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.
Custom Tour Operator
ATTA Member since 2007
Introducing Monika Sundem, CEO of Adventure Life:
Adventure Life designs tailor-made trips to send travelers on their “trip of a lifetime” to more than 100 destinations around the globe. We design land-based active adventures and cultural explorations, and also specialize in small-ship expedition cruises, encouraging travelers to get out and explore, get off the boat, and get to know a place intimately. We’re a U.S.-based outbound travel planning service, working with a variety of like-minded inbound partners around the world.
Why have you stayed an ATTA member for 15+ years?
We like what ATTA has to offer in terms of industry research, support, and networking opportunities. We also like what ATTA stands for, and find that the organization attracts similarly minded suppliers, which helps us sift through potential partners in each country to find a good fit for our ethos.
How has your company changed over the last 15 years?
We certainly have changed over that time – even in the last five years it seems! We started out as a Latin America-based group tour operator, and after the 2008 recession slowly shifted focus to custom-trip planning and small-ship cruises. We still offer some group tours in select areas where it makes sense to do so, but our main focus now is on travelers who want a unique, private, or specialized trip designed just for them. This, of course, includes small ship cruises as well that can offer a true expedition or exploratory experience. We’ve built such an extensive network of trusted partners around the world that we can design trips in the majority of countries that are open for tourism, even if they’re not listed on our website.
What is the greatest force that drives you to work everyday?
We truly feel that the travel industry, and the adventure travel niche in particular, has the potential to make a dramatic impact on an individual’s perspectives and that it can change society as a whole as a result. That impact is also felt by those whose livelihoods depend on cross-cultural exchange. I believe that 99% of the time, that change is for the better. Those who desire to grow and learn from other cultures are truly touched by it. We hear about these impacts in the notes and follow-ups we receive from our travelers every day, and in the messages from our partners and hosts. This is why I go to work each day – I want to be a part of that change.
What gives you hope about the next generation of adventure travel leaders?
I think leaders in the next generation have lofty goals when it comes to preserving not only our planet, but the people, cultures, and wildlife on it. I get encouraged when a younger leader shares their conviction to do what’s right, not what is easy. If we have that kind of leadership stepping into this industry, we’ll be well-oriented for success.
What is your advice for young adventure travel companies?
To not strive to win every booking. You won’t be able to fulfill the expectations of every single person who calls you, and nor should you. Remember, travel is also about education. You may need to educate some travelers – kindly, I hope – about why you refuse to offer certain things. You may lose some reservations along the way, but you also may change some perspectives in others, and that will have a positive impact around the globe. Stick to your conscience and treat your overseas partners right, and you’ll find you attract the right kind of travelers whose goals align with your own.
What gets you excited about the future of adventure travel?
I love that our industry seems to be headed more in a customized-travel-is-best direction. I think the very best that adventure travel has to offer happens in groups of three to five at the most, and I love that it appears this way of travel is growing.