Destination 31: Turning Typical Tourists Into International Adventurers
While the majority of us turn into beach bums when it's time to take a vacation, one adventure travel company has revolutionised what it means to escape. We speak to the crew behind Destination 31 to discover how they turned their passion into a life-changing business.
A general rule of thumb for those living in congested Cairo is to find the time to escape as often as possible. For many Egyptians the only escape they know is simply finding a resort, sitting on a beach doing nothing but eating, swimming, and clubbing. Although this kind of trip can be relaxing it quickly becomes routine, offering little to no new thrills. Looking to give Egyptians an alternative to the typical escape are Destination 31, who have been creating safe and affordable model for adventure travel that takes the young at heart on an adrenaline rush within and beyond Egypt’s borders. To learn more about their growing number of unique destinations, as well as how they can educate a market on a new type of travel while ensuring safety, I camp out with the Destination 31 Team who gave me plenty of amazing reasons to join their tribe and explore the world.
Egypt is a destination like no other on earth. With ample ancient historic sites to visit, a plethora of relaxing beaches, and plenty of picturesque adventures to take, there is no shortage of reasons for foreigners to flock to Egypt. At the same time citizens of this land have a narrow scope of what Egypt offers often exploring less than 5% of their home country. These are often the very same people who assume that the only trip worth taking outside of Egypt is to expensive metropolitan cities like Paris or New York.
Founded by experienced adventurers Ziad Omran and Omar Hossam, Destination 31 is on a mission to change the mindset of the majority of travelers, creating a new business model that is successfully turning resort tourists into international adventurers. According to co-founder Omar Hossam, “Destination 31 started back in 2009 as an alternative travelling company that offers completely different packages for adventure travel trips in and outside of Egypt. The idea started from our belief that Egypt is not just about Pyramids (Luxor, Aswan, Nile cruises….) there’s the Western Desert and Sinai. We started doing adventure trips in Egypt and quickly expanded internationally, taking people outside of Egypt not to see the Eiffel tower, but to go on hiking, camping, and rafting trips to mountains, jungles, and forests.”
From Tanzania to the Himalayas, Abu Galoum to Dahab and Nuweiba, Destination 31 provides a unique experience coupling the excitement of exploring a new country with adrenaline-laced activities that will reconnect you to nature while altering your perception on what travelling can truly be. Like all true explorers, Destination 31 continues to increase their roster by opening new breathtaking locations in Egypt never before accessible. “We are the only ones promoting Egypt in full as an adventure travel destination. We are taking expansion in Egypt very seriously and in the last five years we’ve created six or seven completely new trips that weren’t on the Egyptian map including a trip in Nubia, Wadi Jebal in Saint Catherine, Ras Shitan and so on,” proudly proclaims Omran.
From their own personal extreme travel experiences, both founders understood the absolute importance of risk management to ensure safety. Long before they started booking trips for the thrill-seeking public, these two explorers spent years gaining the technical knowledge while researching breathtaking locations to create new and secure adventure travel destinations. To do so, the Destination 31 team befriended the inhabitants of these remote locations to learn everything they can about the areas and their communities. This information is more valuable than any official permit. However, choosing to leave nothing to chance, they acquire them but more often than not locals in the area will be the first to help in any emergency situation. “We do get permits for each trip but we don't go to places that we don't know. We don’t rely on Google maps, we know the actual map, and rely on years of research and development to create a strong relationship with locals. Two years ago, when people got stuck in Saint Catherine, although the army provided surveillance flights it was the Bedouins who found them,” explains Omran. Providing safety in Egypt comes with a different set of criteria as mainly it is focused on security in remote areas, while trips abroad require technical knowledge of the equipment used to do extreme activities. As Hossam puts it: “To ensure safety abroad everyone on our team have received technical background regarding the gear involved in our extreme activities that range from rafting to conquering mountains.”
Unlike most companies, Destination 31 has no problems with competitors trying to copy them as they want the concept of adventure travel to grow. However, these companies are often a double edge sword as adventure travel comes with a lot of risk, and if the company’s sole goal is to make profit, it often comes at the cost of safety. “This Eid we had four trips fully booked and have turned away people interested in coming because we don't take the risk of having more numbers than we can safely manage just to increase profit. We stick to a strict limit of 20-25 travelers, because all it takes is one accident to destroy what we have built in the last five years,” describes Hossam. Touching on the same point Omran adds that “my dream is to have Destination 31 establish the safety standards and practices that everyone can follow to guarantee the safety and sustainability of adventure travel as a business.”
This attention to safety has helped Destination 31 develop a great reputation with over half their clients choosing to return, becoming members of the Destination 31 Tribe in seek of new adventures. According to Hossam: “we have a system where people who travel for more than three trips with us start getting discounts; we already have 50 or 60 who travelled that much with us. Actually I’d say that 80% come back.” Looking to build a community of likeminded travelers, Destination 31 invites all those who have taken a trip with them to an annual reunion strengthening their growing tribe. When looking to expand their business team, they draw on experienced tribe members to fill new roles.
For Destination 31’s Marketing Manager Lina El Menshawy, she went from being a curious client into an addicted adventurer, falling in love with the trips in Sinai and the Philippines. “My personal favourite international adventure is the Philippines because it is the best of both worlds. It has the serene beach experience and it has the mountain hiking experience. Locally, I think Sinai Odyssey is amazing as it fits in a package several amazing spots like Ras Mohamed and Abu Galoum in one trip.” Catching every trip she could, El Menshawy admits she was so obsessed after taking several adventures with the tribe she was ready to turn her back on her seven years in the corporate world to join the team in an official capacity. El Menshawy isn’t the only new member to go from traveler to team member, as the Accounts Manager, Omar Badr, ignited his passion for adventure travelling during a Destination 31 trip to Nepal. Unable to ignore the call of the wild, Badr also joined the D31 team, and is now leading expeditions. “My favourite location internationally is Nepal. It’s my baby; I love the life, people, nature and just about everything there. I’ve been there at least four times now, but locally Dahab and Siwa are my preferred destinations.”
Destination 31 has managed to exponentially grow with each passing year thanks to positive word of mouth on social media. It is through this medium that Destination 31 has successful penetrated the market educating the adventurous on a new type of travelling. Approaching their business with a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) strategy, D31 are able to offer affordable and competitive packages by establishing their own close relationships with locals in every international destination they programme, saving the cost of relying on other companies based in these areas. According to Hossam, “Our packages don’t include flights and visas, but of course we help everyone acquire both. What it does include is accommodation, activities, transfers, most meals, and guides. The feedback that we always hear is our travelers don’t have to spend much money outside of the package.” Their strategy is proving to be a success as it has garnered interest from both schools looking to offer students exciting trips and the corporate world for team building adventures.
Currently on a trip to Nepal, Destination 31 is preparing to dive back into their local programme with unique trips across Egypt planned for almost every weekend this autumn. With a variety of trips ranging in adventures that are suitable for beginners to experts, Destination 31 carefully screen those looking to join their trip, to ensure that they are fit enough to make the journey.
If you have ever dreamed of frolicking on the picturesque settings straight out of your favourite epic movie then don’t waste any time as trips are quickly booked up. If seeing a lake on a mountain, feeling the rush of navigating a raft in adrenaline inducing waters, or simple exploration of Egypt’s secret treasures are on your bucket list, then chances are you will find an affordable package that will have you reconsidering life choices, and seeking adventure whenever you travel.
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CairoScene photography by Fouad El Batrawi.