Do you remember your first girlfriend/boyfriend, your first car, motorcycle or camera? I’m guessing you do. Now try to remember your second, third or fourth? Hmmm….not so easy, eh? Now, think about all the brands that have become synonymous with their function: Scotch tape, Kleenex, Xerox. It’s no accident they were also the first. When something is new, innovative and original it gets more than our attention. It gets remembered. Who flew the first plane in controlled flight? Orville and Wilbur. Who flew the second one? Don’t worry, I don’t know either.
Being the first to bring something new to the game is the approach that my business partner Jim Cline and I bring to our photo tour business. Now entering our 12 year, we have consistently brought forth unique and unparallelled experiences for our photo tour clients. Our greatest source of pride and satisfaction, and perhaps the best barometer of our success, is our loyal following. We have a customer return rate approaching 70%.
Much of our success can be attributed to the fact that we are constantly breaking new ground. As I reflect on more than a decade in the business, I’m reminded that Jim and I were leading tour groups to Myanmar before it was popular and offering tours to Oaxaca’s day of the dead celebration before others did. Twelve years ago we started visiting a remote village in the Peruvian Andes before a proper road was built and before other tour groups even knew such villages existed. Earlier this year I led a photo tour to the Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest gathering, where 40 million pilgrims descended upon the Ganges in a single day. I was confident that it was do-able and set forth creating an itinerary. People said I was crazy. When it was over, my participants called it “epic”.
Our Philippines Photo tour is another example in our long track record of innovation. Five years ago I had a dream to bring tour guests to the Philippines. I’d already been shooting NGO jobs throughout the country and I was captivated by the natural beauty of the country and the friendliness of the Philippine people. After an exhaustive internet search, I found not one international tour company doing specialty photography tours in the Philippines. Even non-photography tour groups were scarce, perhaps due to the political instability and the perceived danger due to religious conflicts in parts of the archipelago.
So, with a head full of ideas, and a basic itinerary gained from my experiences and a significant amount of research, I made an exploratory trip through the Philippines, developing and creating a photo tour itinerary so that I could share my love and enthusiasm of the country with others.
Now after the successful completion of my 3rd annual Philippines photo tour, word seems to be getting out and the trip is quite popular. This year, the main trip sold out quickly and even the first-time, optional extension, included 7 participants!
With things running smoothly, Jim and I could just sit back, and rest on our laurels, but I decided to take things a bit further…to push the envelope, to challenge the comfort zone of my participants. During this year’s Philippines trip, I introduced my tour participants new opportunities in photography, shooting in some parts of town that one might consider “dodgy”. During our photographic forays, we met, talked to and photographed transvestites, bar girls, and street people. We rode the skate train, explored impoverished parts of Manila that are rarely if never seen by foreigners and expanded upon our usual visit to a community living under an overpass. Then, during the trip extension in Cebu, we photographed a local boxing gym located in a low socio-economic area. As we zig-zaged through the slum in which the gym is located, my tour guests kept asking me…”just how the hell did you ever find this place?”. I just smiled, knowing that these are the one of a kind experiences that endear customers to yourself and your organization; experiences that our competitors just don’t offer.
It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and as I post things on my blog and introduce people to my ideas, discoveries and information freely, I do so knowing that I will have imitators. By definition, one can’t be a “leader” without “followers”, so I’ll continue in a leadership roll, pushing the envelope, exploring new territory and attempting to bring something new, different and unique to this wonderful world of photography.
There are exciting things on the horizon for 2014 and beyond, so please stay tuned. Meanwhile enjoy the following images from a few lesser known locations in the Philippines.