Today is April 4, 2012. Fifteen years ago today, Allan Wright quit his corporate job with food company Cargill, and Zephyr Adventures (formerly called Zephyr Inline Skate Tours) was born. “Rolling” is a great metaphor to describe Zephyr’s journey, as we have certainly done our share of rolling with the punches in the past 15 years.
Back in 1997, we ran three very small inline skating tours in the Netherlands (above is a photo of Zephyr alum, and one of our first customers, Rick Otis skating there in 1997). Inline skating was popular, it was growing as a sport, and skate travel was in its infancy – we were the first skate tour company in the world! (There are still only a handful and no others in the hemisphere.) After running the company by himself – with the help of part-time guides – for several seasons, Allan hired me to help grow his one-man show. Just five years after Zephyr started, skate travel hit its apex (we ran 16 skating tours in 2001) and then the sport began a steady decline in popularity.
The beauty of a small and efficient company like ours is that we can easily and quickly adapt, and we did just that. Niche travel opportunities became our thing. We hired another person, blended additional adventures like treks in Tibet, active cultural tours in China, and family trips to Yellowstone into our mix. Yet, interspersed in our annual business reviews were always those “punches” that we had to roll with: the SARS epidemic (remember that?) that essentially ground our Asia tours to a halt for a bit, a couple recessions that made it tough for people to justify spending money on vacations, the 9/11 tragedy which stopped air transport in its tracks, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that curtailed foreign travel, and the continued erosion of rollerblading.
A few years later, we added another employee and another successful part of our business – active wine travel. Hiking, biking and multisport trips to the great wine regions of the world (Italy, Spain, Napa, Sonoma, South Africa, Chile, and Argentina, for instance) are gaining in popularity and we are again in exciting times.
However, Allan is truly an entrepreneur and like many entrepreneurs is constantly scouring the universe for other opportunities. Five years ago, in an effort to get the word out about our wine adventures, we created a conference for people who blog about wine (aptly named the Wine Bloggers Conference) in the hopes they might also extend their blogging to wine travel and bolster our tour sales. The conference, while it helped our tour sales only slightly, was a home run in its own right, and wildly successful. This success launched us into the business of creating and operating additional separate conferences about fitness and health, tourism, beer and food.
So, after 15 years, where are we now? In addition to Allan (see current photo to left), we have five employees who all work out of their own home offices in four different states. Roughly half our resources are focused on our blogger conferences and half on our tour business. We still run skating tours, but due to lack of demand they represent only about 25% of our tour offerings now. The reality is many of our alumni have stopped skating or switched to biking and hiking and so our tour mix is simply a reflection of that.
Where will go from here? Time will tell, but you can be sure that we’ll still be rolling with the inevitable punches that are there for any small business. In the meantime, happy birthday, Zephyr, and thanks for 15 great years!