In this latest Meet & Greet, we speak to Richard Casswell, Brand Manager of Indotrek, Trails of Indochina’s new adventure travel label. After getting his Masters in Environmental Technology, Richard spent 10 years working in various locations (including Thailand, Madagascar & Cambodia) in adventure travel and community-based tourism, and recently joined Indotrek at their HQ in Saigon, Vietnam. We had a good old chat to him about Indotrek and the future of adventure travel in Asia…
Indotrek is Trails of Indochina’s adventure brand. Why did you decide to create a separate brand for adventure tourism?
We decided to begin an adventure brand as TOI is primarily seen as a classic luxury tour brand. It was therefore difficult to target the burgeoning adventure market. Through Indotrek we can target other non-luxury markets and expand the client base. TOI is not geared specifically for adventure touring while Indotrek has the flexibility and knowledge to offer a much wider range of active and adventure tours.
What is the special ingredient that makes Indotrek stand out from the competition?
As a brand of Trails of Indochina, Indotrek can draw on the vast resources already in place, and ensure that our products are well thought out and are of the best quality. We also have access to some unique products that others are unable to include in their tours. Indotrek specialise in long single and multi-country tours which take a lot of coordination; we only use the best guides with a wealth of local knowledge that are specialised in the activity they are leading.
How do you define “adventure tourism”? For some it’s a very narrow definition taking in trekking, cycling & other physical activity; for others – including PATA for example – it’s a lot broader, taking in anything which could be described as a non-touristic “experience” – eg homestays, cooking classes, volunteering etc.
For me, I also think it can be broadly defined around a range of core activities. Activities should certainly be non-touristic and focused on small groups in order to give a unique experience away from the masses and ‘off the beaten path’. Many of the experiential activities help to compliment the overall adventure and can sometimes be one of the most memorable aspects. I’m very keen to develop genuine sustainable relationships with the local people we work with across our trips who provide these experiences, as this has lasting benefits on so many levels. There certainly seems no requirement to pigeonhole adventure travel as we are currently seeing an increasing crossover from the leisure and classic tour markets.
You are shortly launching camps & lodges in a number of locations – can you tell us more?
I can’t divulge too much at this time as we are still in the development stage, however we are currently working with some local communities to develop some unique lodges and camps in beautiful areas to better cater to our range of clientele, our signature dish if you will.
I know from personal experience that it gets harder and harder to stay original as a Southeast Asia tour operator, because as soon as you develop an original product or destination, the copycats move in. How do you keep your product range fresh and unique?
We constantly review our tours and are always looking at how best to improve them, and we are always talking with our regional offices to find out what new developments are occurring in each destination. We also strive to find things that re unique to us and develop exclusive relationships so it is more difficult for the copycats – they may be able to find something similar but not the same. The level of service from our dedicated team and inclusions often sets us apart from our competitors.
What makes Southeast Asia the perfect adventure travel destination, and which is your favourite country in the region for an adventure trip?
There is a wealth of adventure to be had throughout the whole region with more remote regions opening up all the time. Southeast Asia is great as it has an abundance of natural beauty and wilderness areas, the region is safe to travel and the local people are fantastically friendly, Visas are also easily obtained and hassle-free for most countries putting it high on the bucket list of many.
For me Cambodia is a great place to get off the beaten path and go on an adventure away from the stunning temples of Angkor – I never get tired of exploring the more provincial areas of that fascinating country. I’m currently working with a team there to develop a great trekking route deep into Virachey National Park jungle with a focus on the ecological work going on there to protect the forest and species biodiversity. It will not be for the faint of heart but will certainly introduce people to an area hardly ever seen by outsiders.
Tell us how you ended up in SE Asia, and running adventure holidays…
After a short career as an Environmental Consultant in the UK, I went seeking adventure. I first visited the region when I was traveling as many do and it stole my heart. Whilst on my travels I undertook a whole range of tours and trips throughout the region, and became fascinated as to what makes a good trip memorable and others quite forgettable. I later took up a position as project Coordinator for a marine research Project in Madagascar with a prominent NGO and then went on to be their SE Asia Trail Leader which gave me the opening into the travel industry. I’ve since been based in Chiang Mai, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and now Ho Chi Minh City.
And finally, please get your crystal ball out and tell us how you see the future of adventure tourism in the region?
Looking into my crystal ball I see that the future is bright for adventure tourism as a whole and the Southeast Asia region is no exception. This region is seeing continued growth in tourism and adventure tourism is a serious part of that growth. There is so much variety to be had from snowcapped peaks in northern Myanmar to the tropical mangrove swamps of the gulf of Thailand – there really is something for everyone. It is not just the intrepid adventurers that are interested; we are seeing an increasing number of high-end leisure clients interested in a more active holiday where they can really get a taste of the country they are visiting but still receive top class service.
To find out more about Indotrek, visit www.indotrek.com