Active and adventure travel is a growth market with big earnings potential for travel advisors, and adventure suppliers say they want to help travel advisors increase their sales, but there are challenges.
Fully 87% of adventure tour operators in a survey of suppliers by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) said they work with travel advisors. But over half of the suppliers said that less than 30% of their 2018 sales were generated by agents.
On the plus side, adventure tour operators said they valued travel agents’ role as a “sales arm extension” that helps distribute their products and expose them to target audiences while bringing a personal touch to client interactions.
But travel agents’ lack of destination specialization and adventure product knowledge was a hindrance, suppliers said. Another negative cited by adventure tour operators was “confusion or frustration” stemming from partial information or misinformation being communicated to the client and the tour operator by agents selling their products.
Those were among findings of the Travel Leaders Companion Survey Digest, which was conducted online by ATTA in late 2018 with the goal of better understanding adventure operators’ relationship with travel agents and increasing adventure travel sales through the agent channel.
Foundational steps to growth
How can travel advisors better sell their products? Suppliers in the survey suggested that travel advisors take three steps:
Become more familiar with their products, destinations, and/or activities;
Experience their products and destinations firsthand;
Use events, social media and other online marketing channels, including agency websites, more effectively to promote supplier trips and services.
Product and destination knowledge are critical, both because of the nature of the product and because active-adventure clients are likely to have done a lot of research before consulting you.
If you’re just getting started, an easy way to begin familiarizing yourself with adventure travel products and suppliers is by taking advantage of learning opportunities at travel agency conferences, which often feature sessions focused on the niche. The following supplier tips for growing active and adventure sales were collected by Travel Market Report at two such conferences in the past year.
1. Don’t wait for clients to ask. Look for openings to recommend active or adventure vacations to current clients. Ask open-ended questions like, “Have you ever considered an expedition cruise?” and then listen closely to the answer.
2. To identify sales opportunities among existing clients, learn more about their interests. How do they spend their leisure time when not traveling? What causes do they support? Clients who like activities like hiking, biking and kayaking are prime candidates, as are nature lovers and environmentalists.
3. Don’t overlook your older clients or underestimate their abilities. For many Baby Boomers, active and adventure trips are bucket list items, and many 70-year-olds are more active than 40-year-olds. “We have 70-year-olds doing nine-hour hikes,” one supplier said.
4. Introduce luxury cruise clients to adventure vacations by suggesting a high-end expedition cruise to Antarctica or the Galapagos. One new product in this category is Celebrity’s Flora, a 100-passenger vessel that was purpose-built for Galapagos expeditions, and launches this month.
5. Connect with client values and spark their interest by mentioning supplier affiliations with prominent organizations and causes. For instance, Natural Habitat Adventures is the exclusive provider for World Wildlife Foundation; and G Adventures partners with National Geographic on a series of co-branded trips.
6. For families traveling with teens, recommend multi-adventure itineraries, since they provide flexibility and a choice of activities. Clients won’t necessarily ask for this type of vacation; you need to suggest it.
7. Solo travelers are another good prospect, especially as more adventure suppliers cater to the market. When it launches in 2020, the 69-cabin National Geographic Endurance will include 12 cabins that were designed for solo travelers. The Endurance, a polar expedition ship, will be operated by Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic.
8. When clients request active or adventure vacations, clarify what they mean, since ideas about what constitutes adventure vacations vary widely.
9. Take great care to match clients to trips suited to their fitness level. Most active-adventure suppliers grade their trips according to level of difficulty. Find out what the client is capable of and communicate that information clearly to the supplier.
10. Don’t be afraid to let trusted suppliers speak with the client directly to describe itineraries in depth, answer questions and ensure a good fit. Some suppliers, including G Adventures and Big Five Tours & Expeditions, conduct three-way calls with the client and the travel advisor.
11. Make sure clients understand exactly what to expect on a trip, especially for itineraries to remote destinations. If an expedition cruise involves multiple wet landings, the client needs to know that. One supplier on a panel told of a traveler on a gorilla-trekking tour to Uganda who had undergone recent knee surgery and ended up having to be carried on a stretcher. Clearly that’s a situation you want to avoid!