Results of an August-September 2009 Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) first-half of 2009 survey, which reveals the perspectives of 287 tour operators spanning 51 countries, reflects changes in traveler interests and behaviors which are influencing tour operators’ product and marketing approaches planned in 2010.
Participating tour operators, which together serve roughly two million customers annually, in responding to a series of questions concerning actual and perceptual changes in consumer behaviors experienced between January and June 2009, reported that travelers are showing increased interest in the following:
- Custom itineraries: 84% (i.e., 84% of operators reported an increased interest)
- Shorter duration trips: 73%
- Closer-to-home, shorter haul trips: 55%
- Activity based adventures: 79%
- Cultural-interaction adventures: 70%
- Volunteering within travel: 40%
- Multigenerational travel: 55%
According to the ATTA study, customers of surveyed tour operators also showed changing interest in destinations and booking behavior in the first half of 2009. Regions of the world tour operators indicated travelers expressed the highest positive change in interest compared to 2008 included South America (26%), North America (24%), Southern Africa (24%), Western Europe (23%), Middle East (20%) and South Asia (20%).
Meanwhile, operators also reported that travelers are booking trips closer to the actual time of departure. Thirty-five percent of tour operators believe that travelers’ shorter booking windows are here to stay or that the period will be even shorter than it is now. And, one third of operators believe that the booking window in the future will be completely unpredictable.
In line with traveler shifts, approximately half of the tour operators intend to offer more variety of inventory in 2010, with very few reporting a reduction in product offerings. The ATTA interprets, based on formal survey responses and feedback gathered through informal phone surveys throughout 2009, that operators may be increasing product variety to keep up with travelers’ changing preferences, including increasing demand for custom trip, shorter-duration and varied price-point options, as well as to further distinguish for travelers specialized product that helps to further distinguish providers in a highly competitive environment.
“There also appears to be continued strong support among customers for high quality, value-oriented companies, especially those with a clear sustainability message”, said ATTA Vice President Chris Doyle. “Survey results continue to tell us that operators are quickly adjusting marketing and public relations efforts to better address the way in which travelers are becoming aware of and learning about adventure travel options, how they choose destinations and activities of interest, and when they book their holidays.”
Commensurate with the ATTA’s mid-year findings concerning shifting consumer interests, operators indicated that their marketing budgets and strategies also have shifted for 2010.
As in 2007 and 2008 ATTA tour operator surveys, shifts toward more online marketing continue in 2009, with activities such as search engine optimization (SEO) and keyword buying outflanking more traditional means of advertising. Of the 287 tour operators surveyed, 66 percent indicated that 2010 budgets are increasing for online advertising and 72 percent for SEO, while 77 percent plan to dedicate resources specifically for online social networks. Facebook, Twitter and Linked In were the top sites indicated for these endeavors. Additionally, while the social networking phenomenon aspect of the Internet continues to climb, tour operators also are increasingly returning to more traditional customer (‘social’) relationship practices, with both serious increases in both public relations (55%) and physical world consumer/client events and activities (72%).
In the study, traditional advertising budgets continued to decline. Forty-seven percent of operators reported they plan to decrease or eliminate print advertising all together in 2010. Sixty percent of respondents reported they plan to reduce the number of shipped catalogs, while 65 percent plan to more narrowly target their direct mail efforts. Forty-six percent of respondents reported eliminating print catalogs altogether in 2010, reflecting travelers’ move toward digital means of securing information about adventure travel options.
Tour operator booking and profit performance reports for the first half of 2009 were mixed. Despite the economic situation, 33 percent reported bookings in the first half of 2009 were up, eight percent reported flat bookings compared to prior year, and 56 percent reported bookings were down, of which most were reporting bookings down between 10-30 percent compared to the first six months of 2008. Thirty-five percent recorded profits in the first half, 13 percent were flat, and 51 percent recorded losses in the first half of 2009 compared to 2008. Survey responses for the survey reflect actual performance in the first six months of 2009.
“Overall, the adventure travel industry, while impacted by the economy, had solid pockets of resilience and most companies were able to flex enough to survive and in a few cases, thrive, especially in very recent months,” said ATTA President Shannon Stowell. “Many companies did take fairly aggressive measures including layoffs, delay of capital expenditures, salary freezes and, ironically, travel budget reduction.” Not reported in this survey are anecdotal reports from phone surveys conducted between July and October 2009 of ATTA members and non-members indicating that bookings appear to be on the rise in the second half of 2009, so the thought of potential recovery is forefront.
Established in 1990, the Seattle-based ATTA (www.adventuretravel.biz) is a global membership organization dedicated to unifying, networking, professionalizing, promoting and responsibly growing the adventure travel market. ATTA members include tour operators, destination marketing organizations, tourism boards, specialty travel agents, guides, accommodations, media and service providers. Host of the annual Adventure Travel World Summit executive trade conferences (www.adventuretravelworldsummit.com), the ATTA also makes possible www.Adventure.Travel, the traveler’s hub of physical, cultural and nature-based adventure travel and guide to trusted tour operators from around the globe.
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Editor’s Note: The full study will be made available free to ATTA Members by October 16, 2009. It will be available to non members for $50USD via online download beginning the week of October 26th.