Downhill to La Paz 

"Imagine biking from the top of Mount Blanc, down to sea level - that is what I am offering customers in terms of vertical descents."

New Zealand entrepreneur Alistair Matthew seems to have hit the nail on the head in terms of appealing to peoples' desire to show off a little. All of the mountain bike rides he offers from his company base in La Paz, Bolivia have hair-raising or at least "braggable" value. His rationale is that successful adventure tourism creates conversation.

"People want stories they can tell in the pub when they are back home such as, 'I went to Bolivia and saw the world's largest salt lake and biked down the world's most dangerousroad and dropped 4,300 metres in one ride in one day'."

It's a formula that seems to be working. Since arriving in Bolivia in March 1997 equipped with "10 words of Spanish, a backpack and a bicycle," Matthew has established a steadily growing operation. With an arsenal of 40 imported bikes and a team of six staff, Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking now offers punters a variety of thrills. Aside from the "most dangerous road" option, clients can ride down from "the world's highest developed ski slope – Chacaltaya," coast along ancient Inca trails or undertake highly technical mountain to jungle descents.

Last year GAMB sold 1,400 trips and Matthew is confident that number will increase more than 50 per cent this year. GAMB has the lion's share of the mountain bike ride business in La Paz and has by far the biggest selection of trail options. GAMB's marketing is intensive, pushing the quality of the bikes plus the guide and vehicle support backup.

Even better is the location. La Paz provides a virtual springboard into a myriad of existing and untapped trails into the heart of the Andes.

But it has not all been smooth sailing. Alistair said a good Bolivian partnership initially proved elusive, due to potential partners' unrealistic financial expectations and one’s emerging cocaine addiction. After several months of fruitless trial work, a British moutaineering friend, Yossi Brain, directed Alistair to Jasmine Miranda, the Bolivian owner of America Tours in La Paz. The partnership gelled, with each business generating customers for the other.

A contract with Trek Bicycle Corporation USA also secured the importation of quality mountain bikes at factory cost.

Matthew said his four years experience working as a business consultant helped overcome many of the frustrations of setting up.

"To get people talking about the business I stole a marketing idea from when I was at university. This bungee jump outfit was offering free naked jumps and I remember the huge line of naked jumpers that accrued down the streets."

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