Brenda: Back in the 1980s, only a handful of travel companies offered adventurous trips to remote destinations in the wilderness (Sobek, Mountain Travel, Overseas Adventure Travel). Now there are hundreds of companies competing in the Adventure Travel sector. How does MT Sobek differentiate itself from all of your competitors?
Heather: Having a trusted legacy brand is important, but it’s really our expert local guides and high-touch approach that sets us apart. We’re proud of our excellent Trustpilot rating and have a great community of guests, many of whom travel with us exclusively time and again.
Brenda: What are MT Sobek's most sought after trips now? Of the places where you operate trips now, which locations do you consider the most challenging (logistics, economics, weather, politics etc)?
Heather: Europe is booming, especially the Alps, Norway and Iceland. Our tried and true favorites, such as Everest Base Camp and Hiker’s Patagonia, continue to impress. The hardest trips are usually the longer Level 5 adventures in Asia, such as K2 and Concordia, that include high passes and difficult river crossings. Ensuring guests have trained to the physical level required to meet the challenge of these trips is part of what makes them successful. We are proud to manage the logistics, that make it easy for our guests to travel to Iraq and Iran.
Brenda: Some people consider taking a cruise to be a grand adventure, while others want to get out in nature to do activities that test their limits. What attracts your clients to join trips with MT Sobek? How do your trips enrich their lives?
Heather: MT Sobek guests are active travelers who enjoy the outdoors and have a sense of adventure. They also enjoy the camaraderie and companionship that comes with group adventure, and the leadership of expert guides. Our trips enrich their lives by helping them to get to places they may otherwise never visit by themselves, or pushing them to accomplish a goal they might have felt was beyond reach. We take care of all the details, so our guests can fully enjoy the activity and location.
Brenda: True wilderness is disappearing at an alarming rate. Many wild animals are nearing extinction. Can you imagine a day when safaris are no longer possible? When rivers dry up? What is MT Sobek doing to prepare for or head off this eventuality?
Heather: Our goal is to tread lightly wherever we go, and we work closely with the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund to support local sustainability projects. We feel by bringing our guests to some of these endangered places, we are increasing awareness and hopefully action to protect the world’s truly wild places.
Brenda: Recently, a guide I'd worked with in the 1980s, researched and wrote an article on the role that women played as rafting pioneers with Sobek (many of those women I knew and worked with). What leadership roles do women hold in MT Sobek today?
Heather: The majority of our current Leadership Team is female, as is the majority of staff in the company. Plus, we've had male and female CEOs. Both women and men play a huge role in the success of MT Sobek.
Brenda: What influence does Sobek's founder Richard Bangs have on MT Sobek's programs today?
Heather: Richard Bangs continues to lead “out-there” adventures with MT Sobek and has one or two exclusive expeditions each year. In 2024, he is heading to Togo and Benin. If your readers would like to learn more about these trips, here is the link. https://www.mtsobek.com/trips/africa/togo/togo-benin-cultural-discovery-adventure-with-richard-bangs/
My next blog will feature an interview with Richard Bangs. We'll be talking about Tanzania, Richard's latest book due out in November, and about the trips he's planning in Togo and Benin next year.