The Mission of Black Outdoor Adventurers with Founder Mina Okpi.
I noticed that a lot of people of color and black people weren’t outdoors and taking advantage of the healing that I thought nature was able to bring to people. And that really made me sad in a way. And so I wanted to change that and I wanted to bring that outdoors and the healing and that feeling and community to communities of color.Mina Opki, Black Outdoor Adventurers
Founder of Black Outdoor Adventurers, Mina Okpi is a tour operator on a mission. She sat down with Tourpreneur Host Shane Whaley and explained why she feels the outdoors industry is not marketing to people of color.
Mina decided to do something about it and founded the tour operator Black Outdoor Adventurers.
We learn more about the mission of Black Outdoor Adventurers, including how Mina got started and why she built her own website and booking platform.
I think that one of the big factors is a lot of black people do not grow up doing outdoor things. And so there’s a big intimidation factor because they’re trying things like hiking for the first time as adults.MIna Opki, Founder, BlackOutdoorAdventurers.com
A lot of what we do is focused at beginners because a lot of these people are trying these for the first time. And sometimes it’s cultural, it’s a lot of different factors. And so we work hard to ease them into things and make sure they feel comfortable in whatever space that they’re in.
This episode and interview of Tourpreneur@Arival is presented by Checkfront. The booking platform trusted by over 5,000 tour and activity operators around the world. You can start your own free 21-day trial over at Checkfront.com.
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Links and Resources Mentioned on This Episode of Tourpreneur – the podcast for tour operators.
- Black Outdoor Adventurers
- Black Outdoor Adventurers on Instagram
- Mina Okpi
- Checkfront Booking Software for Tour Operators.
Interview with Mina Okpi, Founder of Black Outdoor Adventurers. Full transcript.
Speaker 1: Today’s episode is brought to you by Checkfront, the booking platform trusted by over 5,000 tour and activity operators around the world. You can start your own free 21-day trial over at Checkfront.com.
Speaker 2: Welcome to the Tourpreneur podcast. Travel industry veteran, Shane Whaley will take you on a journey with fellow Tourpreneurs, sharing their tips, ideas, insights, and success stories to inspire you to make your tour business the best it can be. And now, please welcome your host, Shane.
Shane: And welcome to Tourpreneur at Arival, presented by Checkfront. We are joined today by Mina Okpi. How are you?
Mina: Hello, I’m great, thanks. How are you?
Shane: Fantastic. So tell us, what’s the name of your tour?
Mina: The company’s called Black Outdoor Adventurers and we’re out of New York.
Shane: New York City?
Mina: New York City, New York. Yes.
Shane: Fantastic. So how did you get started in with your tours?
Mina: I got started actually on meetup.com, just as a community bringing people together. And we had a lot of interest and eventually grew into a company, a full-blown company, and doing tours and all of that. Yeah.
Shane: And where did the idea come from?
Mina: The idea came from, I love to spend a lot of time outdoors, but I didn’t get into it until I was in college. And, a few years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer and that brought a lot of things 360 for me. And I noticed that a lot of people of color and black people weren’t outdoors and taking advantage of the healing that I thought nature was able to bring to people. And that really made me sad in a way. And so I wanted to change that and I wanted to bring that outdoors and the healing and that feeling and community to communities of color.
Shane: I can hear the passion in your voice. It’s something you’re very excited about. So how do you think there’d be demand for your tours and activities?
Mina: To be honest, when I started, I didn’t think there would be a lot of demand and that’s why it’s kind of blown me away in what the amount of demand has been because there was this whole underground community of people who didn’t feel like they were being marketed to or spoken to by the general outdoor tourism industry. And so I think I just unwittingly hit onto that pocket of demand and a lot of people are coming out and just expressing excitement that something like this exists and they can be a part of it.
Shane: Yeah, it was interesting. I was talking to a yoga tour company recently and they were saying that they get people of all shapes and sizes go on their yoga tours because they use images in their marketing of all people, shapes and sizes. So I imagine that’s also what you guys are doing as well.
Mina: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s a big thing, I think, putting out there the imaging, so that everyone feels that they’re invited and they can feel comfortable in the space. I think there’s many reasons why people of color and black people don’t necessarily feel comfortable just like booking any old tour, and we’d speak to a lot of those. I’m sure other people could try to speak to those, but I’m not sure if they’re fully aware of it. Might not be something that they think about on a daily basis as they’re running a business.
Shane: I have to be honest, until we spoke here in Arival, I’d never thought of it or thought of that being a challenge, of course. But you’re right, nearly every image I see of rafting or hiking is white people.
Mina: Right. And I think that one of the big factors is a lot of black people do not grow up doing outdoor things. And so there’s a big intimidation factor because they’re trying things like hiking for the first time as adults. A lot of what we do is focused at beginners because a lot of these people are trying these for the first time. And sometimes it’s cultural, it’s a lot of different factors. And so we work hard to ease them into things and make sure they feel comfortable in whatever space that they’re in.
Shane: I mean marketing for Tourpreneurs is a big challenge anyway, so I imagine it being more so for you. How are you going about getting that message out to the community?
Mina: For us, like I said, when we started on meetup.com and that’s been a big help and we’re still a partner of theirs and we still work out of there. But now we’ve grown, we have a website, we have social media, Instagram, Facebook and all those different laterals. And for us, social media has been, especially Instagram, has been one of our bigger marketing channels, as well as word of mouth. And we also, we’re actively involved in our community because we see ours not just as a company but as a community first. So we do a lot of things with the community. Our socials are very important to us because we want to continue the interaction and friendships that people build. We get a lot of repeat customers because of that and people bring their coworkers and friends. Word of mouth, we like to call our customers ambassadors. So they bring a lot of clients to us, as well as our social media does a big part and we’re thankful that it keeps us pretty busy because of that. And also because we’re in a niche market.
Shane: So for Tourpreneurs who are listening in, what would be your top tip, when it comes to Instagram, to promoting tours?
Mina: Instagram, I would say, I don’t know. I find it hard because you’re working on your posting and you need almost someone else doing your social media. But if you can have that, or just like someone who’s dedicated to that, I would say post often, talk naturally. I think a lot of companies feel like they only have to have amazing, well-manufactured photos. And actually, for me, as just like, I don’t know, millennial, whatever, that turns me off. I like to see natural photos. I don’t want your whole thing to look like it came out of-
Shane: Staged. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Mina: … Yeah, an album. I want to see the people behind the camera as well. So I would keep it natural, normal, light and just all of that.
Shane: In terms of taking bookings, are you working with any of the booking platform companies?
Mina: I currently, I’m not. I’m currently actually implementing a system that we purchased from a developer that creates a booking system. I’m a bit more tech savvy. I have an electrical engineering background and so I’m working on implementing that on my own-
Mina: … but I know not everyone has the time or the skills to do that.
Shane: Yeah. Is that because you felt you could do it better than what’s out there?
Mina: I do feel as if, and I might get myself in trouble, but it’s hard because some of the companies create to a mass market and each individual tour operator has a different company that they would like to run a certain way. And so I did try a lot of systems and I did feel sometimes that I was handicapped because some things that I wanted to do, I was not able to. And because I have the tech know-how, I have the ability to take a system and then customize it more to exactly what I need so that I’m not handicapped by the system that I purchased. If I want to spend a lot of money on a system, I want it to do everything for me and I was not finding that was the case. And so I decided to go the route that I have gone.
Shane: I love that. I love that you’re using your knowledge and your skills to build something for yourself. And I know a lot of our listeners will be jealous that we can’t do the same thing because that’s not an easy thing to pull off.
Mina: No, I mean if you don’t have the know-how, you might have to hire a developer to take something that you purchased because it has the basics of what you need. It’s just to implement it, working with WordPress or whatever system that you’re using. I firmly believe that there’s different ways to go about doing the booking system.
Shane: And building your website, you did that yourself or …?
Mina: I did. Yes.
Shane: Yeah? What did you use for that?
Mina: I used WordPress and I’d learned it a few years ago. When I started this whole journey of becoming an entrepreneur and leaving my job as an engineer, I learned the system. And like I said, I like to figure things out, and I love technology. I’m always using a new tool. I use so many tools, it’s not even funny. So I love that process and I love trying new things. And so, for me, it was fun. For me, it’s like designing and learning new things. And I know it’s not the same way … I’ve spent a lot of hours on it and I know it’s not the same way for everyone.
Shane: Yeah, I use WordPress, the basics, but I just outsourced the new design because I’m like … I think also for Tourpreneurs, we have to be really careful with our time, where we spend it. And for me, I have be doing this, interviewing people, rather than fighting with WordPress. I’m gray enough as it is and I’m losing my hair-
Mina: Yeah, sometimes, I’ve had to do the same.
Shane: I’m like, “I’ll let someone else do it for me.”
Mina: Yeah, yeah. Sometimes I have to do the same.
Shane: So you are doing this full time now?
Mina: Since last year, yes. I left my electrical engineering job and I’m doing this full-time for better or for worse. But I had to make a decision at some point after I was spending a lot of nights and weekends and time, and I felt as though I owed it to my community to try and give it a go. And so I hired a business coach to help me because I don’t have a business background and I felt as though I was struggling in some areas. And he really helped me, I think. And so I’m implementing some of his suggestions around pricing and a lot of things that I had no idea about. And so, yeah, it’s really helped us transform from just like a little, “Hey, let’s go do this,” to a proper company where we can be sustainable.
Shane: Now, I have to tell you, yesterday, I had an email from Bruce Rosard, top man here at Arival, and he was blown away, as was I when I read his email, where he said, “Wow, we have a volunteer here, in fact we have two volunteers, who have come to help us this week because they heard about Arival through the Tourpreneur podcast.”
Mina: Yeah, I heard the podcast maybe a month or two ago and I heard you talking about Arival and I heard you talking about other tour operators and I’d felt for the longest time, very much alone as a tour operator. And so when I came across Tourpreneur, I was like, “Oh my God, this is everything I ever wanted.” And so I love listening to the podcast and I’m just so excited that … I believe in community first, obviously. To me, this, I feel like I found my tribe this weekend. And so I’m really excited that … I’m thankful to you that I found the podcast first of all, and then I heard about this and I was able to volunteer and meeting all these people. Yeah, thank you.
Shane: Well, no, thank you because when I hear things like this, and I’ve had a lot of compliments this week. I’m quite a humble guy, I get quite embarrassed by compliments, but it just shows that when you create something, same with your tour or for any tours, when we create it and then the guests are really happy and you get cards and thank you, it just … Yeah, we all need to make a living and an income, but those kinds of messages and compliments, they really do put fuel in the tank, don’t they?
Mina: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, for me, I’ve struggled with my company a lot and even when I was earning some money, for me it was always people sending me those notes and saying, “Hey, this has affected my life.” You know, just a short story. Someone was going through a divorce and just someone else was going to death in a family. I had no idea. We went on events, adventures, experiences and only afterwards did they tell me, “Hey, this made such a difference. I found myself because of this.” And how can you stop when someone tells you that? When you’ve had that kind of impact on someone’s life? So stories like that have gotten me through a lot of times where I’m just like, “I can’t do this anymore.” Yeah. But at the same time, we need our own tour operator community to help us to learn things. Because like for me, for instance, I knew nothing when I started this. You know, adventure insurance … I don’t know, just like all these things.
Shane: These are short espresso interviews this week. I have a ton more questions I’d like to ask you. So would you like to come back on the show in the future and we can deep dive on some of your learnings?
Mina: Absolutely. I can tell you all the tools I use as well.
Shane: Yeah, absolutely. Where can people find your tours online?
Mina: So our tours, we’re on blackoutdooradventurers.com. We are redoing our booking system now, so we’re taking this tiny break. You won’t see a ton of things on there, but you can see the things that we’ve done in the past and we’ll have more things coming back. Also, Instagram, @blackoutdooradventurers, adventurers. So yeah, and my name’s Mina.
Shane: Mina, thank you very much for coming on the show today.
Mina: Thank you so much.
Speaker 2: Thanks for listening to the Tourpreneur podcast. Be sure to visit tourpreneur.com to join the conversation and access the show notes, including links to the resources mentioned on today’s episode. This is Tourpreneur.