Women in Business | Surviving in adventure travel during the global pandemic

Interview with Tanya Perret, Director/SheEO of Live Breathe Hike, on her experiences of being a female entrepreneur during Covid, and post Brexit.

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“Be prepared to pivot!” – Tanya Perret

How did you come to be an IML (International Mountain Leader) and set up your own company?

Travel was always a dream for me, growing up in Bath in the UK. I got my first taste during a Raleigh International trip to Chile and obtained my first mountain leader award when I was in my early twenties. Once I’d worked for the major operators (such as Exodus and Explore) I knew I wanted to offer something more bespoke and that’s when Live Breathe Hike was born. I’d always loved mountains and got the opportunity to travel to the big ranges when I ran hiking and wine tasting holidays in Tuscany (and yes I still like the wine!) The turning point was being a single parent. I needed to change things up to incorporate childcare and was full of ideas to create more enriching experiences. Having worked for all the big operators I knew I could cherry pick the best elements to create amazing itineraries.

What has been your experience as a woman in this male dominated sector of the travel industry?

You have to work harder to maintain your identity as a female mountain guide as it is traditionally male run. As you become older it gets even harder. Older men are seen as wise, yet older women are questioned as it’s so surprising to see older female guides when it’s still so male dominated – even now. Hopefully every generation lessens the divide.

Tell us what happened for you and your company Live Breathe Hike in March 2020

My US clients started cancelling in February as the pandemic escalated. Italy was hard hit so those trips were postponed but with no government support for businesses over there, it has been hard to get any refunds. France under lockdown was depressing as I had the arduous task of doing the admin of cancellations and insurance.

The hardest thing has been the inconsistency of not knowing what the future holds and not being able to plan. I feel lucky though, because as everything ground to a halt as many tour operators went under, and over night.

Around a third of bookings are coming back now, even if they are for 2022. Travel, wellness and experiences are a big part of moving forward for everyone so I’m glad to be in that industry!

What are your survival tips?

  • Use time wisely – create new unique travel opportunities and recce the routes as soon as the borders open up
  • Keep talking to clients and partners – keep the relationships alive and be a source of knowledge
  • Keep abreast with the news – setting alerts on your phone stops incessant scrolling
  • Embrace flexibility – adapt policies to suit the market
  • Invest in good people to work with – understand people’s strengths
  • Embrace the digital age – online networking events have been a lifesaver
  • Diversify your product – we’ve actually increased the offerings (as some destinations are on hold) and added bespoke dates/packages, eBiking and Self Guided trips.
  • Give yourself a break, but never give up!

How have you found travelling post-pandemic?

It’s exciting to be back and surprisingly easier as with fewer people there is far less queuing. Of course we’ve had to factor in the Covid swabs but that’s been culturally fascinating in itself to see how each country handles the process. We loved the Italian ‘no-fuss’ approach of automated temperature checks at major hotels, ports and sites – which surely is good to avoid catching or becoming ill from any disease. Generally everyone is friendlier as they have missed tourists and now have time to connect – time is a mutual investment.

Has Brexit impacted your operation – for better or worse?

British Guides have to do a complicated and expensive registration process for the Swiss permits and there’s the new 90 day limit for working in Europe to be aware of. I also used to order Cicerone Guide Books (UK based) online but they’re not posting to Europe now.

A personal gain is that my clients are international, so as a British person with a French domiciled company this is a strong position to be in. (Historically my competition has been with UK budget operators who don’t have the same high tax rates as I do.)

Final thoughts on the future of travel?

I remain optimistic and hope that travel doesn’t become the niche privilege for the rich that it once was – because it really broadens the mind and is an invaluable education.

With that in mind I’ve created trips to suit all budgets, tastes and timeframes as well as updating to covid-friendly policies.

Travel, wellness and experiences are a big part of moving forward for everyone so I’m glad to be in that industry!

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