fishing for help

Houston startup aims to streamline digital booking for aquatic adventures

Houston-based Captain wants to bring the fishing guides booking process into the digital age. Photo by Lum3n.com /Pexels

Fishing is always an exercise in patience, but by the time Jonathan Newar had planned his former work team's trip to New Braunfels, he had already lost all of his. The precious hours he would spend on the water were backed by so much more time reeling in dead ends on potential fishing guides online.

That's because, back then, there were no sites for Houstonians and Texans that compiled information about trips and properly vetted guides, who have to be insured and licensed — until Newar launched Captain in June.

Captain is a business for booking guided fishing trips. It's a little like Yelp for water sports — allowing people to read and write reviews about their experiences with the trips — but they can also book directly on the site, which keeps customers from the hassle of making reservations and lets the guides spend more time on the water and less in the office.

"The guides really love what we're doing," Newar says. "They're jumping on board."

Captain has more than 70 guides, offering over 160 trips, and caters to a market of the outdoor-oriented: fishermen, boaters, campers, the kind of person who spends their weekdays swiveling in a desk chair and weekends spooling line around a fishing rod. That might be a niche market, but it's not a tiny one; In 2016 alone, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reported that Americans spent $46.1 billion on fishing-related expenses.

And that's only fishing. Newar plans to cast a wider net, expanding Captain to include all kinds of outdoor sports trips — kayaking, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and more. Right now, he's working alone to vet all the guides and make sure he gets the information right about each trip — for example, what kinds of fish clients can expect to catch, how long the trip lasts, if alcohol is allowed on the boat and whether the trip is family-friendly.

"It doesn't ruin your trip to not catch fish. Sometimes you don't catch fish," Newar says. "But what really ruins the trip is being paired with a guide who doesn't fit your need."

Captain, which recently completed MassChallenge Texas' inaugural Houston program, hasn't raised money yet — Newar wants to grow the company first, to widen his client base; after all, the Bayou City is a quick drive from plenty of fishing holes. And when Captain gets a full crew, Newar hopes it become a premier site for get people off their computers, out of the house and reconnected to the outdoors.

"We think Captain can solve a lot of interpersonal barriers," Newar says.

Young professionals can dive into fun travel with this Houston-based company. Photo courtesy of Here and Now Travel

Work-life balance for a young professional is hard. There's the dream of travel but the nightmare of planning. Then there's the challenge of working with limited vacation days and finding a friend whose schedule lines up.

To the rescue comes Houston-based Here & Now Travel, which aims to create a vacation free of stress and full of memorable experiences and offers adventurous group travel specifically for young professionals.

When discussing the inspiration for starting their company, cofounder Alex Coleman tells CultureMap that he and his wife and fellow cofounder, Elise, were caught between the benefits and drawbacks of individual versus group travel.

They loved the freedom of solo traveling but not the potential feelings of isolation and vulnerability. When it came to traveling with friends, they enjoyed the bonding and security in a group but not all the work involved with navigating everyone's schedules and preferences during planning.

"We decided to create a travel company that combined the best of both worlds," Coleman says. "A company that gave people the flexibility of going to their desired destinations at their desired time, without losing the experience of traveling with a group of awesome people."

As young professionals themselves, the Colemans also wanted their company to consider the typically low number of vacation days their target clients have. That's why Here & Now trips take advantage of weekends and holidays so participants only have to take a maximum of three days off from work.

Here & Now Travel currently has six trips planned for 2020: two to Costa Rica, two to Colombia, and two to Mexico. On these trips, the itineraries lean towards adventure activities and cultural experiences.

For example, their next trip scheduled for January 9 to January 13 to Costa Rica includes exploring Juan Castro Blanco National Park, zip lining through the rainforest, learning how to make tortillas with a local family, and more.

"We shy away from crowded tourist attractions. We pride ourselves on showing travelers hidden gems of our destinations, be it the hidden Mayan cenote in Tulum where we have to be blessed by the community's Mayan Shaman before entering, or one of the region's largest waterfall in Costa Rica which sits on the land of a small farming family," says Coleman. "Through these tucked away, amazing places, we get to see things others typically don't, and have true interaction with the communities we are visiting.

Each Here & Now package includes private transportation to and from the airport and for the duration of the trip, shared three or four-star accommodation, all breakfasts and lunches, and all entrance fees and itinerary activity costs. Flights, dinners, and the required travel insurance are not included.

If you decide to join one of their trips, you can expect to be in a group of between six and 14 young professionals — with 14 being the absolute max as Here & Now Travel doesn't want to overrun the visited communities or contribute to the overuse of their resources.

"Large groups in charter buses feel clunky and seem like you are trampling or disrupting the destinations you are visiting," says Coleman. "We cap our trips at 14 people, allowing us to be good stewards of the communities we visit, and maintain our feel as a small group of travelers...and not tourists."

Each travel group is also accompanied by a Here & Now host who handles all the logistics as well as a local guide, which is a feature that Coleman believes sets their company apart from others.

"Travelers on Here & Now trips are always led by someone who calls that destination home," he explains. "Our guides have an emotional bond to the places we explore. Their passion and connection to their homes is something that can't be replicated."

Along with employing these local guides, Here & Now Travel works with local drivers, restaurants, and lodging as a way to ensure the money they spend in each community stays in that community.

As a further testament to their commitment to sustainable tourism, Here & Now Travel plans to offset their carbon footprint, which is mainly caused by airline travel, by donating to the nonprofit Trees for Houston in 2020.

The company also has plans to increase their number of trips to once per month and to eventually include European destinations.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.