During a collaborative tourism event with Quan Binh and Chiang Mai Business association, Holly was quizzed on her motivations and hopes for Indigo White. We are posting the highlights to give you a better introduction into who we are and what we are setting out to achieve. Without further delay, let's jump in!
What were your main motivations for creating a new adventure tour operator in such a competitive field already capitalized on by many larger, established players?
Tailor made adventure, with genuine cultural engagement, is a largely underserved segment of the market. The majority of operators are large DMCs focused on low cost, high volume models. This requires a cookie cutter approach, where elements of trips are created by a separate department. Those are then cut and pasted together with little time or thought for the whole experience. Adventure, Luxury, and cultural tourism are separated by departments making it difficult to create a balanced experience.
There is a need for a small, adventure company that takes the time to understand each agents unique brand and craft each holiday as a well balanced mix of pace, activities, with different local experiences. Luxury, adventure, and cultural engagement can be something that is maintained throughout the trip or as highlights.
For us, this is not a game of scale, with large number of staff and investors. We intend to stay small and close to our operations. Working with guides to develop truly unique and intimate experiences that don't need to be designed for thousands of visitors.
We know that each traveller has different objectives they wish to achieve on their holiday, and each tour needs to be as diverse as each traveller.
What makes an Indigo White adventure different to those already available on the market?
Many companies have a single focus - say cultural, food tours, cycling, trekking, or local exchanges, but few mix these together. A great holiday to me is about diversity, if the best way to avoid the crowds in Angkor Watt area is by biking jungle paths through lesser known city gates, a trek with a local Hmong village in route with breath-taking views above the clouds, or hopping on the back of a motor scooter to explore Hanoi's graffiti scene - that's what I want to do!
Travelling responsibly is increasingly important for the adventure travel industry. How does Indigo White consider these issues when creating trips?
By collaborating with local communities that would like to build a small sustainable tourism business that will not negatively impact the community or future generation of the community. A key component is about setting up a fair rate so the community can provide an intimate experience not focus on turning over a volume of tourists. Tourism is a boom and bust industry for small communities, and it is essential that they continue to pursue other revenue streams from other industries, while taking advantage of the injection of revenue coming from tourism. We don't ask for additional infrastructure to be built specifically for tourists. This means tourism dollars go toward the communities needs as they see fit. Also we hire local guides to join us for treks, so they have the opportunity to work with our top guides to improve their skills and to highlight their expertise. I need to mention that we pay a fair wage for meals, accommodation, and other activities provided - homestays are a special unique experience, and should not be exploitive or understood as a low cost solution.
You are one of a very small number of women in a leadership role within the adventure travel industry. What advice would you give to other aspiring women looking to chase their own dreams?
Persistence and a thick skin. There is no easy solution. Similar to training for any sport - it is about showing up everyday, consistently, over time. And don't let the noise of unsolicited feedback get you down - smile through it and keep showing up.
There is a unique demographic within the travel industry, with a substantially higher percentage of female workers, at 66%, compared with other industries. But this statistic reverses with leadership and upper management positions in which 68% are held by men (based on 2014 reports from the OECD and The World Travel and Tourism Council).
What is the best part about being in the adventure travel industry?
It is predominately a very collaborative industry. One that for the most part, is built by those that love what can be gained through adventure, travel and learning from the culture that host us. It is a lifestyle, less about monetary rewards and more about the desire to positively impact humanity by enable travellers to relax, reconnect, open up to new ideas by experiencing different cultures - foods, arts, expressions and understandings of the people and ecosystems where we live. I realize we can not change the world overnight, but that we each do a bit to help each other be a bit happier, find a bit more laughter.
What is the one thing that keeps you up at night?
Impact. Overburden of limited resources as a result of tourism. This can be space - creating traffic, congestion, pushback from communities trying to quickly adapt to quick changes of rapid increases of tourists visiting the same place at the same time. This can be water usage, increase in trash accumulation, etc.
There is no one size fits all solution. There are so many ongoing efforts to combat this - from reducing trash from single usage items, to more energy efficient hotel designs.
As a traveller, some ideas you might consider- traveling outside of peak season. This is a win-win as you will pay less but receive better quality service, more one on one attention if you travel during "green season". Be open to recommendations to travel to lesser known areas, there is so much more to experience beyond the well known hotspots.
What is the favorite place you've travelled?
I am a bit of a sucker for wherever I have most recently been - especially if it had great food and coffee and I was away from the crowds!
Some of my favourites:
- Kayaking through the floating markets in Bangkok and visiting the stilt Art House
- Camping in Phoung Nga through the world's largest cave system in Vietnam and catching up with my Vietnamese friends
- Hiking on the ridge through pine forests and wild lilies on Doi Poi and Phu Chi Fa, in Northern Thailand (great locally grown and roasted coffee in a nearby village)
- Playing 'Master Chef' in Luc Nguyen's new kitchen at Grain Culinary Institute in Saigon
- Cycling through the Mountains outside of Chiang Mai, and catching up with my favourite baristas at local coffee shops in route
- Kayaking through 4,000 islands of the Mekong River in Southern Laos
- Running trails in Puluong bio preserve in Northern Vietnam
Some I have done hundreds of times but it never gets old - winding my way through the maze of pathways cycling in the Mekong delta, paddling in Halong bay Vietnam or Phang Nga bay in Thailand, getting lost by following my nose for the best streetfood in Chiang mai or Hoian, wandering through the hipster galleries in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, or following graffiti artists in Hanoi and Hue.
What do you see for Indigo White in the future?
As the world becomes more digitally and AI dependent and focused, I see an increase in travellers interest in connection to the natural environment and to other humans. To have the opportunity to explore what was once done by hand - from contemporary arts to traditional fishing, weaving, small scale farming for local village consumption. As the opportunity grows to digitally experience remote place - I think it will increase the desire to actually experience them!
For us at Indigo White, I see creative ways to quickly communicate with travellers in ways that are conducive to a flexible, healthy lifestyle for our team and for an increased interconnectedness for remote communities.
What is one of the most amazing experiences you've ever created for a client?
Amazing is in the eye of the beholder...after a long ride, I consider a bowl of cao soi and laughing with the Thai cook amazing...actually it is pretty amazing, that's why I have it about 3 times week!! Sometimes it's a sunset while watching local kids play in the fields, or the mist rising in the morning over the river, an unexpected act of kindness or generosity - these are the little things that you see when given the chance to stop and enjoy them...and this is the unexpected wow moments we hear about from our past guests!