Colorado travel business led by women leads all-female groups on adventures

After working toward running her own outdoor-adventure business, Kelly Kimple bought a company with a storied history only to begin an adventure of a lifetime: keeping a travel business going during a pandemic.

The Fort Collins woman trained and worked for years as a conservation biologist and eventually took a position with Adventures in Good Company, a travel-adventure business that leads trips for women across the country and around the world.

“I was getting ready for something different. I’d been doing research all the time, feeling like it wasn’t the right path for me,” Kemple said.

When Kemple took a job with Adventures in Good Company, the founder, Marian Marbury, said she planned to sell the business. After a while, the two reached an agreement and the sale to Kimple closed Jan. 2, 2020.

“Then two months later it was the global pandemic and everything shut down. My whole first year it was really hard. I didn’t know if we would make it,” Kimple said.

The company had to make refunds for canceled trips. Once people resumed traveling, Kimple was busy answering the phones and booking trips. She received a couple rounds of loans through the Paycheck Protection Program and other COVID-related aid to help keep employees on board and the cash flowing.

“Now here I am, my fourth year in and last year we had our best year ever,” Kimple said. “This year it looks like we’ll exceed that.”

Adventures in Good Company leads about 100 trips a year for all-female groups, averaging 10 to 12 people. Limiting the number of per-group participants is among the company’s efforts to minimize the impacts on the places the travelers visit.

Kimple credits Marbury, who started the business in 1999, with developing the kind of program that has built strong customer loyalty. She said Adventures’ repeat client rate over the last five years has been approximately 79%.

“Marian did a great job of building the business. It’s one thing to come into this and just try it and have passion, but she was really so thoughtful about the experience and outcomes for people,” Kimple said.

Marbury was an epidemiologist in Minnesota when she signed up for travel and an outdoor leadership program with Woodswomen, a nonprofit outdoor-travel venture led by women for women. Kimple said Marbury became a guide and bought the organization’s assets when it closed, turning it into a for-profit enterprise.

“The foundation of what we do is a carryover from Woodswomen,” Kimple said.

Adventures in Good Company carries on the practice of women leading trips for women. The company has 10 employees and more than 40 guides who are independent contractors.

“A lot of times the women who sign up to travel with us are coming alone and they are kind of at this place in their lives where they have the time and the resources,” Kimple said. “They want to do these things but they maybe don’t have people to do it with them or they don’t want to plan all the logistics themselves.”

“Pretty much fearless”

Frances Finegan of Atlanta is one of the many repeat customers. She was 59 when she took her first trip in 2016 to several national parks in Utah. She has been on nine more and just signed up to go to the Galapagos Islands.

“You can wait forever for a friend, for the stars to align and schedules to work out and for everyone to agree on where you’re going to go or you can just say, ‘I’m using my credit card and I’m just going,’” Finegan said.

Finegan enjoys traveling with other women. She said the dynamics are different from when it’s mostly couples.

“Another appeal to me is to see good role models,” she added.

An 82-year-old woman was part of Finegan’s group on a trip to Wyoming where people went horseback riding. An 88-year-old woman went kayaking and canoeing on another excursion.

“It was just great fun to be around someone in her eighth decade of life and she was pretty much fearless and doing what she enjoyed,” Finegan said.

While many Adventures clients go on trips without knowing anybody else, people end up making friends who become traveling companions. Someone Finegan met on a previous trip has signed up to see the Galapagos Islands, too.

Jill Weinstein’s first trip with Adventures in 2012. The Denver woman went to the Great Smoky Mountains. Trip No. 13 will be camping at the Sea of Cortez in March 2024. She, too, has made friends with fellow explorers. She and four other women have formed a strong bond.

“We hadn’t all been together until this past April when we rented an Airbnb on the Oregon Coast for a week” for a birthday celebration, Weinstein said.

Someone recommended that Weinstein look into Adventures in Good Company. At the time, she was at a kind of crossroads. She had planned to travel with her husband once their kids were older, but they divorced after 30 years of marriage. She still wanted to go exploring.

“The first trip I went on was very scary. I tend to be more introverted. I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Weinstein said.

It didn’t take her long to feel comfortable. She has been to Iceland, Provence, Nova Scotia and Portugal.

“The guides do a lot to make sure everyone feels welcome,” Weinstein said. “They take care of everything. They know the best time to go somewhere, the best way to go there. They have local guides who typically are very connected.

“They also incorporate the culture of where you are. You don’t just see scenery but you learn about the area,” Weinstein said.

Adventures’ sustainability program emphasizes visiting some of the less-visited spots to avoid overwhelming more well-traveled sites. The company partners with local tourism groups to ensure the local community benefits and to give an authentic view of the region, according to its website.

Guides preach and practice the “leave-no-trace” approach when in the outdoors, according to the company.

Kimple, the CEO, said Adventures rates its trips according to activity level, with 1 being the least strenuous and 5 being more physically demanding.

“There’s some level of mobility that’s part of every trip, being able to get in and out of a boat and walking a certain distance,” Kimple said.

But the range of activity runs from more leisurely treks to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or hiking to the base camp on Mount Everest. Kimple said Adventures is known for its “slackpacking,” which can involve hiking sections of the Appalachian Trail during the day and getting picked up for a hot meal, shower and bed at night.

When Finegan spent time in the Smoky Mountains to see the flowers, she said people stayed out for several hours. “But it wasn’t really intense hiking. We would be out for six hours meandering.”

Weinstein is an avid hiker, but doesn’t worry about being the fastest on the trail.

“You hike to your ability. I tend to be a very slow hiker. I’m always in the back of the group, but there’s a guide back there making sure everything’s OK.”

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