Adventure Engine: Powering the world’s adventure travel industry from the West Kootenay


Launching a new venture can be as wild an adventure as rafting in Rotarua, summiting Mt. Fuji and everything in between. Building a business to provide the engine that drives that adventure for tourism clients around the world, has been a ride riddled with ups, downs, lessons learned and success.

Kelly Acheson, along with fellow Rosslander and entrepreneur Amber Hayes, launched Adventure Engine (AE) live to the web in 2005. Initially designed to be a giant database of adventure travel product with real time seat inventory (think Expedia for adventure travel), the fledging business made a critical pivot in their game plan early on. During the process of building their site, they realized what they were actually doing was building a robust reservation system. Seeing a vacant niche — the vast majority of adventure travel operators were still handling their reservations and admin systems manually — Adventure Engine moved to a business-to-business, customized, automated, complete reservation and administration system.

“You have to be responsive and reactive,” explained Acheson, “We were small and we were feeling it out, and we decided to do a complete 180 degree turn and it really changed everything for us.”

With some big wins out of the gate, like distributor deals with WestJet Vacations and Lonely Planet, a host of innovative tourism awards, and making it to the finals of the New Ventures BC competition, Adventure Engine was off and running.

As with bringing any new disruptive product into the market place, it wasn’t all smooth sailing as they worked to shift the adventure travel industry from reliance on manual reservations to a unique new automated, online system.

“We were in ‘The Cloud’ before people were even calling it ‘The Cloud’,” recalled Acheson. “Even the early adopters in the adventure industry were skeptical of us. They didn’t want to think about systems, didn’t like computer technology… but now the floodgates are opening. We are expanding, we have new staff on board this year and it is going great.”

Participating in adventure sports themselves and living in the environment of adventure immersion that is Rossland BC, Adventure Engine soon proved itself, in no small part due to their deep understanding and knowledge of their client’s products and unique operational needs. That knowledge allowed them to build customizable systems that took into account the unique product and nature of each adventure tourism business to help clients maximize return on investment.

Working online, with a core team in Rossland and developers and customer service employees around the province, AE has been able to keep overhead costs to a minimum, while getting to enjoy the Kootenay lifestyle – even if it is on unusual hours.

“I meet my UK clients at  5am in the morning. I meet my Indian and Japanese clients at 10pm at night,” added Acheson.” With internet and Skype, webcams and online meetings, it allows me to operate from literally anywhere in the world. From a personal and a family perspective I love the Kootenays so much. We’re raising our daughters here and have no designs on changing that.”

Never complacent, Adventure Engine is pushing forward with a renewed high-growth strategy. In 2013 they hired two new staff, bringing the company up to a team of seven, and have signed on to a new program being offered by the Kootenay Association for Science and Technology (KAST) designed to accelerate the growth of small businesses and entrepreneurs in the Kootenay Boundary Region: the Venture Acceleration Program (VAP).

The Venture Acceleration Program teams entrepreneurs up with an industry expert known as an Entrepreneur In Residence (EIR), and runs those companies through a regimented and proven methodology that has already brought growth benefits to Adventure Engine.

“I am now meeting with my EIR from the VAP program, a wonderful guy, on a regular basis,” noted Acheson. “We are in the super early stages but already the program has helped me ask the tough questions like ‘What is your value proposition?’  It is challenging but we’re doing it and it’s important to review these things… it helps me answer the tough questions with my own staff, and prospective clients and my new sales guy.  We use it now to drive our message on the web, our blog, our newsletters and more. I  love it.”

With new tools like the Venture Acceleration Program, perseverance, excitement and a constant re-evaluation of the company, Adventure Engine has just rewritten their strategic marketing plan from scratch.

“We redefined our target market and redefined our competitive advantage.” explained Acheson, who has set a personal goal for the year to get off the front lines and spend more time in strategic planning and business development. “You have to stay fresh and stay forward-thinking, especially in the tech/mobile sector. There are new elements that our clients want to see in automated booking management functionality and the potential for growth remains enormous as long as we are re-evaluating ourselves and analysing as we go. It is critical to have a clear path and a clear message.”

As an entrepreneur, launching a new venture in a previously unexplored space, having a strong support system and family have been key to the sustainability of the venture.

“I have a great husband. I have a great crew. I have my client care and sales support right here in Rossland and we are all living and loving the Kootenay lifestyle,” added Acheson. “I’m proud to be a woman running a tech company in this environment.

With high growth expectations, new staff on board, the assistance of the Venture Acceleration Program and a continually evolving and industry-leading product, the future looks bright for Adventure Engine.

“Yes, we have had some tough times and sure there are tough days but my morale and excitement talking about Adventure Engine hasn’t changed in seven years. I love it! I think it’s a great product. That’s the most important thing. Am I still excited about going to work? Absolutely! So we keep going forward!”

The Venture Acceleration Program (VAP) is offered with support from the BC Innovation Council (BCIC). Could your venture get there faster? Contact KAST at 250 483-5052


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