It’s only in recent years that travel throughout the GCC has taken pride of place in current tourism trends. Even just a decade ago, international destinations far out-favored short-haul trips. Now, however, we’ve become more acquainted with our counterparts in the region. As interest grows in uncovering the depths of what the region has to offer, so have home-grown tour companies who pave the way to never-before-traversed terrain.
Jumping on the burgeoning bandwagon is Yalla Travel – a decidedly intrepid name to go with its plans to build a tribe of people that connect in exploring, learning, growing and giving back through shared experiences.
The company was founded by Max Stanton — the fluent Arabic-speaking American known as Max of Arabia on his social media feeds — and Tima Deryan, the first Lebanese woman to summit Mount Everest. Both bring something different to the travel table: for Stanton, it’s an innate thirst for exploration, free-diving and paragliding; and for Deryan, world-class athleticism. Between them the pair can offer the makings of an action-packed trip.
“For us being outdoors is food for the soul and it adds so much to a person. We want to share it with others,” says Deryan, a finance manager. The pair describes Yalla Travel as a “love child of our passion for the region and love of the outdoors.”
The outdoors. A place we in the UAE seldom experience for the better part of six months due to the heat.
“We basically want to get people off the sofa and out into nature by tailor-making unforgettable experiences in the great outdoors,” Deryan says.
Stanton and Deryan are well aware that they’re in an already crowded market though. So they are sidestepping the usual stomping grounds.
“What exists is a focus on luxury and adventure travel for those who are already outdoorsy,” says Deryan. “We welcome everyone and are equally excited about taking people on a camping trip or in learning how to free-dive. We want to help people push their limits. Yalla Travel is exactly what the name says – it’s a call to action to everyone to get up and out.”
If it’s a comfort zone you’re trying to escape, Yalla Travel is readily equipped to catapult you in the other direction.
“We’ve seen how people travel to the same places, stay at the same hotels and allow the choices of those around them to dictate what they do,” says Stanton. “We want to change that.”
Physical strength is not necessarily a prerequisite for Yalla Travel — an open mind, however, is. Itineraries will run the gamut from full-moon hiking in the Hajjar Mountains to adventure on Socotra Island, an archipelago in Yemen, targeted at thalassophiles who seek to discover sugar-white sands and impossibly blue beaches.
“We’ll be circumnavigating the ‘Galapagos’ of the Middle East,” says Stanton, who is also a media manager. As far as global destinations, Yalla Travel is partnering with a paragliding school in Switzerland to take “members of the tribe from walking to flying.”
For now though, the founders of Yalla Travel are focusing on locations a little closer to home to launch their first tour, to be announced in this month.
Stanton has just returned from a seven-night camping trip in Oman, scouting locations for the Yalla Travel tribe to escape the summer heat.
Summer and winter itineraries will be in equal supply, with winter trips that are UAE-focused in the main, taking advantage of more immediate locations, while summer trips will venture to “cooling-off” destinations.
At the moment, no prices are available. However, each trip’s tally includes everything bar international flights, tips for the local guides and any personal spending.
A trip to, for example, Socotra will be considerably more expensive than others closer to home, as it’s a more complicated route to get there as well being a niche destination. Stanton confirms that “local trips are going to be mid-market. Affordable, but not bottom of the barrel.”
Yalla Travel’s brand of tourism isn’t exclusively about scaling mountains or camping though; it also advocates conscious and considerate travel.
“We always aim to partner with local guides, as we want that local insight and knowledge,” says Deryan. “But more importantly, it is a way to work on community wellbeing by empowering people from the local community and helping support the local economy. It’s crucial for us to get communities invested in protecting their natural environments and working with us to develop sustainable tourism.”
Besides taking people out into new environments, Yalla Travel will drive awareness and educate travelers on different environmental issues. “We will leave nothing but footprints everywhere we go.”
You can contact Yalla Travel on Instagram
Featured photo Socotra/Georgie Bradley
Georgie Bradley is a British/Greek editor and journalist based in Dubai after being bred in Bahrain. She's been published by The Guardian UK, The Telegraph UK, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post UK, Buro 24/7 and Harper's Bazaar Arabia. Most recently she was the deputy editor of Emirates Woman. You're most likely to find her in the aisle seat.