Sunday, January 20, 2019

How to Organize Treks the Lagataw Way

The first event I organized where I was joined by strangers (2011).

In my previous post, I presented the motivation, reasons and deterrents for organizing hikes. In this post, I will share to you how to be successful in this business.

I am not the best organizer in terms of capital and income. But I can say I am a successful one. To give you an idea of how successful my events are, the slots of each of my event get sold out within 12 hours after I give the cue to make a reservation deposit. That's not 13 'going' guests. That's 13 determined trekkers who have deposited a non-refundable reservation fee for a not-so-affordable event.

How did I come to achieve this level of success? Here's my formula.



BRANDING

Be Iba

It is always wise to be unique. Even in the food industry where the commodity is a necessity; where carinderias don't have to care about being different from the rest, they still try to put some twist in their adobo and take pride in their secret ingredient. On the other hand, in the tourism industry, your service is technically luxury (as opposed to necessity). People have the option to say 'sa susunod na lang.' You really gotta be as unique as possible to be preferred.


In Lagataw treks, we want our participants to learn about the locality we immerse ourselves in
Lagataw treks are different from many organized treks in a lot of ways. We have the screening of guests to ensure harmony and safety in the climbing party. We normally don't have detailed itineraries, thereby training the guests how to develop confidence, self-reliance and a sense of oneness with nature. We seldom bring tents and boost the local economy through 'homestays', and in turn offer a priceless immersion experience to the guests. We have non-mainstream destinations, some of which offer no qualified local guides. We also incorporate a lot of more-than-just-hiking activities. To name a few, we have the Talakayan that promotes awareness in a lot of fields of expertise while getting to now each speaker better; the meal teams that develop camaraderie; some sort of in-the-field BMC 2 where guests are trained how to 'smell' the trail and to distinguish class A water source from class B and class C. There was also even a time when we disallowed make-up and power banks in order to optimize the epiphany experience of the participants.

These things give the participants not just bragging rights but some room for growth as a user of the great outdoors.


Be Worthwhile

It is not enough to just 'be iba'. Because you can be iba by promoting fornication or drugs in your events. More than being iba, you should uphold quality of experience. Like in blogging, don't just focus on SEO. Pay attention to content. It is the content of your event that makes it worth the event fee. The quality of the experience turns your service into a beneficial 'luxury'. Aside from the elements that make Lagataw treks unique, one shortcut to ensure quality is to ditch the quantity. We choose to maximize the price and minimize the pax: not the other way around. Don't squeeze twenty participants into a Delica. Make sure you are able to interact with each of your participant. Nobody should feel alone. We prefer homogeneity but we also welcome diversity. During the first Kapangan-Kibungan-Bakun trek, I was joined by very strong athletes (7 of them), that many would consider 'harkor'. In the second successful KKB, we limited the climb size to just 6pax (including me) to make sure that we are able to meet the 2-day-1-night itinerary. In the third KKB, it was a very diverse group of individuals who ended up becoming very good friends whose group chat is still active even after 2 years.    
At the jumpoff of the unguided pioneering Kapangan-Kibungan-Bakun trek

Don't be Microsoft: Be Apple

It also helped a lot when lagataw treks got to be known as a 'paunahan ng reservation deposit.' Aspirants would literally queue up online waiting for the go signal to deposit their reservation. The screening and referral-based admission also added to the elusiveness of lagataw treks. And our prices don't dive down with the bagsak-presyo marketing strategy. This projection of the image that we don't need guests and that the guests need and want us filtered out the entitled whiners among the guests and the kuripots who count the value of every penny they spend on your service or product; who love to measure discomfort more than pleasure. Yung van walang headrest! 


Be the Good Guys

It is crucial how you position yourself in the market. Is yours the kwela event? the educational one? the hardcore? for the pa-cute type? Sometimes the brand, just like your market, surfaces naturally. There was a time when lagataw treks were considered 'only for the hardcore.' Many did curse the traumatic first lagataw invitational trek in 2015. 

In this generation, the 'good guys' sell in many markets. People will support you if you say NO to single-use plastic, or if you care about the pandas and the sea turtles. Try to incorporate this in your branding. Again, this agenda was not orchestrated. We just naturally felt the urgency to channel some funds and effort to the dreams of some promising athletes. Another facet of the lagataw brand is education and empowerment. This branding came even before the first Talakayan. We also wish to make our guests capable and knowledgeable. We empower. Our Don't Ask Don't Tell policy is sometimes misconstrued as one of greed and selfishness. On the contrary, however, we actually tell a select few our destinations and itineraries and encourage them to be organizers themselves. Why would we refuse the opportunity to spread our travel philosophy through these empowered organizers who'd do the same forward?
Even before Lagataw treks, we already supported the dreams of local young athletes.


TARGET MARKET

Like in any business, you really have to determine your target market. Filipinos are now travel fiends. They work their asses off and finally, on a long weekend, they clog NLEX and SLEX. This market of travelers is huge. Pick one group. Here are some of them.


The Millennials

In this industry, the largest type of market shared by maybe 80 percent of event organizers are the 'millennial' hikers (not necessarily pertaining to a certain age group but to a homogeneous group based on attitude towards hiking). They're the ones who would just key in the name of the destination, say Mt Pulag, on the search bar of Facebook. Then they'd scroll through a list of organizers and check their star ratings. It doesn't matter whether they know the organizer personally or not. This is a good market. They are the determined ones. They pick a date, set aside some amount, and round up some friends to go with them. Destination: either Mt Ulap or Mt Pulag.  Most of them are in hurry to tick that 'climb a mountain' or 'get inked by Apo Whang Od' item on their bucket list. So they're rarely the backout dancers. Most of them are the yuppies...the cute ones...the same market of H&M and Uniqlo. You can sustain a weekly business with this market. With them, you really don't need to worry about being iba and giving quality experience. It's a huge market.

The Mawnteynir

Another market is the 'mountaineers'. Back in the day, we'd call them the 'freelance mountaineers'. Unlike the millennials, the term 'BMC' rings a bell to the mountaineers. They usually belong to at least three climbing groups on Facebook. They know pinoymountaineer.com. They are familiar with the many mountains across the archipelago and they've classified them according to difficulty. Their bucket lists could be '9/9 mountains'; 'island highs'; or 'notorious knife-edges'. Because of these specific bucket lists (compared to 'climb a mountain' of the millennials), the freelance mountaineers have a lot of choices (not options). They consider a lot of things before joining a climb. 'It has to be Guiting-Guiting.' or 'Kanlaon na lang ang kulang ko'. So what happens when a mountaineer commits to 'join' a Mt Arayat event and suddenly Mt Kanlaon opens? They back out. Many freelance mountaineers click 'join' and 'interested' in at least three events happening on the same date. Some of them could be rich and some of them are kuripot. They compare the price of a Mt Halcon trek by organizer A to those of organizers B to Z. Their excuses could be to the tune of 'Ay sayang G2 pa naman, kaya lang gusto ko kasi traverse hindi balikan' or 'Ay, wala bang side trip sa El Nido?'. Many of them want to have the best of everything for the least price. We can't blame them. They're just practicing wise consumerism.


The High Society   

There's also the alta sociedad. They're the artistas and the models. They don't care if you priced your Mt Sembrano hike at PhP5,000 as long as you provide a private manong porter and there's taga-bugaw for the bugs and taga-latag ng tabla sa puddle para di maputikan ang shoes (peace tayo Don Gibo). Your chef should also pay attention to their dietary restrictions. Non-dairy please. No gluten ha. They're the best target for your Himalayan and other international climbs.


The Lagataw Trekkers


at one of our favorite destinations: Tacadang

In my case, I can't risk the lives of the millennials or replace my Mt Baloy destination with Mt Ulap. I also have no time for the indecision of the freelance mountaineers. And I prefer to teach and empower, not serve and be a slave. So I've chosen a certain target market. It's not like, the market has already been there. This market just naturally coalesced out of the standards set in lagataw treks. It's difficult for me to assign one qualifying term for this market other than lagataw trekkers cuz they're as unique as the trek itself. They're all experienced. They're responsible. They want to learn. They want to see their limits. And they want to just spend some time with like-minded individuals. Pretty generic terms. If you've joined lagataw treks, you might want to comment below what you think your common denominator is. Because all I know is that, you all don't want to carry tents. Your payong always comes handy. With the exception of Eina, you guys have started looking for buyers of your 50L packs and switched to day packs. You're all way over the 'pasikatan' phase. '9/9' doesn't mean much anymore: just 'banayad' or uphell.


THE POLITICS


planning a project with the mayor of Kapangan, Benguet
To some extent you really have to join 'the system'. If you can't beat them, join them, so they say. Make friends with people in authority. Stop engaging in fruitless discussions on Facebook. Results are obtained at the mayor's office not on Facebook. Discuss your intentions and projects with the tourism office, not the ranting tourist. I know my friend Marie (one of the 8 petitioners for the closure and rehabilitation of Mt Sto. Tomas) is gonna frown upon this but I am not proud of playing my 'blogger' card once just to climb a 'closed' mountain in Mindanao. It was a selective closure. Some were admitted depending on the purpose. 

Avoid making enemies. Don't mind the bashers. What you say publicly against a particular someone will backfire on you someday. If you have to, don't mention names. Attack the attitude not the person because that person is more than just that attitude. If you have to name names, chismisan na lang sa pm with a few confidants.


RESPONSIBILITY

Most successful businessmen are the ones who have first-hand experience and knowledge of their product or service. You can choose to be this and do a reconnaissance climb before your event. Or you can also be one of those organizers who still say 'Mt Kibungan'. Sadly, Some of us are just advertising or marketing graduates turned organizers. It's fine if your event is just a weekly Mt Ulap hike because repeating the event will make you familiar with the journey like the back your hand. The problem is some would just copy-paste an itinerary, crop out the watermark of an image and launch a powerful sales pitch for an event regardless of whether he/she has seen the place or even know how to pronounce the name of the destination. Both ways can lead to profits. It's really totally up to you. But adventure tourism is quite a tricky industry. It takes more than just marketing. If you think Facebook can build you an empire in just six months, make no mistake Facebook can also destroy that same empire in just six hours.


The big difference is, organizing treks is not my bread and butter. I have a good boss who will approve my request to be assigned in Baguio or Cebu or to grant me a sabbatical whenever I want. The income I get from organizing is not as much as what my day job gives me. So, I have the privilege to choose guests and to cancel events and still not get hurt economically. More importantly, I was a very active solo hiker before I became an organizer. I have learned to value my life more through the risks I took traveling solo and immersing myself in uncharted regions. I acknowledge every attendant risk in my treks. I space my events out because I consider the best season for every destination. As mentioned, quality is of utmost concern in Lagataw treks. I revisit the place before the event to make sure the event goes without a hitch. Some of my returning guests also know that I have recurrent nightmares a few days before the climb. I am usually reluctant to carry out major treks. And when some room for disaster or when politics threatens to ruin the event, it would be a great pleasure to cancel the event and give refunds. When you put the welfare of your guests on higher priority than profit, their trust and confidence in you grows and you get a loyal customer base. 
Recently, we were all ready and excited for a KKB that includes the A-team of lagataw treks. It was canceled  but the participants couldn't be stopped. They set out on an epic let's-play-it-by-ear journey in the Cordilleras. And I just waited for them in Baguio where we celebrated their success.  

This is just my own formula. There are a lot of bigger and more successful organizers. You can also consult with them. Just remember: for as long as you can sustain and meet your desired goals, you're successful.

3 comments:

  1. Ang sarap basahin, ang sarap balikan ng mga naging experience ko sa treks mo, Lagataw. They helped me figure out some things in my usually-crappy life. I've met awesome people & made good friends. For that, thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hmmm mag organize ka ulit tol?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Bai ubana ko sa imo next trek

    ReplyDelete

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