No one can say that GeoEx (aka Geographic Expeditions)—a 30-year-old travel company that continues to blaze new trails and create first-of-their-kind journeys to the ends of the earth—goes unrecognized in the burgeoning adventure travel marketplace. In 2012, Outside magazine gave its “Best Travel Company” award to GeoEx, and annually, the company makes the list of best adventure trips in Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. With GeoEx, the luxury is in the adventure itself—in exploring far-flung destinations before they become the “next big thing.”
GeoEx must be doing something right, and what it does started with an idea planted among friends trekking on the Tibetan side of Mount Everest in 1981 and quickly morphed into a small adventure company (Inner Asia) specializing in travel to backcountry Tibet and far western China. Many adventures later, it had pioneered expeditions to the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, trekked the length and breadth of Bhutan, tracked snow leopard haunts in Ladakh, and tackled Kilimanjaro’s Western Breach.
“And today,” says Kate Doty, managing director, private client services, “GeoEx remains an adventure brand, one whose roster of innovative, active and customized journeys has indeed expanded to smartly run, active and customized trips—from treks and expeditionary cruises to safaris and cultural tours—on all seven continents.”
Most high-end tour companies are redesigning their programs to incorporate more active adventures and experiences into sightseeing itineraries. Coming from the opposite direction, GeoEx grew from a hard-core adventure specialist—one that demands thorough destination knowledge and total attention to detail—to broaden its reach to a new and widening audience of adventure travel seekers. According to Doty, there is a simple reason for that: “Adventure travel has expanded because of access and infrastructure.” Once upon a time, she points out, “in order to travel to the legendary places clients wanted to go, the only way to get there was to trek in, camp out and have a lot of time to do both. Today we access the far corners of the earth by air and along good roads—all essential for today’s traveler, who even when traveling to far-off places, need to do it in 10 days door-to-door. Additionally, even in those farthest corners, nowadays you’ll find top-of-the-line luxury in accommodations. Take Cusco, Peru whose hotel infrastructure has gone from basic 15 years ago to top-of-the-line today. It’s an amazing evolution.”
Doty reports that the largest part of the company’s business is FIT customized bookings, and 65 percent are repeat travelers and new travelers referred by satisfied clients. She explains that GeoEx does not have a big travel agent following, but as consumers are increasingly turning to travel agents for their trips-of-a-lifetime arrangements, travel agents come to GeoEx for its expertise in designing and operating active, imaginative and involving journeys.
“You know,” she says, “we partner well—with our guests, with our guides, with service companies worldwide who monitor our destinations’ security and medical assistance, and with travel agents looking for a planning partner.”
GeoEx has introduced eight New & Now trailblazing trips for 2013, which Doty says “demonstrate the breadth of its tours, both geographically and in terms of travel style, and they build on our heritage of pioneering pathways.” That may be a minor understatement. Consider these trips that Doty says are creating the most buzz.
Connecting with Cuba’s Living History is a U.S. government-sanctioned educational exchange program, focusing on history and culture in and around historic Havana, swapping perspectives with local Cubans, including artists, dancers, historians, farmers and students. One highlight: GeoEx travelers spend time with enterprising restaurateurs and sample their specialties (priced from $5,680; departures April 20, May 18).
Perfect for ahead-of-the-curve adventure travelers, Heart of Diversity: Gorilla Tracking in the Congo explores the fantastic wildlife (both lowland gorillas and elephants) and undisturbed tropical landscapes in this Central African country, overnighting in two new eco-friendly Odzala Wilderness Camps. Outings by boat, foot, and 4×4 are all led by professional wildlife guides. July 3 is the exclusive departure of this 8-day adventure, operating roundtrip to Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, and involving moderate to rigorous touring; the tour cost is $7,675 pp dbl with local air.
GeoEx’s other new trips in China, Eastern Turkey, Georgia and Iraqi Kurdistan explore richly historic and eye-popping scenic regions that are far off the tourist track. Doty adds that in the last two years, the demand for Myanmar has been super-strong. For small group departures, all with prices pp dbl, the company offers a 12-day Inner Burma tour (priced from $8,950) and a 14-day Passage to Burma itinerary (priced from $12,950). In the Custom Trips category, Burma’s Tribal Tapestry offers a 14-day touring and hiking itinerary, exploring the northernmost province of Kachin, as well as the local cultures and flavors of Kengtung in Shan State and those around the Bay of Bengal (priced from $8,250). And new this year is another Custom Trip, Kipling’s Burma, a 10-day itinerary including Yangon, Mandalay, Inle Lake and a luxury cruise on the Irrawaddy River (priced from $5,450).
“Travel agents we work with seem to value the GeoEx passion for out-of-the-world travel that is essential to delivering memorable adventure experiences,” Doty says. “I also believe that what we offer our travel agent partners is the expertise to deliver customized adventure travel arrangements for their groups, families and couples, as well as scheduled group departures to more than 150 unique destinations. Yes, we’re here to put our knowledge to work in locating the best safari camp in Tanzania, just the right boat in the Galapagos, the best trek to the Everest base camp.”
GeoEx: (888) 570-7108; geoex.com