Interview with Joe Ponte, Managing Director, Explore

Travel Talk

Joe Ponte, Managing Director, Explore We like to find out what the concepts and aims are for our partner companies, so we posed a few key questions to Joe Ponte.

What’s the mission statement/guiding principle for Explore?

Extraordinary Destinations, Unforgettable experiences, Responsible travel. From hold-your-breath experiences, to small and unscripted moments of joy; our small group adventures create stories to tell for a lifetime.

We have almost 40 years’ experience in providing small group adventures in over 500 trips in 120 countries across the world. Whether its wildlife, culture, walking and trekking, a polar voyage, cycling or a family adventure, our trips will give you once-in-a-lifetime experiences, every day.

Responsible tourism is one of our driving principles and we work hard to ensure that we are responsible in everything we do and have a positive impact on the people and places we visit.

How would you describe your holidays – mini-adventures?

Cultures Each trip is expertly crafted by a team who live, breathe and sleep adventure travel. Our trips aim to immerse you in the sight and culture of each destination and provide you with unforgettable travel experiences. We meet local people, try local food, stay in local accommodation and work with local guides who add richness and spontaneous moments to every trip.

Do you have a bold, new destination that’s different and exciting?

At Explore, we aim to be both innovative and pioneering when it comes to adventure travel. 

When the FCO changed their advice on travelling to Lebanon at the end of last year, it became safe once again to visit the archaeological site at Baalbek. Working closing with trusted local partners and our UK trained Tour Leaders, we were able to become the first operator to re-launch trips back to Lebanon. Demand for this trip, which begins in September 2019, has been so high that many departures are already sold out, despite adding more capacity. We expect demand for Lebanon to continuing growing in 2020.

Ivan Semenyuk Back in 2016, Explore was one of the first operators to offer itineraries to Chernobyl. All our Ukraine trips feature the opportunity to spend a couple of days exploring the Exclusion Zone. When I travelled on this trip a few months ago with Explore, one of the most interesting moments was meeting a self-settler and getting to hear more about their day-to-day lives in the outer Exclusion Zone.

What makes travelling with Explore an attractive option for the over 50s?

For the over 50s, it’s a great time in life for celebrating milestones and we have a lot of people marking these occasions with an epic, once-in-a-lifetime journey such as a Polar Voyage, visiting the Galapagos Islands or walking the Inca Trail.

Our average group is just 12 people so it is big enough to ensure you’ll meet like-minded people, but small enough to also get right into the heart of the destinations we visit. Everything is taken care of so you can just concentrate on immersing yourself in the culture or activity.

This year we had an Explore customer in his 60s visit us at our HQ in Hampshire to present a book compiled of photos that he has taken over his 20 years of travelling with Explore. From Kathmandu to Timbuktu, he had travelled across all seven continents and ticked off 59 countries in total, making him one of Explore’s most prolific travellers. And he isn’t stopping there! He already has two further trips planned for 2019.

And what can you offer specifically for single travellers?

The majority of customers travelling on our small group trips travel solo and over half of these are women so, whichever trip you choose, there are likely to be other like-minded people who also share a love for adventure travel.

And by solo travel, it doesn’t necessarily mean single people; they are also people whose partners or friends don’t share the same travel interests or have the time to join them on a trip.

Single travellers We really love it when we get feedback from our customers to say they made great friends during their trip. We also hear that many often go on to plan their next adventure with us, and this time travelling together as friends. 

Explore’s award-winning tour leaders and local guides share their first-hand knowledge of the best places to go as well as their unique insight which you just wouldn’t get travelling on your own. From having dinner with a remote indigenous community or seeing a wonder of the world before the crowds, everything has been carefully planned and tested by our expert product team so customers can just enjoy the moment.

Our walking & trekking holidays are the most popular type of trip with solo travellers and the most popular destinations are currently Italy, India, Spain and Morocco. 

We have a policy at Explore where we never charge a single-supplement on any of our trips. Instead solo travellers are paired with someone of the same sex and share a room. However, if customers do want their own room, we offer the option to pay for a single room.

What’s your favourite destination? Have you been somewhere that was unexpectedly special?

Halong Bay, Vietnam I love Indochina, particularly Vietnam. I love the culture, the history and the people. What makes it really special for me is the food and the natural environment! It’s beautiful.

I found Chernobyl unexpectedly special. I joined one of Explore’s trips earlier this year and it is a remarkable place to visit. The emptiness and dilapidation of the Soviet-style buildings combined with the feeling of it being like a snapshot of when time stood still, makes it also quite a moving experience.

And if you could go anywhere in the world, cost not a problem, where would that be?

I have been working in travel for around 20 years now and this has given me the opportunity to travel LOTS! Despite visiting over 60 countries I haven’t yet explored many of the Nordic countries. However, I did venture up to Iceland a few months ago to visit the site where we are launching a collection of bespoke yurts.

Set on a working Icelandic farm, the yurts are a new accommodation concept for Iceland. Furnished and fitted in contemporary Icelandic design, they are ideally placed in the heart of the Golden Circle and we will be offering short breaks staying the yurts later this year.

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