Why Detour Was Created

Detour was founded to help travelers easily plan and purchase great trips operated by high quality, sustainable, local tour operators in Latin America.

The concept for Detour grew out of many years of working in the international travel industry, and the realization that there was a gap in the travel industry: travelers seeking trips from top-quality local tour operators and high-quality local tour operators seeking customers had a hard time connecting with each other.

The travel world is saturated with companies and trips, and it is difficult for travelers to cut through the clutter to find a great trip. Likewise, it is difficult for local operators to stand out to travelers. Detour helps travelers cut through the noise of so many trip offerings to choose the trip that is best for them from a top-quality local operator, while making sure the local destination and its people benefit from the trip.

Who Founded Detour?

Detour Was Founded By A Long-Time International Guide and Operations Manager

Rapid Number 5 on the Zambezi River, from the top of the Batoka Gorge, 1991. Photo by Greg Findley

American Greg Findley founded Detour in 2005 after 20+ years as a guide and operations manager in the US west and in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia, Africa, the Philippines, and Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Costa Rica in Latin America.

Following a 1981 National Outdoor Leadership School semester course, Greg worked as a guide in the American west for many years leading rafting, trekking, backcountry skiing and climbing trips. From there he moved to Livingstone, Zambia in 1991 to guide and become the operations manager on the Zambezi River, and then he spent the rest of the 1990’s in South America leading American clients (and managing trip operations) on whitewater rafting trips on the Bio Bio and Futaleufu Rivers and trekking trips in Patagonia for California-based Mountain Travel – Sobek (MTS).

As a guide and operations manager he learned first-hand how to craft great travel experiences for travelers, and he came to understand fully what makes one trip great while another is somehow lacking. He believed firmly that being in a foreign country was never an excuse for bad trip operations, and he worked hard to make sure his programs met international levels of service.

Detour's Origin

Detour Began By Connecting Travelers With High-Quality Local Tour Operators

While Greg was guiding internationally, many of his passengers asked him if there were any good local companies offering similarly high-quality trips, but with more local knowledge, and lower prices, than those of MTS and other foreign outfitters.

As it turned out, while guiding Greg had met and become friends with many fantastic local guides and tour operators throughout South America. Over time he came to realize that they ran great trips, equal to those of MTS and other international operators, and with the added bonus of knowing their home country, it’s flora and fauna, culture, history, and hidden destinations much better than any foreigner could. Naturally their prices were lower, too, as their overhead was much less than companies based in the US and elsewhere. Many of these companies were founded by guides who had operated trips for international tour operators, and they understood how to operate great trips, but not how to market to US and European travelers. They were asking Greg to help them connect with travelers in the US and Europe.

Greg began connecting his traveling friends with his tour operator friends, and the idea behind Detour began. Greg found that by understanding the style of trips offered by local tour operators he could direct people to the tour operator that would operate the trip that fit them best, and both travelers and tour operators were happy.

Our Founding Belief: Tourism Must Benefit Local Destination

A Detour Founding Belief Is That Money Spent On A Trip Must Stay in Local Destination 

Besides the difficulty in finding great local tour operators, there was another aspect of the traditional travel industry that bothered Greg: foreign tour operators took home most of the money travelers spent on a trip, leaving very little behind to improve the lives of local people. As we travel the world, we see that natural environments, and local cultures, are threatened everywhere.

Greg had seen with his own eyes that when local people don’t benefit economically from a resource, they have no incentive to value it. Conversely, when people make money and get jobs from tourism to their local area, they have a serious incentive to protect it, and will actively do so.

Greg came to realize that the local movement in the US which encouraged people to support their local community’s economy by buying locally produced goods from local retailers, applied to the tourism market as well. Here, rather than buying from your local community, he realized that you needed to buy from local people in the destination you are traveling too. That way your tourist dollars could stay in the local destination to provide jobs, improve infrastructure, and allow people to preserve their resources.

In the 19990’s in Chile, Greg and his fellow guides with MTS ran top-quality, best in the world trips down remote, Class V river canyons. The trips were great adventures, but they lacked cultural interchange, and more importantly, they left very little behind in the destinations they visited. This was the norm at the time, and not unique to MTS; either you had all international guides, or you used local guides if they had the level of experience required.

Due to the lack of quality local Class V river guides in the early days of rafting on the Bio Bio River, the guides and crew were all North American, and very few local people where employed in the operation of the trips. In addition, Greg and the Sobek team would bring down all of the rafting and camping equipment used on the trips, and they also brought down much of the dried food so as to make the trip as comfortable, and like America, as they could for their passengers. They brought coffee, pancake mix, syrup, and many other items. Again, this was normal of most companies at the time, as the trips were remote and making people feel comfortable helped them feel they were in good hands.

In essence, MTS, like most foreign tour operators did, used Chile and the Bio Bio to make money, but, without meaning to they gave back very little to Chile or the people along the Bio Bio. They didn’t employ local people because there were few trained local guides at the time, didn’t buy many local goods, and didn’t provide any economic incentive to protect the natural resources.

Not surprisingly, when a series of dams were proposed on the Bio Bio, the local opposition was not strong enough to stop them, and MTS, far away in the US, did little to help fight the dam or to help the Mapuche Indians living on the rivers banks who would be displaced when the dams were built. Instead, they turned their attention to attracting more customers for the river (hoping that not only would they make more money, but that they could show that the undammed river had economic value) by telling them they needed to travel now or they would miss this opportunity to experience this great river.

As Detour came to be, one of the founding principles was that the vast majority of the money spent on a trip had to stay in the local destination. We saw that without locals being invested economically and emotionally in protecting natural resources, everything was going to be developed and natural places would be destroyed. At the same time, if tourism provided very little money for local people, they would be like monkeys in a zoo – looked at by tourists, but not part of the travel experience. And their lives would not benefit at all from the tourism.

Detour will only sell trips operated by companies based in the destination country where people are traveling. In this way, the money spent on the trip (80% on average) would end up in the travel destination, rather than going to California or some other location, where it would spread through the community to provide jobs, purchase goods, pay taxes, and improve infrastructure.

Detour founder Greg Findley at the Huaorani Ecolodge, an award winning Community Owned Tourism lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Our Core Values: Honesty, Transparency, Capacity Building

Detour Believes In Honesty, Transparency, and Capacity Building of Local Companies

By the late 1990’s, and into the 2000’s, another trend had come along in the international adventure tourism world, as MTS and most other international tour operators were switching to a model where local operators and guides ran their trips for them, rather than operating their own trips. This model kept the costs down for these foreign operators, and in many destinations it was becoming illegal for foreigners to guide trips. This meant the end of a good career as an international guide for Greg and his friends, but it was also a positive change for international tourism as it meant more money would stay in the pockets of local people, and more local people would have an economic incentive to protect their natural resources (although a large percentage, sometimes as much as 85%, of the trip cost still leaves the country to go into the home office of the tour operator).

These foreign tour operators hid this from their customers, of course, as the tour operators had spent a great deal of time and money to build their brand based on their own style of trips, and it wouldn’t justify the high cost of their trips if the travelers knew the trip was actually operated by a local company, not the company they had booked with. The foreign tour operators asked the local companies operating their trips to pretend to be them by wearing their t-shirts and putting their company logos on their vehicles.

Very few international tour operators operate their own trips in Latin America, and the vast majority use local operators to operate their trips for them. Many of these local companies operating trips for foreign operators were the ones Greg knew and was promoting to his friends, and today Detour sells their trips directly under their own names.

A few large international operators have forced local companies to only operate their trips, and then have used their clout, by providing all of the business for this company, to force the local company to lower and lower their prices, often past a point that is healthy for the local company. Horror stories abound about local companies not being able to pay their staffs, or having to skimp on wages for their employees. Some foreign tour operators have gone so far as to force a local company to only work with them, then once they figured out the operations have cut out the local company altogether, forcing them to go out of business.

Detour doesn’t operate any of the trips we well, and we don’t ask our tour operators to pretend to be us. We want them to be themselves because we believe in honesty and transparency, and because we want to be able to offer trips from different tour operators who each have their own style, without forcing them to conform to our brand’s style. This way we can offer similar, yet very different, trips in the same destination from different tour operators.

We also believe that if a local company has their own brand that stands for something, if Detour or any other tour operator were to go away and stop working with them, they would still be able to go forth on their own. Our goal is to create tourism where everybody wins: Detour, travelers, the local tour operators, and local people and environments.

We Offer Expert Advice To Help You Choose

Detour Provides Expert Knowledge To Help People Get The Trip That's Right For Them

When Greg was a guide he found that sometimes travelers would not be completely happy on a trip, even when everything was going perfectly on the trip, because it turned out they had booked the wrong trip. The style, the activities, the lodging were not what they wanted. Greg realized then that choosing a trip can be overwhelming, and most people don’t have the time or knowledge to really choose the perfect trip.

Many take the shortcut of booking with a big-name international tour operator, because, much like walking into any McDonalds anywhere where you know exactly what you will get when you order a Big Mac, you will get a trip of their brand’s style and quality. Unfortunately, you will also pay for their branding efforts the overhead of their US based office. For many travelers, this is fine, but others want more choice and make sure that the majority of what they spend goes into the local economy. That is where Detour comes in.

We sell trips in destinations that we know – where we’ve traveled, lived, studied, etc – as that is the way we can tell if an itinerary makes sense or not, and understand what makes one trip great and another just so-so.

Recently, Detour decided that we want to begin selling trips in Mexico. So, even though various staff members have traveled in Mexico numerous times, we didn’t feel we knew it well enough to really offer expert advice to travelers. So, fall of 2015, 3 staff members moved to Mexico to work remotely for several months while learning more about Mexico, its history, its culture, and where to travel and why. How many companies set up remote offices just to learn a new destination? Honestly we don’t know this answer, but we guess it is not many. What we do know is that we are committed to being experts in the destinations where we sell trips, and we will go to extraordinary means to do that for you.

Detour's Katie Colligan and Allie Savage exploring Mexico on a day off.