You've heard it here before: Specialty vacations are the hottest thing in the travel industry. And they're also a key contributor to economic growth: The Travel Industry Association of America reports that employment directly generated by travel promises to grow more than 18 percent in major travel industry sectors by 2005, directly generating more than a million new jobs.
Jennie Bettles found more than a job in the specialty travel industry--she found a new business. "Our company was established to support a community of explorers," says Bettles, owner of SameSky Inc., an Internet-based travel company she started in Oakland, California, in 1996. SameSky's Web site acts as a one-stop resource for travelers looking for out-of-the-ordinary vacations. In addition to travel listings, SameSky provides an online marketplace for travel gear, travel books and international language tapes, as well as a discussion forum for chatting about travel and world cultures.
"We wanted to serve both ends of the marketplace," says Bettles. "It's difficult for consumers to learn about all the travel options available, so we wanted to provide a central resource to help them. Our service is also beneficial to tour operators because we offer them a channel to the marketplace."
"Our company is formatted as a concierge model of travel booking," explains Bettles, who consults individually with consumers to find the specific tours they're looking for. "Adventure means different things to different people. Sometimes clients are in the mood for a trip that's athletically challenging, and sometimes they want something more educational."
Some of the unique trips posted on SameSky's Web site include a workshop on the Amazon River in Peru that allows travelers to work closely with shamans to learn about ethnobotany, and a trip to the Sea of Cortez, which retraces a portion of the journey John Steinbeck recorded in his novel, The Log from the Sea of Cortez.
Bettles has compiled a database of more than 200 different adventure tours (with close to 400 more on the way), and receives a commission on each booking she makes. While trip prices cover a broad range, depending on length of stay and distance covered, the average trip price is about $2,500.