At the September 12th AdventureConnect in London, where ATTA President Shannon Stowell, Executive Director of Europe Chris Doyle, VP of Marketing and Communications Casey Hanisko and ATTA Advisory Board Member and Wilderness Scotland CEO Paul Easto moderated structured peer-to-peer brainstorming and dialogue on industry concerns, emergent themes and trends became clear for the European region.
More destinations are driving adventure travel; the need for smaller players to be prepared and help create awareness is great.
There is increased industry interest in Collaborative Marketing Partnerships.
There is increased operator interest in joining consortiums of other operators who offer mostly non-competitive product – such as Virtuoso, Adventure Collection, Trusted Adventures, and ATLAS from South America.
Consumer expectations vary wildly. Consumers who want ‘authentic’ are increasingly going direct to get it. Some demographics would rather just ride a local bus than be in a private mini-van. On the other hand, demanding, less-adventurous customers expect a lot more from an itinerary and won’t just ‘go with the flow.’
The need for outbound operators to add or emphasize value and cultivate repeat business in order to compete with direct suppliers.
Many tour operators are ‘softening’ activities due to regulations and safety. With adventure travel softening and more activities being offered, there is an ability to communicate with a wider audience versus to a smaller niche segment.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is a (smaller) market for long (sometimes as much as 100+day) trips and extreme products.
Operators are seeing the need to re-invent options; at one time rafting was enough, now there is bungee jumping, stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) etc. Clients are looking for more unique and varied options.
Social media and digital technology continue to change outreach, advertising and brand value. Word of mouth continues to be the most important advertisement, even if the channels have changed.
Some operators reported a return to incoming client actually wanting to speak with booking agents rather than just doing everything online.
Increased reliability and access to Wi-Fi is encouraging more people to travel; clients report “freedom” to travel because they’re able to stay connected to work, family and other issues at home.
Many attendees communicated a need for overall industry collaboration.
The biggest problem faced by many of the operators is justifying their existence as outboundsas customers go direct to suppliers more often (see above how many battle this by emphasize value and courting past clientele).
Another challenge is training to travel agents, destinations and consumers on what is adventure travel since there is the perception of adventure travel being too ‘hard’ or ‘extreme’. For destinations, trying to get them out of the ‘heads in beds’ mentality and value the business an adventure traveler brings to a region’s economy.
Differentiation: Consumers crave something unique and special but delivering that to mass groups of people is challenging.
Safety and insurance remain prime concerns. There is a challenge of walking the line between making a product safer without stifling the overall experience.
While most companies understand that product and service innovation is the key to staying competitive, many smaller companies struggle with having the knowledge and resources to engage in meaningful market research. How can they find out WHAT to offer customers, and WHERE they should be innovating?
Staying on top of social media and digital technology changes. How will the next generation be communication and making decisions?