Why isn’t being an expert touring agent ‘a thing’ just like cruise? That was the question put to agents at The Express Travel Group eXchange conference last weekend in Bangkok.
The question and subsequent discussion came up as part of a TedX style touring panel featuring Dennis Bunnik (MD, Bunnik Tours), Deb Fox (CCO, APT), Pete Douglas (Director of sales, Globus) and Sarah Clark (GM Marketing, Intrepid Travel).
You hear the phrase “There’s a cruise for everyone” banded around often, so why not “there’s a tour for everyone” too?
With so many tours and experiences now on offer for all age ranges, budgets and appetites, helping cut through the market confusion could be the biggest opportunity yet for agents who want to add more value to their client’s trip.
Throw in declining commissions from other segments of the industry and the question must be – is this an opportunity agents can afford to miss out on?
Read on for some of the insights that were shared on the panel.
What word describes the future of touring?
Sarah Clark (Intrepid Travel): “PERSONALISATION. I think people more and more are looking for personalised experiences even throughout a small group tour. I think more tailor-made options and the met expectation of being able to choose exactly what they want to do on their trip is the way forward.”
Pete Douglas (Globus): “ADVENTURE. It’s all about choosing your adventure; in what’s going to suit you best. There are so many options with all of our travel partners out here, sitting out in the audience too. An adventure for one person might be visiting Paris. Many of us have been there many, many times. For another, Adventure might be going to deepest Africa.”
Dennis Bunnik (Bunnik Tours): “EXPERTS. The future will be created by touring experts – and you’re all sitting right here. Time to realise the opportunity!”
Deb Fox (APT): “EXPERIENCE. Similar to that personalised approach, touring is now more rather than less. It’s not a person fitting into a box anymore. It is now a touring experience being created around the customer and the customer’s needs.”
What travel styles will be the next big thing?
Sarah Clark (Intrepid Travel): “Definitely the personalisation piece again, but I think the low impact sustainable style of travel as well. It’s very topical, especially with the younger generation. They’re very interested in associating with sustainable brands. From a destination perspective, the Middle East is coming back but places that get fewer visitors like Ethiopia and Sudan are all coming onto people’s radars which is fantastic.”
Deb Fox (APT): “One area that we’re seeing a lot of growth is small group touring. People are happy to pay good money for a very good adventure, and adventure touring in general. There’s a lot of growth in regional tourism and touring more immersively.”
Pete Douglas (Globus): “People are maybe not doing the big panorama tours as much. They’re choosing Italy as a destination and seeing it more in-depth. I think they want to get a slower, more authentic experience which I think is a big change from just seeing the icons.”
Dennis Bunnik (Bunnik Tours): “One of the things that new wholesale players coming into the market and advertising aggressively have done is put a big spotlight on touring. We’re seeing massive increases for Europe for next year. So it’s not so much about new destinations for us, it’s about visiting destinations maybe that have always been there, but seeing them in a different way.”
How do you preach touring to a non-believing client?
Sarah Clark (Intrepid Travel): “I think it’s around the experiences. There are so many great experiences that are curated on tours, and research shows that that’s what people want. They want really unique experiences on their trips. So, on a tour, it’s already there for them. Then they don’t have to search a million different other options online. It’s another great way to convert clients.”
Dennis Bunnik (Bunnik Tours): “We have some customers who have done 14 tours with us and who had never been on a group tour with anyone before. Their travel agent suggested a group tour and they became hooked. So, suggest it and talk about the benefits, the advantages and the differences.”
“The airlines will get you to the destination. What happens on the ground, that’s where the magic happens.”
Dennis Bunnik (Bunnik Tours)
“The other really important factor in all of this is that the touring sector all gets along really well. None of us wants every single client. So, we all work kind of close together, and for agents, it’s using that intelligence from us and getting all of us to work together. That’s going to give the best outcome for the customer. The airlines will get you to the destination. What happens on the ground, that’s where the magic happens.”
Pete Douglas (Globus): “It’s breaking down those stereotypes about touring. People have preconceived ideas. There are traditional older people travelling around of course, but we’re seeing a lot of younger people doing touring in all different styles. The younger family groups. There’s inter-generational touring happening. Last year we had an age range of nine to 90 on our tours. So, there are younger people going on tours as well because all their companies are now catering to younger clients.”
Deb Fox (APT): “Find out why are they a non-believer. Are there some myths and assumptions being made surrounding touring? Try and understand what their objections are, what concerns them, and then think about all of the different touring styles. There’s going to be likely something that’s going to fit with what their needs are, that’s especially right for them.”
The panel was part of The Express Travel Group’s inaugural eXchange Owner Managers Conference held in Bangkok last weekend.
Read all about what happened over the weekend here.
Read all about what CEO Tom Manwaring had to say in his opening address here.
Find out who the Express Travel Group 2019 award winners were here.
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