25 years in the travel industry involves racking up a lot of different kinds of experiences. It’s really a timeline of the owner/founder who usually doesn’t like talking about himself.
The company was started in 1994, based on the foundations of a retail travel agency that was in difficulty. I had just returned to the USA from France after working on the Euro Disney construction project and living in Paris. After working for Disney, I decided that I wanted to be in travel and not in construction. So I made the decision to buy this struggling agency. Within the first 30 days of taking over a business in a completely new industry, the airlines colluded to cut travel agent commissions to a new low. The move was devastating to retail agencies as it gutted their primary source of revenue. I hired people I could rely on to run things while I cold called businesses for corporate travel. The experience was humbling to say the least, and working like a dog for commission income controlled by airlines, hotels, etc. just seemed like bad business. It was clear the agency needed to expand, so why not start organizing our own tours in France where I had so much experience? I married a French woman and we launched a company called Discover France Adventures — this while continuing to make the travel agency grow and go.
Eventually the agency went from 1 million in sales to 4 million in sales and I was awarded Small Business of the Year in 1998 by the local chamber of commerce. But the agency was getting in the way of Discover France Adventures, so we sold it in order to focus and grow France travel. Things worked very well and we expanded. In the early days of the Internet we were riding high, until Sept 11, 2001 changed travel permanently. In one day we refunded more than $100,000 in sold tours to people no longer wanting to go overseas. Business slowly came back, but as an unwilling partner to the Iraq war France became a target of American propaganda and travel bookings dove again. In response, the Pure Adventures brand was launched in 2004 in order to sell more destinations than just France. The upshot was we were able to serve repeat travelers wanting to explore other places than just France.
During this tumultuous period of wars, scandals, and questionable elections, we survived. We were among the few companies offering something called “self-guided bike tours.” I had to write up comparison documents to illustrate the difference between Guided, Self-Guided, and Self Contained touring. I had to do that because Bicycling magazine, the unofficial standard bearer for American cycling, got it wrong — they thought self-guided meant self-contained DIY travel. Along the way, we had another bit of educating to do with our partners in France and eventually elsewhere. Our role was to teach them how to be more service-oriented and create a higher quality trip for the non-European long distance traveler. Self guided travel was not our creation — in my mind it’s firmly a European thing — but doing it the Euro way was not going to work with our customers. Early on, people would give feedback like, “I would gladly have paid a little more for a better hotel.” And so the bar was raised. Then it moved on to improving navigation tools, support, customization, and more. This became our way – or rather – Your Way. The first slogan for Pure Adventures back in 2005 was: Self Guided Travel, Your Way. Later it would evolve into Your Trip, Your Way.
During the early and mid 2000s we had another unexpected movement come about. The Tour de France became a fashionable thing to do because one famous American was smashing the Europeans at their sport. Discover France started offering Tour de France tours, and in those early years it had a tinge of the wild west. Everyone with a bike wanted to go. People were getting on road bikes like crazy, inspired by Lance Armstrong’s remarkable comeback from cancer. It was amazing and everyone wanted to believe and so they came. Discover France was so busy Pure Adventures temporarily went on the back burner. Pure Adventures did sell trips in Italy and Spain, however. Our first destinations outside of France were Tuscany and Catalonia.
Eventually, the truth caught up to professional cycling, and following the doping scandal interest waned. I experienced some personal setbacks that meant France needed to be managed by someone else. Discover France was sold in 2012 to give Pure Adventures room to do what it was meant to do: offer exceptional self-guided, custom, private adventures throughout Europe. Custom guided trips also came with that. Private guided trips in new regions like Southeast Asia and South America started in 2016. More destinations and more adventures followed. In 2017 Trail to Table was created, and the inaugural trip left in 2018 on a small group culinary adventure. 2018 was the best sales year ever for Pure Adventures. That same year, we heard from past customers who took trips with us in 2003 and 2002. Incredible! In fact, the repeat traveler makes up a majority volume of the annual sales at Pure Adventures. People keep coming back, for which we are both proud and grateful.
So, in 2019, we celebrate a 25-year odyssey in adventure travel and bicycle tours. Many wonderful people have come and gone and made important contributions to this timeline. I remember them all. There are lots of stories – mostly good, many funny, and a few I’d like to forget. Like the time back in the early 2000s when Croatia was a new destination for us and the nation was just getting acclimated to foreign travel. We had a tour guide who decided he wanted to go swimming – buck naked. Yeah, that happened, and our customers rolled with it, wide-eyed. Hey, it was normal for him.
There is another type of story that’s similar to many stories I have heard over the years, and this one took place in the Loire Valley. Our clients, a man and his young adolescent son, were on a bike tour and got off course. They were on the side of the road checking maps and trying to figure out where they may have gone wrong. A local French man stopped to ask if they needed help – in French of course, which these travelers didn’t speak. Well, they tried to talk and figure it out, but the communication wasn’t getting there, so this local man had our customer ride behind him to his house just nearby. He made them drinks, gave them snacks, and got out his maps. They didn’t speak each other’s language at all and yet they had an experience that neither will ever forget. Our customers came back and recounted that story as the most precious one of their trip. It smashed all the stereotypes our American customer had heard about French people.
Yes, our travelers got back on track, made it to their hotel, and their world was changed for the better. That is what travel is about, to me, and that is what will help save our planet and go a long ways toward minimizing chaos and war: people meeting people and having a better understanding of one another and respecting one another. So, at Pure Adventures, we are going for another 25 years.
– Loren T. Siekman, President/Founder