Q&A: The eco-adventurer advocating regenerative tourism

Today we talk to Nic Cooper, the founder of Wild Adventures Melbourne (WAM), an eco-adventure tour operator that offers outdoor adventures such as stand up paddleboarding and bushwalking combined with indulgent and relaxing activities such as visits to wineries and hot springs. WAM takes pride in going beyond sustainability in its activities by offering “regenerative” tourism which stands to benefit the environment and the community. Despite the business starting in the middle of the pandemic in 2020, WAM has made the most out of the situation as it strives to make a big difference in the industry and the environment.

ISB: What inspired you to set up WAM?

NC: I grew up in the countryside of South East England and would spend endless hours heading on adventures into nature. In 1995, when I was aged 11, my parents turned our family home into a guesthouse so I was always destined to work in tourism and have spent my entire working life working in the industry. Years spent moving from country to country working in tourism or travelling as a tourist, I experienced first hand the good, the bad and the ugly of tourism. In 2015, I finally settled in one place here in Victoria with my wife. This allowed me to finally realise a lifelong ambition to start an outdoor adventure company that was also a force for good combining my passions of adventures, nature and a lifetime of experience in tourism.

ISB: How did you find the transition from being a tour guide working for others to running your own business?

NC: I have worked in tourism as not only a tour guide but in sales, marketing, promotions, events to name a few. Although my heart is in delivering an experience, all of these other skills have benefited me when it came to setting up and running WAM. I think you can learn something from every tourism business and every tour guide regardless of how good or bad they are, I always tried to take inspiration from the ones that did things really well, and ensure I did not make the same mistakes as the ones that didn’t do things right. Part of being a good tour guide is something that can’t be taught but years spent working for other businesses allowed me to refine how I could deliver the best possible experience and start running a company that delivered these in the best possible way.

ISB: The business was launched during a challenging period especially for the tourism industry; how has it able to get through these challenges?

NC: WAM has been many years in the making, so way before COVID hit, I was well on the way to setting up the company. Then 2020 came along, and we had to make the call of whether to put the whole thing on hold for a few years, or scale back and launch. I decided on the latter as this is my dream, and you never know what the future holds so if I can start the business even if it’s during a global pandemic, I needed to do so. I always try to find the positives out of situations and one thing COVID and lockdowns have allowed us to do is build the foundations of the business to become a regenerative tourism operator. We only operate the tours on the weekends, I have another full-time job and it’s just my wife and I running things so we are getting through the obvious challenges of this tumultuous period but also planning for when things build up again.

ISB: What is “regenerative tourism” and how do you practise it in your business?

NC: Regenerative tourism is about going above and beyond when supporting the environment and community to make things better, rather than just preventing things from getting worse (which is kind of the issue with sustainable tourism). So rather than not littering, for example, we carry portable bins on our outdoor activities in nature and if we see trash, we clear it up. We operate at zero waste by eliminating the need for any of our guests to buy or bring any plastic with them by providing eco packs which include all reusable items the guest would need for the day. All sourced from small, local, eco-conscious businesses.

Our ethos is to have practices that are beneficial to the environment and community which also enhances our customers’ experience. The development of these is always evolving, and there are other initiatives we have behind the scenes to operate regeneratively such as a home office powered by solar, planting trees, and supporting local conservation and community causes.

ISB: How do you envision WAM growing in the next couple of years?

NC: Our aim is for WAM to become the go-to eco-adventure provider from Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula where we have an established reputation for providing epic experiences in nature whilst having a positive impact on the local environment and community. As a regenerative operator our goal is to inspire and drive positive change in the industry by leading by example.

ISB: What is the #1 piece of advice you would give to people who are looking to start on their own adventure as business owners?

NC: To not look at profit and growth only, but become a purpose before profit business which benefits the environment and community. There is a misconception that eco-practices cost a lot more, there are some amazing things you can do as a tourism business which make a big difference and still make the business profitable, in fact being an eco-conscious operator is extremely marketable.