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Founder & Head of Special Projects

Dan Austin

Born and bred into the outdoor life in the hills of California, Dan ignited his passion for adventure travel in 1976 as a partner of a rafting company in the Pacific Northwest. His travels soon took him to Alaska, where he owned and operated a mid-size construction company. Here he gained valuable experience working out difficult logistics and long-distance problem solving. His company completed projects from the most remote Alaskan village to the military bases of Hawaii and The Azores.

Looking for a new challenge and having experienced small group adventure travel as a guest, Dan and a partnership group bought Backcountry Tours of Bozeman, Montana in 1994. Established a decade earlier, Backcountry Tours was a well-recognized purveyor of small group, multisport tours throughout the western United States. The foundation was laid. The purchase of Backcountry turned out to be the catalyst for things to come.

Over the next 25 plus years, Dan would facilitate over a dozen mergers and acquisitions, evolving the brand to what it is today, “Austin Adventures” a leader in all things adventure travel, which recently merged with New Zealand-based Active Adventures. Dan is still responsible for growing the brand and developing Austin Adventures into a respected and recognized player in the international travel marketplace.

In 2009 Dan’s life passion and hard work was richly rewarded when his company was named the “Best Tour Operator in the World” by Travel + Leisure magazine readers. Dan and ALA have managed to stay at the very top of this prestigious list every year since that first year, hitting #1 in Family Travel again in 2012.

Success to Dan has always meant more than accomplishments in the business world. In 2010 Dan found a way to pay it forward and leverage his success for the good of others. He took on a new challenge and established the not-for-profit Wheels of Change by launching its first chapter in Billings, Montana. Starting with 125 of his own bikes, Dan, his family and friends collected over 200 additional donated bikes and shipped them along with a container full of tools and school supplies to the remote village of Ngoma, Namibia. Dan and his son Andy were there for the unveiling and helped establish a Bicycle Empowerment Center by turning the container into an active “Bike Shop” while training a crew of locals on how to operate and manage it. In the fall of 2011, just when a second shipment of bikes was arriving in Kenya, the tour operator was recognized by a distinguished panel of international judges and awarded the Global Vision Award for Corporate Innovation by the editors of Travel + Leisure magazine. Into the future, Wheels of Change will continue its efforts to gather and ship donated bicycles to Africa while expanding its initiatives and community development projects worldwide. In 2012 Dan and Austin Adventures hosted a delegation of 14 Namibians in Montana, sharing first hand their efforts regarding sustainable tourism.

Active in his own community back home as well, Dan has served as President of Southeast Montana Tourism Board, on the State of Montana Governor’s Advisory Council on Tourism and as President of Zoo Montana one of the only privately funded zoos in the country. Dan is a proud Educator for the Adventure Travel Trade Association and one of 15 ATTA Champions, founding members of the ATTA.

Surviving the COVID world of 2020, coming out stronger with more market share, Dan along with new CEO Wendy van Lieshout, lead the two tour operator brands in the adventure marketplace. The company is a force to be reckoned with. Dan heads all special projects and finds ways to increase value to the traveling public.

Dan lives in Billings, Montana with his family who all embrace an active lifestyle. When not in the office, the Austins are out doing what you would expect; traveling the world, biking, hiking, fishing, climbing and exploring new destinations. 

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