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Travel with a taste of authenticity: Eco-librium Sustainable Adventures Inc. promotes travel with community service.

A large dose of passion for travel and adventure, mixed with health, healing, and community service, sprinkled with an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit has resulted in an invigorating business that for Kate Wannan.

The owner and executive director of Eco-librium Sustainable Adventures Inc., based in Elliot Lake, has created an adventure tourism business based on a philosophy of balance, and awareness of other cultures and environments through volunteering.

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"We get people from all walks of life" who are seeking balance, are unhappy, have experienced the death of a loved one or who want to make a difference in their lives, said Wannan. "It is life-changing for everybody."

Wannan has been involved in adventure travel for years before incorporating her business in 2007.

"People would come to me to help plan their trips," she said. "The comment I get a lot is: 'You've taken everything you've ever learned and synthesized it into an amazing business.'"

Wannan works with more than 50 operators and organizations, many of which are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) promoting conservation, health, education and small business startups like eco-tourism.

During the last three years, the business has tripled in growth annually, indicating all the work and acquired experience leading up to its start have paid off. Wannan's grooming for the business began in Grade 11 when she entered an international Mennonite school where volunteer service was part of the curriculum. There she met people from all over the world and learned about other cultures.

Growing up in Elliot Lake during an economically tumultuous period when the mines were closing also influenced her path.

"I saw the people and how the mine closures affected them," Wannan said. "It wasn't a very sustainable economic resource.""

Wannan holds an honours bachelor of outdoor recreation, parks and tourism and a bachelor of arts in geography She is also a registered massage therapist. Her specialty is therapeutic recreation. She creates programs that use the healing benefits of nature for people with mental illness, for troubled youth or those previously jailed.

After a year of working with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Wannan spent the next several years travelling and volunteering. This phase of life helped her build a repertoire of skills, establish relationships with people throughout the world, and provide more insight into sustainable practices in other cultures.

"Everywhere I went, I volunteered," she said, whether it was in the Amazon jungle, or the coastal rainforests of Ecuador.

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At one point, she found herself begging for money in an airport to try and fly home. The president of a large adventure tourism company saw her and interviewed her on the spot, offering Wannan a job as a tour guide in South America. She took the job for a year and was later offered a position in Toronto, but she had another calling, which would eventually develop into her own business.

Her employees work on a contract basis. She draws from a pool of 10 guides, and about seven others for sales, design, marketing and bookkeeping. Although the majority of her trips involve volunteering, which keeps in line with her slogan "travel and make a difference," some trips are strictly adventure tourism. Others can be custom-tailored upon request.

The operators with whom Wannan partners also work with the local communities, whether it is a small business startup, education or an infrastructure projects. This ensures that a portion of the profits go to the community.

"Even if people are not directly volunteering, they are still helping to make a difference in the communities they are visiting," she said.

More recently, Wannan has teamed up on some trips with a company called Construct Conserve Building Inc., an Ontario construction company that specializes in green building.

"Last year we built an alternative school out of bamboo in an underserviced area of Ecuador," she said. "Now we're sending volunteers to teach in the school."

Wannan is beginning to market Northern Ontario for hiking and camping tours. She is also in talks with Serpent River First Nation members to develop an experiential education trip in their community, possibly for next summer.

In the meantime, she has been busy attending trade shows and researching and developing more partnerships with potential operators to ensure people have an authentic experience while sharing their talents, creating a win-win for all.

www.eco-libriumadventures.com

By ADELLE LARMOUR

Northern Ontario Business
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Title Annotation:GREEN REPORT
Author:Larmour, Adelle
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jan 1, 2011
Words:730
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