At the intersection of adventure and outdoor: Journeys International

After stepping down from her role as the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition executive director in 2012, Sally Grimes switched gears. She helped open the Cincinnati REI and then worked for an independent outdoor store there. While there, she approached Journeys International—recently ranked as the fifth-best tour operator in the world by Travel and Leisure readers—about partnering with the store to host trips, and realized she really wanted to travel. She started working for Journeys in 2014, and has since been trying to unite the outdoor and adventure travel industries.
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1. What inspired your career change to the travel industry?

SG: When it was time to say good-bye to OIWC, I tried my hand at retail, but it never quite clicked. I realized that I had been bitten by a vicarious travel bug through my husband, Chris “Chez” Chesak—he’s in the travel industry—and I wanted to move away from the product side of outdoor and adventure activities and move to the experience side. Now, I’m in an amazing role. I’m learning about the 60-plus destinations where Journeys travels, and I go to one or two of them every year. Travel has the power to change lives, and I love being in the business of helping people have mind-blowing experiences that stretch their understandings of the world and of themselves. 

2. If you’re buying gear, you need a place to use it. what other connections do you see between the adventure travel and outdoor industries?

SG: Whether your adventure is on the milder side, or it includes high-altitude trekking through Peru or Nepal, you need the right gear. Occasionally, travelers will need technical gear, but more often than not, they need tough yet lightweight luggage; comfortable, multiuse “trail to tavern” apparel and shoes; and products that serve multiple purposes to minimize their packing. Developing the right gear for adventure travel is a specialty, just like climbing, paddling and backpacking gear, and there is a huge market of people looking for that.

Many companies in the outdoor industry have gear that’s great for travel, and quite a few do an excellent job of marketing it as such. I think there’s a lot more potential though, and in many cases, great travel gear either isn’t marketed that way to retailers, or retailers have it in one section of the store when it could also be in a travel section.

3. How should outdoor and travel better collaborate?

SG: My mind is spinning with ways adventure travel and outdoor can work together. I see a lot of potential in tour company/brand/retail partnerships. Tour operators could run trips for retail shops, who could white-label them, selling and marketing them as their own. We could co-host events focused on adventure travel, and partner with tourism boards for trip giveaways. And word of mouth is, of course, huge. You wouldn’t believe how many times we’ll be traveling with collapsible water bottles, multiuse footwear or just a great travel bag and others in our group ask where they can get those products. We could create lists of trusted retailers and gear manufacturers to suggest to our customers what they need and where to buy it.

4. There’s so much information available on the web, and lots of people like doing their own research to plan their trips. What makes tour operators relevant today?

SG: We recognize that a tour operator like Journeys isn’t for everyone. There are people of all ages, especially Millennials, who think that research and planning is part of the fun. But we’re here for the people who don’t necessarily want to do that, don’t have the time, or are going where you’re better off having a guide on the ground. We tend to focus on places where it’s harder to plan a trip on your own. In places like Mongolia, Uganda or Iran, for example, you’re going to want to ensure that you have a local guide who is taking you to all of the highlights, many of which you won’t find doing online research. And travelers shouldn’t shy away from a tour operator just because they don’t want to travel with a large group. Journeys groups have a maximum of 12 people, and an average of eight.

5. What’s your game plan at Outdoor Retailer?

SG: It’s been a few years since I attended OR, so, selfishly, my first priority is to reconnect with many, many friends who I’ve missed tremendously! I’m also excited to go to OIWC’s big event [where the organization announced its new name, Camber Outdoors] and to learn all about what they’ve been doing under Deanne Buck’s incredibly capable leadership.

But I’m mainly here to work. I want to browse the show floor to get an idea of what brands are looking to get in front of travelers, connect with as many of those brands as possible and begin the conversations that I hope will lead to strong, mutually beneficial partnerships.

This story appears on page 46 of the Day 3 issue of Outdoor Retailer Daily.

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