Marie-Louise Kellett is the Co-owner and Director at Gravity Adventures and has been bringing thrilling, bespoke experiences to adventure-seekers for more than two decades alongside her husband, Andrew, who started the company back in 1997.
At the time, Marie-Louise, who as an Honours Degree in Environmental Science, was working at an NGO that focussed on community-based tourism. However, the pull of Gravity was strong. “I started working for Gravity and never went back to real work,” says Marie-Louise.
That she calls her pre-Gravity days “real work” is certainly not indicative of the graft and determination that goes into the business—but suggests that when you love what do each day (and it’s clear that Marie-Louise really loves what she does), it doesn’t feel like work.
Gravity Adventures isn’t that much of a departure from her background and previous work though. “Right from the beginning we’ve fit the definition of eco-tourism and we work with local communities. It’s given me a chance to put into practise what I had studied, which is amazing.”
Gravity Adventures has grown over the years and now includes micro-adventures around Cape Town, multi-day wilderness tours, group adventures, accommodation and training. And along the way, Marie-Louise, Andrew and Sonja Petersen, the office ‘Jill of all trades’, have worn just about every hat.
“When you run your own small business, you don’t actually have a job description. Your job description is just everything—marketing, advertising, writing blogs and articles, dealing directly with clients—we deal with all of it.”
This means that when Covid-19 hit South Africa, the impact on Gravity’s small team was immense. Marie-Louise says that business came to a standstill for about three months. However, because their client base is largely South African, each easing of the lockdown levels brought with it some bit of palpable relief.
“Once things started opening up again and we started getting enquiries, then you could just feel that sense of happiness and joy. Everyone was just so keen to get out and about. It was incredibly uplifting to experience that,” says Marie-Louise.
Trends in travel planning show that outdoor adventure is one of the most sought-after experiences right now. Why’s that? Perhaps because prospective travellers are eager to break free from the confines of their indoor milieus and disconnect from the news cycle, Zoom calls, and home-streaming.
Outdoor adventure travel offers all of that—plus the added benefit of being inherently Covid-19-friendly.
“The great thing about adventure tourism in general, and our business in particular, is that everything happens outdoors—from beginning to end everything is outdoors,” says Marie-Louise. “You’re not in a confined space. You’re not close to other people. You’re with your own family or partner.” She also explains that most of Gravity’s clients are self-drive, which removes an additional risk touchpoint.
What’s more, risk management is already an intrinsic part of adventure tourism. “Adventure tourism is a surprisingly good fit with the new Covid requirements because we’ve been running our businesses like that anyway. We’re already completely used to dealing with, thinking about, and mitigating risk. It’s always part of how we run our business, so to be able to integrate the Covid requirements for most adventure operators, it’s pretty straight forward.”
This means that the experience Gravity offers hasn’t materially changed. The trips they offer are very much the same as they’ve always offered—a breath of fresh air in this new world of restrictions in our day-to-day lives.
“It’s just amazing to be able to get out in nature and just be yourself as you always have,” says Marie-Louise. “My advice would be, just do it. Just get outside, you won’t regret it. You will feel like a new person after you’ve gotten outdoors and done something exciting.”