By Kenneth Shapiro
As the editor-in-chief of three trade publications focused on the travel agent market I often have the opportunity to meet with travel advisors and learn more about their business. Despite what you may have heard, travel agents are very much still a force in the industry, accounting for about one-third of the nearly $300 billion travel market in the U.S. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, travel agencies generated $17.5 billion in revenue in 2011, up from $9.4 billion in 2002.
The increase in travel agent usage is due to many factors, including the added security of having an advocate when things go wrong on a trip and the failure of online travel sites to provide adequate customer service.
In a Time.com article, one author put it this way: “The more complex the world becomes — a complexity often created by the Internet — the more likely it is that an increasing number of consumers in all manner of sectors will seek more personal retail or commercial experiences.”
The new breed of travel agent is much different, however, from travel agents of the past. They are generally more entrepreneurial, more adept at marketing and more eager to educate themselves in order to gain a competitive edge. This desire to learn more about niche markets makes them especially enthusiastic to learn about adventure travel.
Here are five reasons why agents want to learn more from adventure travel companies:
Experiential travel, which includes adventure travel, is the hottest aspect of trip planning. Travelers are constantly looking for something unique, authentic and exciting to do on their vacations. Travel agents need to become familiar with adventure travel opportunities in order to meet their customers’ demand.
“Experiential travel isn’t a fad or a trend, and it’s not going anywhere,” said Chris Coillet, product and marketing leader for Worldwide Traveler in a recent story in TravelAge West. “It is a generational evolution of travelers’ expectations about visiting a destination.”
In order to remain relevant, agents need to be part of this evolution.
2. Similar Clientele
In general, travel agents are popular with luxury travelers and adventure travel tends to appeal to the same demographic. This similarity makes adventure travel a natural fit for agents.
ATTA’s “2015 Industry Snapshot” indicates that North American tour operators average $477 per day, per customer. That is significantly above the average daily expenditures for general leisure travel, making an adventure trip the type of big-ticket item that inspires travelers to seek out expert advice. As surveys indicate, travelers are far less likely to book an adventure trip online — opening the door to help from an agent or a tour company sales rep.
3. Soft Adventure
Back when we started Explorer, our adventure/experiential travel brand, one of the main issues we confronted with agents and suppliers was rooted in the term “adventure.” When we used that word, people immediately thought we were talking about hardcore pursuits. Today, people are a bit more aware that adventure and experiential travel encompass a wide range of activities, many of which are routinely booked by travel agents.
ATTA uses the phrase “adventure curious” to describe many of today’s soft-adventure travelers. Travel agents are very comfortable planning and arranging unique experiences for their own adventure-curious clients.
4. Insider Know-How
One of the comments we hear a lot is that agents want to learn about small operators that are great at a particular niche. Agents find this information valuable because it is the kind of insider knowledge that shows their expertise and, in turn, makes them more useful to their customers. Many adventure travel companies fit this description. By setting up clients with a small gem of a company that delivers on expectations, agents can make customers for life.
5. Building for the Future
Many people are surprised to learn that the fastest-growing demographic for travel agents is millennials. These young travelers make up the second biggest market for travel agents (after baby boomers). Millennials insist on unique and authentic experiences on vacation, making them very interested in adventure travel as well. An agent adept at booking adventure travel has another tool for pleasing their millennial customers, winning them over and setting up a strong base for future business.
There are many more reasons why travel agents are interested in adventure travel suppliers, but ATTA members should reach out to agents and find those out for themselves. Once an agent becomes confident in a particular supplier’s services, he or she can be a great advocate for that company out in the marketplace. As I’ve seen in so many other aspects of the travel industry, empowering a sales force of smart, entrepreneurial agents can be a win for both agents and suppliers.
Learn about ATTA and Travel Age West partner packages to help you marketing to travel agents.