While on holiday with my adult son in May 2017 in South Asia, a subtext for me was to notice the culture, style, values and priorities of the different companies who provided us with ‘adventure’ treks. Two provided a stark contrast. Here I identify what practices made them so different and reflect on the underlying principles. 

Practices included: 

• The terrain and distances described on the website and the following email correspondence

• Information in advance on what kit would be needed each day and night

• Discussion with the trekkers updating the schedule at regular intervals on the trek

• Anticipation by the company of the trekkers’ specific needs 

• Efficient organisation so time was used effectively. 

Examples

Company A Company B
The website emphasised time in the jungle. In practice this took a small percentage of the trek, which was mainly through fields and villages on paths and wide tracks – hiking rather than trekking.  The description of the route as steep downhill in jungle, then flat river valley with 30 river crossings and later uphill through jungle was accurate. The distances and the detailed schedule were kept to. 

The website and email instructions did not explain what we needed to carry throughout and what we could collect from the driver on day two.
The briefing presentation gave clear essential information on practical points such as what to carry ourselves and what to give to the porters to carry for the whole trek. Advice was given when asked for. 

On day 1, the guide said there would not be enough daylight for the full boat trip and cave visit as promised so we agreed to miss that. In practice, we arrived at the overnight homestay at least four hours before dark. There would have been time for the full boat trip and the cave visit.
The schedule was kept to and was action packed with time for an unexpected swim (fully clothed and booted), breaks for snacks and delicious food for lunch and dinner. Day 1 included both the trek and then two hours in a river cave. Deadlines for moving to the next activity were given so we could gear ourselves to be ready on time.
Day two was to be a 20k trek. It was far short of that and we waited for the local guide in one village on the way for 30 minutes. No reason was given. Lunch took 90 minutes as 40 of them were for him to sleep. This lost us time that should have been in the jungle.  Meeting needs that would affect the trip experience was a priority for this company shown by the thought given to it. For example, handwash before meals, excellent provision of vegetarian food when requested, a stand-up changing tent at the campsite and an odour free composting toilet. 
The puppy at the accommodation provided by the company ran off with and then chewed a flip flop sandal needed in two days. The shoes were outside a required ‘shoes off’ area.   

 What made a difference

The guide and assistant guide in Company B conveyed strongly the company value of looking after the environment, for example collecting for recycling a bag full of empty cans up the final stretch of the jungle path. 

We heard about many training courses the guides were given by the company, for example, on safety in different settings and on use of equipment. 

Safety was paramount and the guides anticipated the value of a supportive hand during a river crossing or extra light in a dark, awkward part of a cave. 

Equipment was provided for purifying water, keeping mosquitos out of tents and lights for evening in the camp.

Relevance to my work

The practices of these companies were of interest to me in the context of my work with charity trustees and their governance role.  I observed the organisations in the context of The Charity Code of Governance published by a consortium in July 2017. The key positives that I appreciated in Company B were examples in that organisation of both strategic leadership, principle 2 Leadership and “recognising that the culture and behaviours of the charity and its board are as important as its governance structures and processes”, principle 3, Integrity. I firmly believe there is much in the charity sector that is relevant to commercial organisations and this code is one example.