Global adventure booking platform and operator Heli started as way to make heli-skiing easier for an intrepid group of friends. Today, it connects millions of adrenaline junkies with gnarly experiences all over the world, with the aim of “making aspirational experiences accessible”. Globetrender speaks to co-founder Andy Culp for more.
What’s the story behind Heli?
We founded in Heli in 2017 as a way of making it easier for our friends to go heli-skiing. Today, we are poised to define the multi-billion dollar adventure travel industry by serving as its marketplace: we’ve sold around 1,500 trips since launch (that’s more than US$5.3 million in bookings) with about 50 per cent of those via repeat customers – typically working professionals, between 30t to 40 years old.
Heli partners with vetted operators, guides and lodges to offer trips that are fully planned with accommodations, F&B, activities, gear, and even give a packing list, making it a seamless experience for consumers.
The experiences are private, outdoors and in remote locations, which makes many travelers feel a bit safer at the moment. In fact, of all the 2021 trips booked, between 80-90 per cent are either private, semi-private, full lodge, or situations where the group knows each other and is booking as a group.
More than just a booking site, Heli offers a two-sided digital platform that services buyers and sellers of global adventure travel and experiences.
The marketplace business helps buyers discover and book the best experiences around the world spanning skiing and snowboarding, surfing, safaris, diving, cycling, mountain biking, kite surfing, fishing, yacht charters and trekking.
On the operations side of things, we provide best-in-class management and SaaS booking software on top of which travel operators around the world power their businesses.
These business units feed off of each other; a strong operator base strengthens marketplace supply and drives the most real-time inventory database in the category, while marketplace serves as an entry point and customer acquisition strategy for the operator SaaS platform.
I’m not sure there are many teams out there who can match our resilience and willingness to do whatever it takes to not only succeed in business, but to do so while in the pursuit of what we love: adventure. Read more about Andy’s story here.
Is Heli a platform for luxury travellers?
There is a large price spectrum with Heli. While our average purchase price is US$4,000 per customer, adventures on the platform start as low as a few hundred dollars and go up from there based on the experience.
What’s the most epic experience available on the site?
It’s currently sold out, but this eight-day Antarctica Superyacht Expedition Adventure featuring hiking, helicopter tours, sea kayaking, ice climbing and more is top of the list.
For the first time ever, guests will be able to purchase an individual cabin on a private superyacht in Antarctica. This approach introduces a level of luxury and flexibility that, until now, only a select few have experienced.Despite the comforts of the yacht, the expedition spirit is unmistakable. Three EYOS guides will encourage you to learn, see and do more. We offer our decades of expertise to craft the most memorable expedition you can imagine.
We also have international elite athletes hosting trips from time to time. These have included pro skier for Silvertip Heliskiing in British Columbia, Ian Macintosh, Jake Kelsick a pro kite surfer in Turks and Caicos, and numerous pro kite surfers in Brazil.
What sets Heli apart from its competitors?
Heli has two businesses. A discovery marketplace that helps customers find and transact (purchase) adventure travel without redirecting to another site and booking software called Heli OS, which gives operators/adventure hosts the ability to manage all of their bookings in one place.
Predominantly, the experiences available on Heli are multi-day package adventures that include everything from accommodation and lessons, to gear. The average order value (AOV) on Heli is US$5,000+, and we offer premium experiences that may not be available on other marketplaces.
On the site it states that there are ‘absolutely no mark-ups with Heli’. How does that work?
The customer will receive the same price on Heli as they will going directly to the operator. Heli receives commission from the operator rather than from the guest so we will never charge more than what you would pay going direct.
How has Covid impacted the business? Are any of the changes here to stay?
Covid forced us to hunker down and really tighten up our business in terms of expenses. Our ability to pivot quickly and focus on domestic, outdoor experiences allowed us to navigate the pandemic quite well and actually, year-over-year revenue was flat in 2020, which is something we’re proud of.Customers wanted small, private, outdoor experiences and going forward I think those themes will still be prevalent. There was certainly a surge in bucket list type trips, given pent-up savings and the knowledge that the privilege to travel can be removed at any time.
We are now seeing customers looking to head to adventure destinations for long-term/open-ended stays, so we are often helping these digital nomads secure accommodation as well as activity/adventure options. We’ve even launched our own Digital Nomad Series.
What does the future hold?
The future is about further cementing the moat around the adventure travel space. Our goal is to be the all-in-one solution for adventure operators – providing them with a discovery platform for their inventory as well as a booking engine to manage their existing and future bookings.
For customers, we will continue to take mind share of the headspace around the decision-making moment: “I want to go on a cool trip, where should I go? Let’s check out what is on Heli.”