Steppes Travel is to take clients with it on pioneering “recce” trips as it charts new destinations and tours for its portfolio.
Those customers brave enough to join the Steppes team on these early Pioneer Club trips can travel at a reduced cost, but get to experience places for the first time as the team tests out new itineraries.
Steppes managing director Justin Wateridge said: “We are always on the lookout for new and exciting destinations but before we add them to our portfolio we need to road-test them. Now we are going to take clients with us.”
The first trip being tested will be Kazakh Eagle Hunters in Mongolia in October, which Wateridge said he is likely to accompany himself.
Other Pioneer Club trips will be mustang trekking and the Tije Festival in Nepal; the Sundarbans and Hill Tracts of Bangladesh; south Tajikistan explorer; and Mouakalaba Doudou and South Loango in Gabon.
The Mongolia trip goes on October 29 and costs £3,295pp (based on a minimum of six travelling, including a Steppes member of staff) and includes international flights, domestic flights, all accommodation on a full board basis except Ulaanbaatar, which is bed and breakfast.
Steppes is also launching a range of new Africa trips, including a great ape encounter in Congo, Rwanda and Uganda in October; Ethiopia by private helicopter; the new Namiri Plains camp in the Serengeti which opens July 1; and trips to Tanzania’s Rubondo Island - the largest Island national park in Africa.
Wateridge said the company is also about to roll out a new website and internal systems to improve its itinerary creation.
“The new system will in no way mean less personal itineraries but it will automate certain elements to leave consultants free to spend more time on the phones instead of working on content and image components that can be more easily generated by the new system. It’s a large but worthwhile investment in the long run,” he said.
Since re-joining the business after leaving Abercrombie & Kent, Wateridge has also expanded the Steppes team.
“We decided to bring in a wider and deeper breadth of people and bedding all those people in has taken time. But that, along with the new system, means we’re looking to be in a really strong position this year,” he added.
The Cirencester-based company is 25 years old this year and now has 45 staff, but Wateridge pointed out it was not about to get much bigger than that.
“Massively scaling up a business like ours is not the ultimate goal - it’s about being good at what we have chosen to be specialists in and still being able to offer a really personalized approach,” he said.
He said one element of showing Steppes’ personality was its new “cartwheel the world” campaign, where staff are photographed in some of the globe’s most remote places attempting to cartwheel - including Wateridge himself, who has been filmed doing cartwheels in the Arctic and at Colca Canyon in Peru.
But he did admit that his staff’s cartwheeling was not as good as it could be - hence getting Britain’s greatest female gymnast Beth Tweddle to give them some training.
Steppes will now be encouraging travellers to Cartwheel the World themselves and send their clips using #MySteppes, with the best clip rewarded with a three-night stay at Citta dei Nicliani in Greece, with flights and car hire.
Tweddle herself plans to “cartwheel her way through Cape Town and the Garden Route” this year and will also visit Uthando South Africa, a charity partner of Steppes Travel. Wateridge added: “We are hugely grateful to Beth for taking the time to come and train us. Our first cartwheeling montage caused much hilarity amongst its recipients last year so we’re now on the quest for a perfect 10.”