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Sea Kayak Outfitter

The world is two-thirds water. It's only natural that sea kayaking outfitters have found their rightful place in the highly fragmented world of adventure travel.

But it takes much more than water to float this type of business. Bryon Howard, owner of Outside Expeditions, says diversity, flexibility and unrivaled service are absolutes in this competitive niche.

Water Babies

Howard and his wife Shirley Wright own and operate a sea kayaking, biking and walking eco-travel business. "We started this business out of a love for the outdoors," says Howard. "We deeply believe people should have a connection to the outside."

For many people, sea kayaking is an escape from the pressure and stress of everyday life. Much of the sport's appeal lies in the boat itself. Skimming just inches off the water's surface, kayakers feel a primitive connection with the sea, the tides and the power of the surf.

Many people share this adventurous spirit. In the United States alone, 80 million people a year search for an adventure challenge. That translates into a $220-billion industry.

Learning the Ropes

Howard got the idea of starting an adventure travel company while enrolled in a recreation management program in university. While he recognized the value of a formal college education, he knew that he needed some real-life experience.

Howard began traveling, volunteering and working in countries around the world. Although the jobs varied, most concentrated on the development of tourism and recreation fields.

Learn the ropes of the business while someone else is paying the bills -- that can't be emphasized enough.

"I highly recommend you work for someone else in the field before you think of starting your own business. Get into it and see if you even like the industry before you make any commitments to it," says Carolyn Hill, manager of The EcoSource.

Moving back to the Atlantic coast, Howard and Wright started Outside Expeditions in 1993.

Variety is the Spice of Adventure

But it takes more than an interesting location to support an adventure travel business. Adventure appeals to a niche market that is constantly changing.

Outside Expeditions developed into a dynamic enterprise by devising walking and cycling tours, as well as several kayaking packages. They offer a wide variety of multi-day excursions costing over $2,000 as well as half-day samplers and introductory courses for as little as $55.

Their trips and courses are also designed to appeal to a broad range of users -- a marketing scheme that can't be overlooked. According to Jerry Mallett, director of the Colorado-based Adventure Travel Society, the majority of adventure travelers are women.

And kayakers aren't just paddling enthusiasts. They have diversified interests that must be met. They're explorers and adventurers, birdwatchers, wildlife biologists and photographers.

Outside Expeditions takes this into account. It offers family expeditions, children's programs, wildlife watching excursions and customized group trips. Client satisfaction is paramount.

"Friendly, personalized service," says Howard. "We're so certain we can meet our guests' expectations that we offer a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee."

Where the Green Is

"I sense that business will continue to increase as the popularity of kayaking increases," says Wayne Taylor, owner of Sea Otter Kayaking. But other factors play a large part in the viability of sea kayaking outfitters. "Protection of the marine environment ... is critical."

Revenues aren't the only thing growing. Expenses are also increasing. With paddles costing between $40 and $150 and boats priced in the $700 to $1,500 range, you can't afford to be undercapitalized.

The Future

Top-notch service keeps Outside Expeditions ahead of the competition. To maintain an edge, Howard has his finger on the pulse of the industry. He's director of a tourism industry association and past president of an outdoor adventure association. In the ever-changing world of adventure travel, he can't afford to be complacent.


Sea Kayaking Directory
A list of links

Great Outdoor Recreation Page
Links to paddling forums, outfitters, resources, gear and destination articles

Sea Kayaker Magazine
The online version of the magazine that captures the essence of sea kayaking

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