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30 years of Discover Adventure: An Interview with Jonathan Bryan

Posted by Eva Bryan on 26-Jan-2024 12:09:22

30’s a big number, and one that we think is worth shouting about. So, in celebration of our 30th birthday this year, we thought we’d sit down with Jonathan, Discover Adventure’s founder, and discuss the highs and lows (and everything in between!) of the last three decades.

Briefing by JB

Jonathan leading a briefing on top of an iconic DA Landy in 2008/9

We start at the beginning, with Jonathan recounting the company’s humble beginnings in 1994. “Our very first trip was a week-long mountain biking adventure in Southern Turkey with 8 people (3 being my very good old friends that I managed to rope into coming!),” he shared. “We were whizzing around, exploring ancient sights and doing some really brilliant mountain biking.”

The initial focus was on mountain biking holidays, before branching into fundraising challenges after a pivotal meeting with Macmillian Cancer Support’s event manager at a travel show in 1997. “After the travel show I went to Macmillan’s very smart office, which was a bit of a contrast to ours at the time -  Ours was in the top bedroom of our house, with baby stuff scattered everywhere. They were looking to do a fundraising challenge, so we proposed a mountain biking trip over Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains and also suggested a trek.” This marked the start of the charity-focused adventures.



Macmillan Cancer Relief Trek - Iriki Salt Flats - 1999/2000

For five years, Discover Adventure was a one-person operation before employing Hannah in 1999, followed by Darren, and gradually expanding as DA gained traction with other fundraising trips. The demand surged as other charities observed the success and effectiveness of these adventures in generating funds and engaging new supporters. Between 1997 and 2001, the offerings diversified, adding trips to destinations like Iceland and Tanzania.

Over the next 8 years, DA expanded rapidly, “In 2001, we ran 30 trips taking over 1500 participants around the world on solely charity fundraising challenges. By 2013, we were orchestrating 167 trips annually, taking roughly 7500 people on charity and open trips, spanning iconic locations such as Mount Kilimanjaro, The Great Wall of China and the Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu.” This necessitated a move from the initial office in the upstairs bedroom to a larger space, welcoming more employees by the early 2000s. DA moved to Throope Down House in 2003 and expanded further, eventually building a modern sustainable office in 2018 with 24 employees.



DA kit bag on Kili for the first time in 2005 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic presented the most formidable challenge to date. “The biggest hurdle was definitely COVID. We lost two-thirds of our office staff, and for about 2 ½ years, it felt like we were running a business on no petrol.” Jonathan describes. Despite the setback, DA managed to sustain operations by relying on existing funds, government grants and loans. “In that time, we weren’t able to run any trips, apart from very limited activity such as a 1-day hike for Alzheimer’s who were brilliant and really determined to operate the trip in the circumstances. Although we could run the trip safely, people were understandably nervous, so we had around a 30% drop-out, but those that did come really enjoyed it!”

Post-pandemic, Discover Adventure saw a bounce back in 2022, with people determined to travel. “We’ve come out and started really well. We’ve got a brilliant team in the office and team of leaders who have all come back energised and running great quality trips all over the world. The passion certainly hasn’t gone away!” Jonathan remarks optimistically.

Turning to the highlights of the last 30 years, Jonathan recounts his fondest memories like securing the initial collaboration with Macmillian, “I remember feeling really daunted that a major UK charity trusted me to take a huge group of people across Morocco. But we delivered the trip, and they were really happy. That gave me real confidence, and solidified our unofficial motto of “feel the fear and do it anyway’!”



Help for Heroes Big Battlefield Bike Ride 2011 - Trocadéro, Paris

The partnership with Help for Heros, beginning in 2008, has also been a huge part of the Discover Adventure story. “The first Help for Hero’s trip was a hugely complex challenge,” Jonathan reminisced. “But Bryn was determined to gather 250 cyclists for a monumental ride across historical First and Second World War sites. I remember saying to him initially that he might struggle to get that number of cyclists, seeing as the biggest charities in the country at the time struggled to get 50. But he did just that, raising £500,000 in one fell swoop! We’ve run trips with them ever since, and they’ve just been fantastic to work with, as well as being an amazing charity, raising millions for a great cause.”

Reflecting on favourite trips, Jonathan mentions, “It tends to be the trip I’ve just come back from, because they’re all really amazing! A silver lining from COVID is that for the first time in 10 years or so, I’m leading groups again, and seeing the people that we work with overseas reminds me why I started. The guides, porters, hotel staff…they’re all beautiful people, and they want our groups to have a fantastic experience. They’re also passionate about what they do and really care about the preservation of what is most special about their country. We’ve got to support them in doing just that.”



Jonathan (far right, in beanie hat) & Jane (next to Jonathan at the back) with some of our local crew in Peru, April 2023 - Leading the Inca Trail

In terms of future aspirations, Jonathan envisions sustaining DA’s legacy of providing life-changing experiences while supporting charitable causes. He emphasises the importance of sustainability, acknowledging the travel industry’s environmental impact and need to support local communities in preserving natural treasures. “The sustainability issue is huge. What we do at DA when we get to our destinations is fantastic. We employ local people, often the most economically vulnerable, and keep money within the country. The elephant in the room is flying. It’s a huge issue and for me one that we’ve got to look at solving.”

And in another 30 years? “I’ll be climbing Kilimanjaro at 90. That’s a really cool idea eh!”

DSC_0408Jonathan climbing Kilimanjaro for the first time in January 2007

🥳 Happy Birthday, Discover Adventure!

Big Birthday Discount 🎈🎁

To express our gratitude for your unwavering support, we're offering our biggest discount ever – £30 off registration fees for any trip in 2024. Just use the code BIRTHDAY30 on booking and get ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime! This code is valid for 30 days only and is due to expire on 23/02/2024. 

Adventure Giveaway 🎁🌍

We have an extra special treat for our birthday! You could win a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Will it be a trek across the Sahara Desert or an iconic London to Paris cycling adventure? The choice is yours! Head over to our entry form to get your name in the hat, and check out the birthday posts on Instagram and Facebook, too. Hurry, as the competition closes in just over a week – don't miss your chance to win!

Topics: Tales from the outdoors