Hillwalk Tours is a digital tourism company that creates flexible self-guided hiking experiences in Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and Spain. The team works closely with high-quality B&Bs and suppliers in those countries to ensure that the experiences they create are comfortable, free of hassle and most importantly, happy. The company now has a significant footprint in the digital tourism space, especially in the US, Germany and the Netherlands.
Tell us about your company/organisation?
“Creating experiences that make people happy” is our core purpose and what we work towards every day.
We do this of course by helping our walkers have the best possible experience on their hiking tours. However, this mission extends beyond just walkers who take to the trails. It means that for our colleagues also, we aim to make working at Hillwalk Tours a happy experience. We’re privileged to have a friendly multilingual team that offers personalised customer support whether you’re already on a hiking trail or just dreaming about a hike that you’ve had on your bucket list for years. We hire people who care about what we’re doing, support them and work together as a team to achieve our goals.
We try to create happy experiences for our B&B’s too, and the restaurants, shops and taxi companies that serve our walkers. These are often small businesses located in isolated areas that have been left behind by urban migration and a lack of investment in rural regions. Their warm hospitality and friendly welcomes epitomise the magic of a Hillwalk Tour and we’re dedicated to helping keep these rural communities alive.
We are blessed that so many rugged coastlines, towering mountains, sandy beaches and quaint villages are accessible to walkers and we want to keep it that way. As more and more people take to the great outdoors, our collective mark on the environment increases. Litter, damage to vegetation and water pollution are just some of the results. Protecting the environment is not something we just preach about, but it’s something we practice too, by supporting the ideals of Leave No Trace. We believe that the Leave No Trace ethos can have a tangible impact on nature conservation which is why we encourage all of our walkers to make it hard for others to see or hear you and to LEAVE NO TRACE of your visit.
What does your company/organisation do?
We specialise in organising self-guided hiking tours in Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales & on the Camino. We offer tours on 21 different trails with itineraries from 4-14 days in length and at three difficulty levels: Gentle, Moderate & Challenging.
How long have you been in business?
What’s the company’s origin story?
In October 2008, a young Irishman named James Byrne decided to go hiking, or hillwalking as it is also known in Ireland and the UK, on some of Ireland’s best-loved walking trails. His motivation was simple – he liked the idea of starting up a business that would help people to re-connect with the great outdoors.
He had visited many of Ireland’s beauty spots previously by car. Experiencing them on foot proved to be life-changing. Hiking amplified his emotions – the anxiety about an emerging blister on his foot before a long walk seemed insurmountable; the feeling of elation when he reached his destination was unbeatable. Put simply, he was hooked.
After two months of hiking, James reflected on the moments that had stood out for him: the remoteness and beauty of the trails; the gratitude he felt when he was warmly received at a B&B, the deep disappointment when he occasionally felt unwelcome; the relief at not having to walk too far for an evening meal after a long hike, etc.
As he started to put the first hiking tours together, he kept these highlights (and lowlights) at the forefront of his mind. He decided to make it his goal to make sure that his customers would have the best possible hiking experience when they came to Ireland.
The first hiking tour was arranged from James’s bedroom on a laptop and was taken on the Beara Way in March 2009. Since then, Hillwalk Tours has provided happy hiking experiences for over 25,000 customers.
In early 2011, Anthony Barrett, who had grown up in the tourism business, joined James and operations were moved to an apartment they shared together.
In 2012, the team started to grow further and the company’s first office was rented in the GMIT Innovation Hub, Galway with further keys members of the team soon joining: Hauke Steinberg (Route Development), Nóirín Gillespie (Customer Experience), Richard Davis (Marketing & Technology), and Eimear O’Connor (Human Resources).
Based on customer suggestions and recommendations, more hiking tours have also been created over the years. In 2012, hiking tours in Scotland were added and a few years later in 2015, we also started to organise hiking tours in England.
In 2016, having gradually moved to bigger and bigger offices within the GMIT Innovation Hub, we eventually outgrew their biggest office and moved closeby to the Galway Technology Centre.
In 2017, we sold our first tour outside of the UK and Ireland, the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. Further new trails in the UK and Ireland continued to be added in the following years leading us to now cover all of the best Celtic trails with our unique itineraries.
How many people are working for you now?
19 at the moment but we’re also currently hiring for two new roles.
Describe the type of products/services you offer?
Our tours include:
- Stay in our friendly, family-run guesthouses
- Relax in comfortable en-suite bedrooms
- Big breakfasts will keep you going all day long
- Luggage? Don’t worry we’ll move it for you!
- Detailed maps, route notes and GPS tracks mean you’ll never get lost
- Walking directions written and updated by the Hillwalk Tours team
- Local alternative/supplementary route options based on local knowledge
- Our waterproof map-case keeps your maps and documents dry
- If you need to contact us, we’re here 24/7 to help
- Insider tips on the best places to eat and drink
- Explore the local history and culture in our fascinating guides
- Discover the most interesting attractions on the trail
- Need info on transport? We’re happy to help
What type of customers does your company have?
Our main customers are aged between 35 and 65 but also have hikers who bring their kids and people still taking our tours into their 80’s. Our customers can vary from solo hikers to groups of 12. Our main customer demographic is North American or European but we have hikers every year from all over the world.
What would you describe as the main unique quality of your company?
We offer a much wider range of itineraries on each trail than anyone else. This allows us to offer something to suit everyone from the novice hiker looking to just hike a short distance for a couple of days to the very experience hiker looking to complete a full trail in as short a time as possible.
Following our Core Purpose of ‘Creating Experiences that make people happy’, we also pride ourselves on the level of customer support provided to our hikers.
Has there been any other particular landmarks in your company’s journey?
In collaboration with a software development company, we had our own bespoke CRM and booking system built in 2015.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
Want to know what it’s like to work in Hillwalk Tours? Our Core Values represent the culture of the company. They are the HOW we do things. These are deeply held beliefs that guide how we work and allow us all to be on the same page no matter what role we carry out. We actively recruit, appraise, promote and celebrate those that live these values.
- Small Details, Big Picture
- We take great pride in our work and getting the things that make the difference right. Attention to detail, time management and prioritisation are all essential to the bigger picture.
- Fairness is Fundamental
- We care about people. When making a decision, think compassionately, be honest and objective, act with integrity and look to find the best and fairest solution for everyone involved.
- Team Spirit Matter
- Team spirit is about much more than working together to achieve great results. It’s about a sense of community – helping each other, sharing in each other’s successes, being humble, sticking together when times are tough and respecting each other always.
- Professional, No Matter What
- Being professional is about being competent at your job, embracing feedback, listening, being open to change and displaying good judgement. Always remain composed, courteous and respectful even when dealing with difficult situations. Be a Hillwalk Tours ambassador when interacting with those inside and outside the company.
- A Can-Do Attitude, Always
- No matter what challenges you face – stay positive, take responsibility and be flexible. Proactively look for solutions to issues and opportunities to make things better.
What brought you to Galway Technology Centre?
As mentioned above, we had a great experience in the GMIT Innovation Hub but had outgrown their biggest office. We were looking for another centre with a similar ethos where a small business like ours was supported and where we could just focus on working on our business instead of having to worry about the day-to-day aspects of managing an office unit. We were delighted to find that in the Galway Technology Centre and after waiting nine months for an office to become available, it’s been our happy home ever since.
How do you rate Galway as a location to do business in?
We’ve had a great experience operating from Galway and its multi-cultural workforce has helped our growth by being able to hire skilled multilingual team members. We’ve also had great support from GMIT and NUIG over the years.
What are the main corporate challenges you are facing at the moment?
- Recruitment is a challenge at the moment as we’re always very careful to ensure any new hires really match the culture of the company in addition to having the required skills for their roles.
- The closure of B&B’s and hotels in the rural locations where we operate our tours is also an ongoing challenge.
- The lack of investment in the upkeep of the national trails in Ireland is also an ongoing challenge with local voluntary groups often having to look after essential improvement works themselves.
What are your company/organisation’s future plans?
Our long-term goal is simply to operate the best self-guided hiking tours on our trails. We are currently working on a new customer portal to make it easier for customers to access all of their tour information online. We’ll also be adding some exciting new itineraries to our existing trails, including some new local hikes, in the new year.
Where can we find out more about you?
Just check out our website: https.//www.hillwalktours.com/