For Gaynor Hall, her seven years at Freshfields were the perfect foundation for creating Tribal Tracks, a travel company that delivers inspiring and socially responsible adventures across the globe to charities, organisations and friends and family groups.
At Freshfields, Gaynor specialised in large scale general commercial disputes, including professional negligence, breach of warranty and product liability cases.
She says she draws on her Freshfields experience regularly. ‘I use my legal skills a lot, from placing insurance, to conducting risk assessments, the drafting involved in the creation of the website, and lots more. Freshfields, quite rightly, expects really high standards of all of the staff, and that "draft once, check twice" culture has been such a good discipline.’
Gaynor looks back on her time at Freshfields fondly, especially her time spent advising long-time client Japan Tobacco International (JTI). She worked for JTI in North Carolina, Northern Ireland, Rome, Canada, the Netherlands and Geneva. ‘I think that when you work somewhere, it’s very different from just visiting. You get under the skin of countries, understanding a bit more of the culture. It was great but I got really itchy feet!’
Tribal Tracks, Gaynor says, is one of the few truly bespoke adventure travel businesses in the UK, working with groups of all sizes, ranging from small groups of friends and family, through to larger trips for corporates, charities and organisations.
Having quickly found a niche, her business has had a strong first two years. ‘We pride ourselves on the personal touch and travelling to places off the beaten track,’ Gaynor says. ‘I’ve always really wanted to run my own business but combining it with travel, my real passion, makes it quite easy to get up in the morning.’
Many clients are charities, which Gaynor says initially surprised her. ‘We discovered a gap in the market for medium-sized charities, who want to do something a bit different to the usual trek up Mount Kilimanjaro or to Machu Picchu. That’s where we come in.’
Gaynor explains that many of the larger charity companies run trips by recruiting supporters from many and disparate charities to form the “group”. ‘By contrast, we design our trips specifically for one charity and its supporters. That common bond embeds people with the charity and they become champions of the charity’s cause, leading to repeat fundraising and profile raising.’
‘Our trips really work!’ Gaynor says. A trip earlier in the year to trek 100km across the Sahara raised £57,000 for a colon cancer charity called 40tude. ‘That was the second trip we ran for 40tude and next year, they are doing two trips with us – a summit of Mount Elgon in Uganda, and a trek through the Wadi Rum in Jordan.’
Tribal Tracks also works with corporate organisations. ‘Taking employees out of the office environment and into the outdoors changes the team dynamic, opening communication channels and inspiring creativity, honesty and free-thinking’ Gaynor explains. ‘There is nothing like an evening spent around the camp fire, and under huge desert skies, to encourage discussion and lateral thinking.’
‘I think that employers are understanding more than ever before that they need to demonstrate their commitment to their corporate values, employee well-being and society. These trips have tremendous benefits for both staff and company, which is what makes them so fulfilling’ adds Gaynor. ‘Our trips are specifically designed to foster employee commitment, loyalty and dedication, while driving profitability, boosting morale and health and reducing employee turnover. In addition, they build strong team dynamics within staff, creating and solidifying relationships and enabling enhanced departmental cross-communication, while meeting CSR objectives and/or commitments.’
However, many corporates now struggle to afford or justify trips of this sort for staff. ‘We’ve devised a way for businesses to reap the rewards that you get from one of our organisational trips, but at no cost to them. We call it the ‘adventure travel club’: we design a trip your staff will really enjoy, then it is offered by the business to the staff.
You might get 20 people wanting to travel together from an organisation of 2,000, but that is all we need. As a regular offering it’s an exciting addition to the other benefits of working with the company, and is very marketable for the employer.’
While Tribal Tracks offers lots of challenge and adventure travel, not all of their trips are quite so high-octane, Gaynor stresses. ‘We do have challenge trips, like the Sahara trek, or the Borneo "summit to sea" where you summit Mount Kinabalu, then trek and cycle to the South China Sea. But we also offer trips that have a different focus, such as gorilla tracking in Uganda or visiting hill tribes in northern Vietnam.
‘Some trips also have a cultural focus – to Nepal, for instance – which involve a little trekking, if you want to, and gaining an understanding of Nepalese culture. My parents have been to Rajasthan in India on one of these trips, and we've visited Java as a family to discover the amazing temple at Borobodur and the mysterious Dieng plateau.’
But commitment to responsible travel is at the heart of Tribal Tracks. ‘Core to our business is the belief that holidays can and should be enjoyable to the traveller. But at the same time they should be conducted in a socially, environmentally and economically responsible manner that brings benefit to local communities’.
Tribal Tracks use local guides and local in country teams, to ensure that they benefit economically, and also offer the option to get involved in a local community project (after consultation with that community). ‘For example, we took a group to the Atlas mountains in Morocco, where the team worked with the local Berber villagers, painting walls in a local school. It may not sound like much, but when you’re actually on the ground, you see how much people learn from each other, even if there is a language barrier.’
Social responsibility is important, particularly for corporate clients, who can align a trip to an organisational or corporate social responsibility goal. ‘An aviation company recently approached us about repairing potholes in a runway in Uganda,’ Gaynor says.
Tribal Tracks never sends people to places that their own staff haven’t been to. ‘When you’ve been somewhere, you get a real passion for it. I went to Oman in October and it was the most fantastic country – truly, truly fabulous. Oman has a lot of five-star hotels on the coast near Muscat, which are well known, but there’s so much more.
‘When you get into the amazing Empty Quarter where Thesiger trekked in the 1940s or the Wadi Ghul, which rivals the Grand Canyon, and find that there’s nobody there, you realise that there is still so much to explore. It’s just fabulous, and that is what makes my job very worthwhile.’