In Their Own Words: Adventure Mentors on Customer Experience

We let delegates at the 2015 Adventure Travel World Summit in Chile ask tough questions of our Adventure Mentors during an intense peer-to-peer session. And then we let those Mentors, who are experts in their fields and big fans of what the ATTA and its members are doing, sit on those questions for a few weeks and type up their well-thought out answers. Now, we want to share their insights and advice with our wider adventure community.

This is the first article in a series, where we will share the questions and answers, grouped by topic, from the 2015 ATWS peer-to-peer session.

The Peer-to-Peer session at the 2015 Adventure Travel World Summit in Chile

The Peer-to-Peer session at the 2015 Adventure Travel World Summit in Chile

Q: How can I convince customers that the quality of my service is worth the price?

A: This is where “friend of mine” awareness and the important “word of mouth” marketing becomes so important. Ideally you never mention quality of service in your marketing but have others do it for you – in thank-you notes posted on social media channels, endorsement letters available on your website and via online reviews. Customizing experiences and uncovering service expectations prior to a visitor’s arrival is also an important way to differentiate from the competition. While a traditional turn down service may thrill one guest, another may relish something non-traditional and surprising like a glass of local port and its history handwritten on a note by the bedside, as your intrepid team discovered this guest is a foodie. Finally – make sure you are going after the right visitor who sees value in experiences vs price.

Deirdre Campbell
President & CEO, Tartan Group, Canada


A: Client testimonials are one thing, but how much value does a quote really bring? Isn’t that only evidence from one client’s experience? Live reviews from all travellers (Amazon-style) is the other end of the spectrum — clearly a trip that has a good score on the back of 200 reviews is more powerful than just one client quote. Or maybe there is an option in between which works for you.

Another commonly used tool is to have former clients that you can refer to. Personally, I’m not a fan of that system as it can be time consuming to manage and you can only rely on a client’s goodwill once or twice – they don’t want calls every day to act as a reference.

Another idea is to think about how you show what’s included. Do you state “6 nights hotel stays” or provide links to hotel websites and their Trip Advisor ratings? Honesty and openness can be frightening but if you believe in your product and you know the reviews will be good, it’s hard to beat.
Finally, get them on the phone, and know your stuff when you speak to them! That is always more powerful and persuasive than email.

Stevie Christie
Head of Adventure, The Wilderness Collective, UK & Ireland


Q: Why should / why do clients choose to travel with my company as opposed to any other travel company?

A: This is a crucial question as its relates to the key value we offer or the main reason behind a customer’s decision to give us their time and money instead of doing something else or choosing a competitor. The direct answer to this question is of course: we should ask the clients about that!

There are two parts of the question too: first, why they chose to travel with us instead of one of our direct competitors, and second, why they are using the services of someone like us instead of traveling on their own or doing something completely different. We need to ask clients about both. The answers to the first question might vary from previous experience with your company, good experience shared by a friend or accidental information about your company learned somewhere in social media. You need to know and keep track of these answers so you can invest your efforts and money in the type of communication that utilizes the respective channels. If it is a previous experience or word-of-mouth, send your clients greetings for birthdays or holidays reminding them of you so they can consider traveling again or sharing with their friends even after some time has passed; if it is social media, share visuals and content that highlights the experiences you offer.

The answers to the second question can vary too. Clients may be choosing to travel with a company such as yours to save time, for ease, to feel pampered, to feel special, for the sense that they are getting an insider experience rather than a superficial tourist experience, etc. Again, you need to know the full range of answers and have a sense about which ones are prevalent so you can highlight them in your communications.

One more thing that is important: ask your clients at the beginning and at the end of the trip. You will see that there will be differences in their answers. You need to have the pre- answers because they are not modified by the experience yet and reveal the actual drivers of why clients choose you without having travelled yet. You also need to know the post- answers as they will be the essence of the reputation that your clients will be building with the memories they share.

Milena Nikolova
Assistant Professor of Marketing, The American University in Bulgaria


Q: How can I convince my clients / travelers in general to do more interesting things or something outside of their comfort zone?

A: “Interesting” may mean many things, such as, more physically and/or emotionally challenging. It could also mean an extra activity that the guide offers based on an assessment of client interests and/or ability.

There are two context scenarios here:

  • Engaging them prior to their trip beginning i.e. engaging with online marketing and/or at the time of booking
  • Engaging them once the trip is underway

For scenario 1, it requires clear web/social media content which clearly shows clients of the same demographic enjoying the experience, allowing prospective clients to ‘see’ themselves taking part in the activity. In addition, some clear guidance on levels of fitness, prior experience, daily distance/elevation and ideally some kind of grading system allows people to make informed decisions about the level of challenge they want to undertake.

A well-prepared sales team who ideally have direct experience of the product is hugely beneficial. They should be able to answer client questions about all the above, allay any worries and ensure that the clients are signing up for trips at a challenge level they will enjoy. An understanding of the emotional component of adventure travel along with a well developed understanding about your client demographics will aid in web design and engagement by the sales team by e-mail or phone. So, in a perfect world this reduces significantly the likelihood of scenario two occurring.

With scenario 2 the guide is involved in supporting a client in whether or not to engage with particular aspects of the itinerary. Firstly, the guide would ensure that there are no black and white reasons (e.g. health/injury) as to why a client shouldn’t undertake an activity.

Hopefully, itineraries have been designed to allow for some flexibility and guide ratios allow for the group to split and engage with different levels of challenge. The client must feel that they have a choice. ‘Challenge by choice’ is essential and the guide’s job is to support the client into making (owning) the decision whether to undertake a given activity, wholly, partly or not at all. Good communication skills and empathy are key here. The guide will need to use careful and supportive questions and answers to help the client decide if this is for them. A strong understanding of the activity is crucial and as much as possible describing the benefits that the client will gain through participating.

The guide will also need to be aware of the peer pressure that can be explicit or hidden on a client, especially if other clients are keen to engage with the activity that the client has reservations about.

Myles Farnbank
Head of Guides & Training, Wilderness Scotland Ltd. (UK)


A: As a guide, getting people to step outside of their comfort zone is one of the things I enjoy most. The first step is to show them it’s possible, then give them the confidence they need to accomplish it. Sometimes you have to be persistent, especially if you know deep down they want to do it but need a little push to get them there. As a marketer, the same rules apply. You need to make it look appealing, but also attainable. For example, if you’re worried about someone not being prepared to hike to Machu Picchu you could write a blog about how to train for that type of hiking. Regardless, if you’re a guide or a marketer, seeing or hearing that you got someone to step out of their comfort zone and accomplish something new is a great feeling. You just need to give them a reason to!

Jonathan Burnham
Marketing Manager, Wildland Adventures, USA

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