What is Jonny doing now?

Posted by Jonny Bealby 3rd May 2024
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What is Jonny doing now?

I read some feedback yesterday that quite surprised me. Passed on from one of our top tour leaders, talk among the group on our Laos Unlocked tour was that I had retired, sold up even, was no longer an active part of Wild Frontiers and that as such the company would become more mainstream and lose its edge.

Once I had got over the surprise of hearing that a group in Laos were talking about me, I became a little concerned, after all nothing could be further from the truth. And so, after some careful reflection I figured perhaps the best way to address the issue and reassure our loyal and most wonderful clients, would be to write a blog and let you all know – at least those of you that have an interest in these things – what I am up to right now and what my role is with the company.

Firstly, let me make it clear… I still absolutely love travel. Travel has been my life since the age of 17 when I flew off to college in Canada, a seed that really took root in Indonesia a couple of years later. They say you only have one life-changing travel culture shock – a feeling so profound that it will stay with you forever. For me that happened in Bali in 1982. Flying to Australia as a bright-eyed 19-year-old, the Garuda Airlines flight put down in Denpasar. As we alighted the plane the stewardess told me and two friends that the flight for the final leg to Sydney was overbooked and would we mind staying in Bali for the night and catching the flight the next day. To be honest, I don’t think I had ever even heard of Bali, but up for an adventure we duly agreed, picked up our bags and without any idea what we were doing, stepped out into another world.

The tropics hit me like a train; the hot moist air, the bright verdant colours, the palm trees, the beautiful smiling locals, the smell of clove cigarettes, the mangoes, pineapples and giant lobsters… it was paradise, as though we’d just arrived in the Garden of Eden … it was so exotic I was mesmerised and about as excited as I have ever been. We didn’t take the flight the next day but stayed three weeks and my life was never the same again.

After our Australian adventure, I did have a few years in London – singing in a rock band – but by 1989 I was back on the road again, this time with my fiancé Melanie, travelling in Thailand, India and ultimately Kashmir where life changed again. Watching Melanie die on a houseboat on Dal Lake set in motion a course of events that have led directly to this day; three huge adventures – across Africa, through India, Pakistan and Afghanistan and along the Silk Road – three books, a TV film, numerous articles and Wild Frontiers.

Wild Frontiers was born on the edge of the nascent adventure travel scene. The very idea, and name, came to me through a pagan chief while sharing a cup of acrid wine high up in the Hindu Kush. Since then, WF has always pushed the boundaries. As far as I know, we were the first adventure travel company to run group tours for only 12 people. We were the first to offer Recce Trips and we were among the first to run commercial tours into Georgia, Kashmir, Tajikistan, the Congo and Afghanistan. Why? Partly because having travelled to these places, I knew they were nothing like as dangerous or scary as they were perceived to be, and partly because the people that lived there were so welcoming and would benefit hugely from the tourist dollar. This is long before the term sustainable travel appeared. I just wanted to produce trips that were as fulfilling for our hosts in each country as they were for our clients. And that has been our ethos ever since.

Starting a business from scratch is not easy, but I have been lucky to have had fantastic support along the way from people who shared my love of travel and I am proud to say that despite some major upheavals in the world – 9/11, the Icelandic ash cloud, the global financial crisis, the Arab Spring and the pandemic, to name but a few – over 25 years we have grown a thriving business and strong brand.

However, there comes a point in your life when you have to look yourself in the mirror and ask if are you the right person to take the business forward. One thing I have learnt is that to stand still in business is to go backwards. You have to keep growing, evolving, and hopefully improving, to remain

successful. And I owe it to the brilliant team we have here at Wild Frontiers to give them opportunities. And that’s why I hired our new managing director, Clare Tobin.

While it’s true that Clare does come from a slightly different background in the travel industry, leading a number of niche specialist brands she has shown over a stellar career that she knows how to take a business to the next level. While understanding the ethos of the company we’ve created, and the things that make us special, in partnership with me, she will now be working hard to bring you an even better service, with an even better product range, hopefully at an even better price. But, all importantly, we’ll be doing this whilst maintaining the core values that our team, our partners around the world and you, our travellers, all share.

And what about me… well, aside from working with Clare, I’ll be leading some tours and reccying some new destinations – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are next on my travel list. I’ll be working harder on the Wild Frontiers Foundation, so as to bring more help to some of the communities we visit. I’ll be starting a podcast with my good friend Kate Humble. And I will continue to lead webinars and live events. In short, I am not going anywhere.

As I say, travel has been my life, and I hope it will continue to be so for a long time to come.

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