“Bhutan is the country that measures gross national happiness and while it has been a relatively closed country, tourism is possible there,” says Ambrose Bittner (MBA 2004), founder and CEO of Red Lantern Journeys. Red Lantern is a Seattle-based start-up that specializes in some of the more “off the beaten path” travel destinations in Asia such as Bhutan and Myanmar. “Myanmar is really a unique country—undeveloped and untouched—and now’s a good time to go there. But we make sure to go over the risks and political situations in these countries so our clients are well informed before they arrive.”
As he was finishing up his MBA at the University of Washington in 2004, Bittner met a friend of a friend who had started a travel company focused on Africa. He realized that his own extensive experience traveling throughout Asia was an asset he could market. “I felt this was my strong suit so I decided to just go for it,” says Bittner.
What differentiates Red Lantern from other travel companies is the high level of customer service given to each client in planning their trip. Focused primarily on private tours, Bittner and three other travel consultants work with each client to develop customized itineraries that meet their specific needs in terms of timeframe, budget, and the types of activities and sights clients wish to experience during their travels. “All of our consultants have either lived or traveled extensively in the countries they focus on,” says Bittner. “We don’t sell other companies’ travel packages. We’re destination specialists and know logistically how to get around countries in Asia, all the unique sites and activities, and we have local guides in each country. It’s a very independent way to travel but still be ‘on a tour.’”
Dedication and perseverance have served Bittner well as an entrepreneur and helped him shepherd the company through the recent economic downturn. “Being an entrepreneur means having the vision and working toward it, being dedicated and not getting too discouraged along the way when things happen,” he says. And as if running a company weren’t challenging enough, Bittner also leads an annual charity climb on Mt. Rainier to raise money for Mitrata Nepal Foundation for Children, an orphanage and school in Kathmandu, the starting point of Red Lantern’s popular Everest Base Camp trek. “We’ve raised $30,000 each of the last couple years and I’m really proud that we’re able to provide that kind of support in a community where we send travelers,” says Bittner.