x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Mountaineer wants to share her view with travel agency

The Dubai-based Palestinian woman who scaled Mount Elbrus last year has opened a business with an adventurous flavour to entice others to take "extreme" trips.

DUBAI // The first Arab woman to successfully scale Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe, wanted others to feel the same sort of exhilaration of adventure and achievement, so she started a business in Dubai to entice travellers into a leap of faith.

Less than a year ago Suzanne al Houby, a 43-year-old Palestinian, founded Al Rahhalah Explorer, an adventure travel business, with two partners, Hameed Halawani and Ammar Alul. The company takes travellers from around the globe on expeditions to exotic locales, but for Ms al Houby the trips are also about personal growth.

She said her venture was about creating a platform for people looking for an intense experience, more than a mere journey, something she said that had not been widely on offer in the Middle East.

The company prides itself on using local guides to experience the true nature of a place.

"You have a lot of travel agents, tourism outfitters here in the country, but these usually sell you the hotel and the airline ticket. What we are offering is to have people joining a group where we take care of everything, A to Z," she said.

Al Rahhalah offers a variety of travel options, from safaris in Tanzania to visiting the rainforests of Borneo.

The company believes in sustainable tourism that respects the social, cultural, economic and environmental values of the places they visit.

"I am a traveller, and because I'm a mountain climber I got a lot of exposure, felt a lot of fulfilment, earned a lot of learning - and the interactions between different cultures in so many different countries made me want to share this with [people in] our region."

Ms al Houby said that her love of adventure and travel dictated her life. "Every trip would change me fundamentally - enhance and enrich me - and I wanted to share that with as many people that are looking for the same kind of experience, but that don't have a platform where they can share their desire with like-minded people."

Mr Halawani affirmed his business partner's passion. "Suzanne was determined to bring such a concept to this part of the world, where it never existed before."

The Emirates was the perfect place to set up shop. "Dubai provides me with the right infrastructure for setting up a business. It's easy, open-minded, you have an international community here, it's a hub, it has an excellent airport - all the right things you need for connectivity, proximity, logistics." Ms al Houby said. "It's really happening here in the UAE."

Al Rahhalah Explorer also offers a programme called "The Rahhalah Youth". The company works with schools to create an alternative form of adventure travel, offering students spots on volunteer projects and focusing on experiential learning.

"We want our young travellers to start the learning process of give-and-take, of contribution to society - to volunteer, learn and taste the fulfilment of payback," she said. "We hope in the next five years to have our own youth camps in different parts of the world."

Al Rahhalah ordinarily pledges one per cent of its sales to local charities in the places they visit.

Although she has spent a lifetime exploring, the mother of two turned to adventure travel professionally after working in a corporate environment for more than a decade. She knew it was time for a change.

"I'm not a travel agent, I'm not interested in booking you a ticket, that's not what I do. I am trying to make you live a life-changing experience, and I am passionate about it."