Eighty-seven percent of adventure tour operators answering a recent Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) survey indicated they currently work through travel advisors and agents to sell trips, yet 81 percent of travel advisors don’t consider themselves adventure travel specialists. In a market valued at $263 billion USD worldwide, these findings indicate there is an enormous opportunity for travel advisors to expand their professional services.
The ATTA’s senior director of strategy and impact, Christina Beckmann, presented these findings during the Focus on Adventure session at the recent New York Times Travel Show 25-27 January 2019. More than 75 travel trade professionals gathered to hear from Beckmann, who shared comparative highlights from two benchmark studies of travel advisors’ and tour operators’ perspectives on the role travel agents play in generating adventure trip sales. Beckmann was accompanied by a panel of tenured industry pros including Robert Keddy, head of commercial partnerships, Americas at Tourism Australia; John Daw, executive officer, Australian Wildlife Journeys; Kimberly Daley, president and CEO, MT Sobek; and Perry Lungmus, vice president, Travel Leaders Network and ATTA Advisory Board Member.
“Inspiration is now matched with access,” Beckmann said to session attendees, about half of whom were tour operators and half of whom were travel advisors. Online sources are feeding adventure travel inspiration, and new customers are the main reason for the growth in adventure travel. Tour businesses and tour operators are being tasked with managing new sales channels.
And there’s more than enough work to go around. Sharing the key highlights from the survey, Beckmann stated that, while less than 30 percent of tour operators’ sales come through agents, 63 percent say they have experienced growth in sales through the agent channel. This sales channel represents the operators’ greatest motivation for working with agents. Though tour operators are interested in working with travel agents, 57 percent of operators reported they felt only a small percentage of agents have adventure travel-specific knowledge and training. Clearly, there is still a continued and ongoing need for mutual education to address the added complexity of this channel.
“Specialization should be the foundation of your business,” Lungmus said. With specialization in adventure travel, agents can become more proficient at selling and delivering the most suitable natural, cultural, and adventure itineraries on the market to their clients. Lungmus explained how the exclusive Travel Leaders and ATTA Travel Specialist program was created to deliver specific training and certification to agents who complete a series of modules demonstrating a range of skills required in the adventure travel niche. The program facilitates business relationships and provides personal travel opportunities enabling agents to help provide customers with meaningful experiences. The program has more than 170 participants, and many graduates are listed on the ATTA’s consumer-facing site Adventure.Travel as travel specialists.
Keddy explained how a similar program in Australia is also bridging the knowledge gap for travel advisors interested in the adventure travel sector. The Aussie Adventure Specialist program is an online training course designed to give agents the knowledge and skills needed to sell Australia effectively.
In addition to specialist certification opportunities offered by travel agent consortiums and tourism boards, this discussion brought to light the need for tour operators to provide educational and experiential opportunities for travel agent partners, as well as quality promotional assets and up-to-date product information.
After a lively Q&A period on the topic, attendees were invited to continue the conversation at the AdventureConnect event that followed the session. The casual networking session, hosted in partnership with Tourism Australia with raffle prizes from United By Blue and Nite Ize, offered nearly 150 travel trade professionals an opportunity to meet new professional connections and catch up with old friends. In 2018, the ATTA held 24 AdventureConnects in 11 countries serving more than 2,300 adventure travel professionals.
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