Study shows potential for agents to sell more adventure travel

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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