Tour Ops Get the Word Out About Authentic Travel

Trader at a market stall selling hot dogs at Borough Market,London, UK
Photo by Alena Kravchenko/iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

I was watching the local Long Island news in February; a newscaster was stopping people on the street, asking if they’d rather go out to dinner to celebrate Valentine’s Day or take a romantic trip. One young man said he’d prefer travel, but only if it was to somewhere really interesting, “like the Himalayas.”

This random encounter speaks volumes of today’s consumer. The newest generation of adults has taken some pretty swell family vacations as children — say to the Caribbean, Mexico or Hawaii, or even the capitals of Europe — so now they’re ready to evolve their style of travel. They are turning their attention to specific places they haven’t been to, but someone they know has, or they’ve seen it on Instagram and it looks pretty cool.

The participants in our tour operator roundtable are well aware of this dynamic.

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Ruthanne Terrero

“The world is much smaller now to devour; if they can see it on social media, they are like, ‘I can get there, this is not such a mystical world, my friend has been there,’” said David Hu, president of Classic Vacations.

Camille Sperrazza, owner of The World Awaits Travel, concurred. 

“We are so fortunate to live in this era where we can travel all over the world. There are so many flights and so much availability, and it is all affordable. My children are so fortunate because they have traveled all over the globe with me, so they have a different mindset,” she said.

This means your clients want to venture to many places, in a concentrated amount of time. The bucket list won’t start getting ticked off at age 65 — the race is on now to complete it and it’s only going to grow day by day.

The good news is that suppliers are trying to keep up with this demand. It seems as if every day we get news that a long-standing tour company has made existing itineraries more adventurous, and this is happening from the midscale level up to luxury.

However, I still see a disconnect. When I speak to tour operators about the consumer’s drive to experience that “authentic” style of travel, what I am told is, “We’ve always done that, we’re just getting better about getting the word out more.”

I’ve overheard many a discussion in which a travel agent has said to a tour operator, “I didn’t know you could do that!”

The quality of meetings taking place between agents and suppliers has to change. The conversation has to begin at a deeper level. The traveling sales rep who does a broad-sweeping overview of their company to a room full of travel advisors and then leaves, is out of date. If the agents, who have the chance to sit one-on-one in front of a supplier, nod, distracted or bored, they might be missing a huge opportunity to learn about the perfect experience for a client.

I’m not saying it’s easy. But I do believe that if agents and suppliers take the time seriously and dig into what clients are asking for, there’s a lot more money to be made. These are business meetings and they should be approached as such. Forget the doughnuts, the free lunches and perhaps even forgo the travel agency visits where a room full of agents listen to a supplier lecture them. Consider instead the smaller, dedicated meetings where questions can be asked and solutions can be determined.

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