Over the past three years, the Travel Leaders Network and Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) have worked together on several initiatives aimed at supporting a mutual understanding of the role specialty travel agents play in selling adventure travel.
Much of this work culminated in June at the Travel Leaders EDGE Conference, an annual meeting of more than 2,100 travel professionals held in Las Vegas. During the conference, the Travel Leaders Network in partnership with the ATTA unveiled its 2018 study of leisure-selling travel agents primarily specializing in adventure travel. “This is a travel agent survey about their customers and what they’re seeing as trends in the industry. The objective was to get a baseline so we can track those trends and changes over time,” said Perry Lungmus, vice president of the Travel Leaders Network.
While adventure travel still makes up a small percentage of Travel Leaders agents’ overall business mix, 86 percent of respondents indicated they’ve experienced growth in their adventure travel sales over the past three years. There were a number of other notable findings adventure travel professionals may find interesting:
- Sixty-five percent of survey respondents stated the majority of their adventure travel business involves trips of seven to 10 days in length, and another 21 percent are most commonly booking journeys of 11 days or longer.
- Thirty percent of respondents stated their clients are spending $2,000 USD to $3,000 per person on average (exclusive of air). Another 33 percent cited an average trip price of between $3,000 and $5,000 per person, and 22.5 percent indicated clients are typically spending $5,000 or more per person on average.
- The percentage of male versus female adventure travelers varied by only one percentage point (50.5 percent male; 49.5 percent female).
- The majority of the decision-making with respect to purchasing adventure travel is done by females (64 percent).
- According to the survey, the top 10 adventure travel destinations are:
- Western Europe (France, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom, Norway, and Switzerland);
- Central America (Belize, Costa Rica, and Guatemala);
- North America (United States and Canada);
- South Pacific (New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Samoa, and Tahiti);
- South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Ecuador);
- Central Europe (Austria, Czech Republic, and Poland);
- South and Southeast Asia (India and Malaysia).
- The survey further indicated the top 10 types of adventure travel most often booked via Travel Leaders travel agents are:
- Cultural tours;
- Hiking, walking, and trekking;
- Culinary and foodie tours;
- Scuba diving and snorkeling;
- Small-ship expedition cruises;
- Sea kayaking, whitewater kayaking, and kayak touring;
- Biking, road biking, and mountain biking;
- Multi-sport (i.e, hiking, biking, and kayaking in one trip).
- Adventure travelers are booking a mix of pre-organized tour operator packages and customized independent trips with neither category strongly leading the other.
- Of the travel agents participating in the survey, 68 percent indicated they personally participate in adventure travel, and their top mechanisms for securing new business include client referrals, social media, and Agent Profiler, which is an industry-leading agent locator tool on TravelLeaders.com that easily enables consumers to find travel agents focused on specific specialties and destinations.
- Agents cited the growth potential in adventure travel as their top motivation for selling this travel sector.
“Clearly, adventure travel is on the rise, and the average age of adventure travelers is expanding,” said John Lovell, CTC, president of Travel Leaders Network and Leisure Group. “Consumers are focused more and more on authentic, transformational, and exciting travel experiences, which is helping to fuel the growth in adventure travel. And we are seeing many consumers spending big dollars on adventure travel to far-flung destinations on longer journeys as well as many who are combining active and adventure travel with some luxury elements.
“As the adventure travel market continues to evolve, the opportunities for both consumers and travel agents are infinite,” he said.
Active and Adventure Travel Agent Specialization
Though this bench-marking survey is a noteworthy milestone, the relationship between Travel Leaders Network and the ATTA goes back many years. One of the most significant aspects of this partnership includes the creation and execution of a comprehensive training and certification program, the Travel Leaders Active and Adventure Specialist Program, which 36 Travel Leaders travel agents have completed and 155 are pursuing. This in-depth specialist program instills confidence in adventure travel professionals that they are working with agents specifically interested in and able to navigate the adventure travel sector for their clients and the tour operators with whom they choose to work. For agents who have graduated from the program, there’s a greater understanding of the adventure travel industry and the opportunity to proudly display the “specialist” designation on their agent profile on Vacation.com.
Over the past three years, numerous Travel Leaders agents have participated in a multitude of ATTA events around the globe. Like all event delegates, these travel agents actively participate in the traditional Day of Adventures, attend educational sessions about industry issues, network with other delegates, and help familiarize and educate many of the ATTA’s members about the benefits of working with a professional travel agent. The EDGE Conference is the ATTA’s chance to connect with travel agents who are interested in learning more about the adventure travel industry but aren’t yet fully immersed in it. “The EDGE Conference is really the opportunity to reach out and touch a lot of new people and explain why travel agents might want to pursue the adventure travel specialty,” Lungmus said.
In addition to myself, the ATTA’s membership director Mira Poling Anselmi and event adventures manager Maureen Seeley attended workshop sessions and the trade show, where we engaged with agency owners, agents, and affiliates specifically interested in learning more about the intersection of the adventure travel industry and the Travel Leaders Network as well as the Active and Adventure Specialist Program. We also participated in the Discovery Room, which consisted of 15 kiosks run by subject-matter experts and was visited by hundreds of attendees who want to better utilize specialized knowledge in their work. The forward-thinking partnership between Travel Leaders and the ATTA underscores the importance that both see in ensuring there is sector-specific training and education for travel agents as an increasing number of people embrace adventure travel.
Ongoing Partnerships with Travel Agents
“A lot of people don’t realize how many people are using travel agents,” Lungmus said. “There’s kind of a renaissance that’s happening and that’s because travel agents are able to really focus in on things they are passionate about and becoming subject-matter experts. It’s really fascinating to me to see how the travel agent industry has shifted and changed, and the growth that we’re seeing. And it’s all about specialization.” With this in mind, the ATTA has committed to conducting its own research about its membership to understand the value of travel agents to the adventure travel trade. Travel Leaders will be conducting its second annual benchmark study in the first quarter of 2019. “Adventure travel is definitely a trend among our suppliers, and it’s gotten the attention of our agents,” Lungmus said.
The ATTA is also working to develop a Travel Agents Advisory Committee based on the format of the successful ATTA’s Adventure Media Advisory Board and Research Advisory Board. The committee will offer strategic input from the travel agent community and act as a sounding board for ideas from the ATTA and its members. Further, the ATTA is investigating ways to build an effective and vibrant travel agent community using some of the ATTA’s online tools to help specialist adventure travel agents connect with suppliers and, ultimately, consumers around the globe.
Finally, the ATTA will be conducting a panel discussion at The New York Times Travel Show in January 2019 to further dive into the research by both the ATTA and the Travel Leaders Network as well as inviting selected suppliers, destinations, and agents to speak about their experiences working through the agent channel.