Study shows potential for agents to sell more adventure travel

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Adventure travel 2
Photo Credit: Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock

The vast majority of adventure tour operators work with travel advisors, but less than 30% of their sales come from agents, according to research to be released this week by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA).

In comparison, travel agencies represented 64% of total packages sold for traditional tour operators in 2017, according to a November study conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers for the U.S. Tour Operators Association.

The ATTA survey did, however, indicate that most adventure tour operators understand the value of working with advisors and are open to finding ways to improve their partnerships.

The Travel Leaders Companion Survey Digest found that 87% of adventure tour operators have agency partnerships, 63% have seen growth in that channel, and 70% are interested in getting training to help them work better with advisors.

The survey was sent to ATTA tour operators in late 2018 as a follow-up to a spring 2018 survey of Travel Leaders travel agency network advisors about their experiences working with the adventure travel industry. 

Taken together, ATTA said, the studies indicate that while tour operators are interested in booking through travel agents, few travel agents have adventure travel-specific knowledge and training. 

"There is clearly a demand from adventure tour operators to work with specialist travel advisors," said Russell Walters, ATTA's regional director for North America. "The findings in the report demonstrate areas where operators and travel agents can work together to develop relationships leading to long-term business opportunities in this growing market segment." 

Among the 13% of respondents who do not currently work with agents, 50% said it was because they don't currently have any agency relationships, while 44% said they don't get enough value from the partnerships.

"I would love to work with travel agents but the 10% to 15% they charge in commission is impossible for me to deliver unless I can be sure that I could raise my prices and have the agents sell out my tours," one operator responded. "So far, no one is willing to make any guarantee. It is a Catch 22 situation."

In addition to commissions, tour operators cited the lack of a direct connection with the guest and the lack of specialization by agents in adventure travel as the biggest drawbacks of working with agencies.

The tour operators also suggested that the traditional commission model is unfair when an advisor simply makes a referral and the tour operator does everything else.

Respondents suggested alternative business models, such as reduced referral fees in such cases and only using the more traditional model when advisors understand the experience and the destination, market and book the trip, and serve as the primary point of contact for customer inquiries, including setting expectations and preparing clients for the trip.

ATTA said it planned to use the survey, which was based on responses from 170 of 1,000 tour operators who were sent the online form, as part of a discussion about improving agency and tour operator partnerships at its AdventureElevate summit in Lake George, N.Y., in June.

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