Adventure Travel: Q&A with Jerry Mallett, President of Adventure Travel Society

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Jerry Mallett discusses adventure travel and ecotourism with contributing editor Marilee Crocker.

TW: What issues regarding adventure travel are on your mind these days?

Mallett: Trying to standardize the business end of it. We kind of grew like topsy. We're trying to get it so it really is a good solid business for all the players -- from operators who for a long time felt, 'Build it and they will come,' through to the developing countries. A lot of the outfitters still are trying to figure out how to market. [We need to] show them good business practices.

Also, we're working through the World Bank with two indigenous communities in Bolivia and in southern Albania [to help develop] ecotourism and nature-based tourism. There's a new project in Ontario where they're shutting down the spring bear hunt. We've been asked to help them go into more canoeing, kayaking, river-running.

TW: Is adventure travel continuing to grow or has the growth leveled off?

Mallett: We don't see any leveling off. We see the spectrum expanding [to include] more and more families. The grandparent thing, I think, is going to be tremendous; so far it's only 10% of its potential. I just took my 8-year-old grandson to Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. He was just ballistic. We're getting less quality time as a society; grandfolks have a little extra time and this is a super memorable opportunity.

We're finding that adventure travel is becoming much more mainstream, more of a daily opportunity for leisure travelers. Princess Cruises is now the largest supplier of adventure to Alaska. They're getting them off the boat -- kayaking, whitewater rafting, fishing -- giving [travelers] a taste of soft adventure. Resorts are doing the same thing.

TW: With the maturing of the adventure travel industry, how do you see the product changing?

Mallett: We're finding a lot of the operators are customizing trips so it's almost one-on-one marketing. Ten years ago, they had a group of 30-40 trips; now they're asking what kind of trip [travelers] would like. There's a lot of corporate team building going on, story telling, wine tasting, gourmet food. We're finding a lot of alternative medicines being discussed, a lot coming in on shamanism, native religions. [Operators] are keeping current with the public's interests.

TW: How can agents position themselves to capitalize on the ongoing boom in adventure travel?

Mallett: Have an interest in it first of all. They have to have a good understanding so they won't be scared when they send a client on a river trip. Do their homework so whether they're doing a brown bag lunch [presentation] for the director of human resources at a corporate client's office or putting a press release in the local newspaper they can say they're offering a neat trip.

Work on partnerships with the outfitters, doing outreach to those folks that do a horseback trip or a dive trip. Spending a while with the Specialty Travel Index will give you 600 really qualified outfitters. One of the hard spots outfitters run into is when they've got a few seats left on a trip leaving in three or four weeks. If an agent has an e-mail list of 200 clients and can let them know this trip will be discounted on short notice, the clients are going to like that and the outfitter is going to finish that trip off.

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