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How a woman started a travel business during COVID

Tara Harrison had been thinking about starting her own travel business for four years. Then the pandemic hit.

Former travel editor Tara Harrison sat on the idea of starting her own travel business for four years before COVID pushed her to take the leap. In 2020, when travel and tourism businesses where shutdown, struggling to reorganise and pivot. Tara took that to mean one thing: “It made me realise that life is too short and too precious to play small, or not chase your dreams”.

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She poured her energy into Aweventurer, a travel business focused on delivering transformative travel experiences. The idea was conceived in 2016 while she working as a travel journalist. Tara was on a trip in Oman, going through high mountain passes on a 4WD with local Bedouins when she had this “rarefied, goosebump-inducing experience”. She thought: “how can I create that same magic for every traveller?”

A year later Tara registered Aweventurer as a domain name. However, it wasn’t until 2020 when she had the time to invest and build her business. “COVID was a circuit breaker where I hoped that this style of transformative travel would resonate – and it did,” she says. Travellers wanted connection and inspiration.

“I thought people would think I was crazy, but they didn’t. I think they knew I’d wanted to do this for years, and if I could test and learn in the age of COVID then the business would be set up for the future.”

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However, starting a new travel business in the first year of COVID was tough. “There were so many challenges – from accommodation, venues and suppliers to border closures and travel postponements,” she says. When border closures and lockdowns stopped most travel, she was busy planning trips for re-opening and writing content for her website. “It gave me the confidence to know that if the business can survive that it can survive anything.”

Tara Harrison visiting Oman in 2016

Tara got the idea for Aweventurer while on a work trip in Oman in 2016.

As a new business owner, Tara says the biggest challenge is knowing what you can and can’t take on, especially when it comes to operating in domestic travel, as many accommodation venues were booked up 12 months to 24 months in advance. Another challenge, she says, was working out what grants the business was eligible for (as a new business, Aweventurer wasn’t eligible for COVID assistance, but was able to receive assistance under the JobMaker scheme), setting up payroll and super and establishing accounting best practice.

The business mainly engages contractors on retainer to look after marketing, PR and product. “This is valuable as it’s a monthly tap the business can turn on and off as needed,” says Tara.

Now in its second year of operation, Aweventurer has hired its first employee and its unique trips are selling out within days, if not hours. A trip to Tasmania recently sold out in 24 hours and a previous Uluru trip sold out in two hours. “72% of our travellers are solo female travellers. We have a young audience, and it’s beautiful to see travellers in their 20s, 30s and 40s seek experiences where they come home new,” she says.

Tara is planning to launch international trips in 2022. “Trips to places that have an intrinsic awe aspect,” she says, which might include staying in an ancestral home in the foothills of Everest, or at a salt hotel on the high Bolivian altiplano, or even chasing pumas in Patagonia.

People’s desire to travel “hasn’t changed one iota”, Tara says. It’s had the opposite effect. “People will never take the freedom of travel for granted again”.

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