By Tristan Harley, CEO of Emu Trekkers.
It is amazing to see how far Emu Trekkers has come since launching its first walks in September 2017. As Australia’s first not-for-profit outdoor tour operator run entirely by volunteer guides, we have made a great start in the tourism market and are already beginning to make a difference to kids in need.
Emu Trekkers is based on a simple idea that it is possible to offer unique tourism experiences in the natural environment that authentically connect visitors to the local community, raise awareness about important social issues, and in a small way help those communities by providing funding and assistance.
Our overarching mission is summed up in our four-word motto - ‘Hike Australia. Help Kids’. But in everything we do, we try to go further, to inspire others to make a difference, and to think about how they can positively support the communities where they are based.
In our first year, we have introduced 615 visitors from 35 countries to the beauty of the Australian outdoors and have raised more than $35,000. We have received over 275 five-star reviews on AirBnB, Trip Advisor, Viator, Google and Facebook, and maintain five-star rankings on each of these platforms. We have run 86 hikes with an average of seven persons per hike, and have collectively hiked more than 8,000 kilometres.
In terms of social impact, we have welcomed two groups of kids and youth of refugee background and taken them out on their first ever walk in the Australian bush, in partnership with STARTTS. This was truly an amazing experience. I’m not sure if the kids or the guides were grinning more. We have also donated $20,000 for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. These funds will be used for ILF’s Book Supply Program, with $20,000 providing more than 2000 new culturally-relevant books for remote communities that need them. This donation was provided in two parts. $5000 was donated at an Emu Trekkers launch event in March 2018 attended by over 170 people. An additional $15,000 was donated on 5 September 2018 at an event at the Sydney Opera House for Indigenous Literacy Day.
With the generous support of Decathlon, as well as the NSW Government through its Environmental Trust, we have also recently launched a two-day hike and camp in the Blue Mountains. This experience is designed for those with little experience of multi-day hiking in the outdoors. Our volunteer guides lead participants on a hike down to the Acacia Flat campground in the Blue Mountains for a peaceful night in one the most secluded areas in the region. Visitors learn essential camping skills and minimal impact bushwalking practices, including how to set up a tent, how to cook, clean, keep warm and of course, have a great night under the stars.
We have also newly launched a two-day hike along the Sydney Coast Track in the Royal National Park to raise funds for UNICEF Australia. This hike is offered as a pack-free option, for those who want to experience multi-day hiking without the pressure of carrying all the equipment. This is a great way to experience this iconic Sydney bushwalk.
From an organisational perspective, we have also become a licensed Ecopass tour operator in the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, and registered as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit commission. We have featured as the first Social Impact experience in Australia on the AirBnB experiences platform, and partnered with the University of NSW Business School to offer industry experience to students looking to further their skills in business and marketing.
All of this would not have been possible without the support of our dedicated volunteers. They have have been integral to literally everything that we have achieved to date. With more than 40 volunteers, this is truly a unique grass-roots organisation that achieves a lot with little.
It is the diversity of our volunteers that makes Emu Trekkers a success. We have guides who come from all walks of life. They include doctors, engineers, academics, lawyers, marketers and scientists, while others are students and retired professionals. 60% of our volunteers are female. Our youngest guide is 19, while our oldest guide turned 70 last year. Each one has a unique story to share with participants about this beautiful place we call home.
As we continue to grow in our second year of operation, we look forward to seeing you out on the trails. Thank you for all your support so far.