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Online travel auctions gives bidders chance for trip of dreams: this Homer company offers adventure trips that are environment friendly.

Generous Adventures Travel Auctions founder and director, Sally Oberstein (fourth from left), takes a time out with the staff at GATA's world headquarters in Homer. With her are donation coordinators (left to right) Breana Hardin and Carrie Spates; Dorle Scholz, who is respectfully referred to as the "payroll goddess;" and assistant director Jody Rose.

When it comes to online travel auctions, everybody wins with Generous Adventures Travel Auctions, owned and operated by Sally Oberstein of Homer. Guided by a desire to make the world a better place, Oberstein unrolls a world-sized welcome mat for adventure-minded travelers, significantly boosts the marketing efforts of destination providers and sends sizeable donations to carefully selected organizations. And judging from the pleased smile on Oberstein's face, her everybody-wins equation is working well.

Flip through the five categories of offerings at and lodging, outdoor adventures, nature and wildlife, exotic destinations, and special interests--and you will be tempted to bid on such destinations as an eco-friendly bungalow on a nature reserve in Zanzibar, where a warm, tropical ocean laps at your toes, and the meals, snorkel gear and guided tours are all part of the package.

If something a little cooler and just a tad more rugged is what you have in mind, consider wrapping up in an afghan within the walls of a hand-crafted log cabin in the Canadian Rockies, while wolves serenade in the distance and expert outdoorsmen stand ready to introduce you to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Not adventuresome enough? Then how about paragliding through Australian skies for a down-under view of country and shore? Or maybe seven days with mountain guides in New Zealand's towering Southern Alps, building your mountaineering skills in the same place Sir Edmund Hillary trained for his historic summit of Mount Everest.

Rather rub shoulders with wildlife? No problem. You just might have the winning bid to visit the Elephant Management Centre in Juala Gandah, Pahang, where you can feed, ride or even bathe an elephant in one of Malaysia's many streams. Or, if soaking up some culture is more in line with your adventurous streak, toy a walking tour of Florence, Italy, or an afternoon with friends in Paris.

The offers remain on the Web site for seven to eight months, which gives time to strategically plan a bid, as well as stay updated on the competition once you throw your name into the hat.

The travel packages are donated by providers that have been carefully screened. "We definitely look at who we work with critically," Oberstein said. "If we're trying to make the world a better place, we're trying to work with people who have less of a negative impact on our environment. We're not over-the-top tree-huggers, but we're trying to be reasonable about it." As an example, she added, "We only offer cruises that take less than 200 people ... We also have turned down warmwater fishing charters that fish for endangered and threatened species."

In exchange for a provider's generous donation, Generous Adventures provides two links to the provider's Web site, includes a photograph of the provider's choice as well as contact information, and assures the provider expanded exposure to potential travelers as evidenced by the 250,000 hits to Generous Adventures' Web site each month. Those packages that make it past the screening process are offered to travelers for as little as 60 percent of the regular cost. Bidding for some packages begins at less than $100; for others, it reaches four figures.

The profits are passed to organizations that Oberstein and her staff carefully review twice a year, looking for those that focus on health, service, enviromnental and educational efforts. Benefiting organizations have included the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, International Breast Cancer Research Foundation, National Parks Conservation Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Several Alaska organizations also have been included, such as the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, Cook Inlet Keeper and Kachemak Heritage Land Trust.

"I started doing this in 1997, and moved onto the Internet in 1999," Oberstein said. The first base of operations was a closet in Oberstein's bedroom.

Now, it has spread to a two-room office in her basement, where she is assisted by two full-time and two part-time staff. In addition, there is the part-time technical support, administrative support, a marketing consultant and "a couple of people who travel internationally and send ideas on good companies for us to contact."

In the beginning, Oberstein squeezed in "a lot of advertising into a low budget," sending out press releases to travel editors and paying for ads in publications such as Santa Barbara Magazine and the New York Times. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. read about Generous Adventures in Outside Magazine and became a supporter of this "way to have a great vacation without doing harm to the environment and at the same time helping the organizations that work to protect it," he wrote in a statement of support. At Kennedy's request, Generous Adventures hosted an auction on behalf of Waterkeeper Alliance, an organization that seeks to protect water from pollutants.

Travel expert Arthur Frommer also awarded his stamp of approval to Oberstein's effort. "I love this site because the proceeds go to environmental groups working to keep the world healthy, safe and green," Frommer wrote in the Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2001. "So you are supporting worthy charities and getting some great travel bargains at the same time."

And the list of endorsements has continued to grow. "At this point, people are talking to each other about it and providers are talking to each other about it," Oberstein said. "And, of course, I continue to contact people. I have a whole two-year marketing plan that I just keep developing."

Asked how many clients Generous Adventures caters to in a year, Oberstein hesitates. "I could answer that a lot of different ways," she said. "People who register to get information from us and with whom we communicate, that number is just under 1,500. How many people travel with us is probably 350 a year."

Another way to count is based on the escalating number of wannabe providers, "people who contact us to offer us vacations because they want to be on our Web site. That's the greatest turnaround for us because getting donations was one of the hardest parts." She estimated that number has soared to 4,000 every quarter. "Not all those people have donated to us," she said. "Some have and some we are working with."

Oberstein makes a concerted effort to balance the vacations offered. Offerings from the same state at the same time are limited, and when that does happen, she strives to make them complimentary packages. "We would not offer the same type of trip," she said. "Meaning, if we had an inn, we might offer biking or a wine tour."

Then there's Generous Adventures Alaska connection. With the pristine waters of Kachemak Bay and the surrounding mountains just outside Oberstein's doorstep, she is well aware of the treasure nearby. "We do have probably a higher number of Homer trips than all the states together," she said.

And Homer is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. "Because Alaska is so diverse and because we're here and we love Alaska, we favor Alaska with regard to giving people opportunities to work with us," she said, referring to providers, the organizations Generous Adventures Travel Auctions benefits and the travelers that head this direction. "We absolutely bring a lot of people to the state," Oberstein said. "We are proud to make it known we're from Alaska."

"Because Alaska is so diverse and because we're here and we love Alaska, we favor Alaska with regard to giving people opportunities to work with us. We are proud to make it known we're from Alaska."

-Sally Oberstein Generous Adventures Travel Auctions Homer
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Title Annotation:Generous Adventures Travel Auctions
Author:Jackinsky, McKibben
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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