Corporate Adventure-Travel Programs Are A Rewarding Niche-Within-A-Niche

by Chris Ryall

Attendees at Travel Marketplace in Toronto.

“Do something awesome together,” Kelly Mwila, founder and CEO of Alaska to Africa Travel, told travel professionals at  the recent Travel Marketplace in Toronto during her presentation on “Corporate Travel Agents: Are You Sitting on Gold?”    

Mwila grew up in Fairbanks, AK, moved to New York City, and worked for various Wall Street investment banks before getting disenchanted with the lack of engagement, loyalty, and overall happiness of her colleagues.  She founded Alaska to Africa Travel, a boutique corporate adventure firm, as a way for companies and employees to reconnect and boost productivity and engagement with one another. 

“Adventure travel is one of the most valuable investments a company can make. It’s amazing to see life-changing moments before our eyes and the connection our clients feel," she said.  

According to a recent Gallup poll of U.S. employees, though, only 13% feel engaged at work.   This lack of engagement has resulted in lack of retention, loyalty, and productivity. Mwila says there is a great opportunity for companies to boost their productivity by investing in their employees’ welfare and workplace. 

Travel agents can play an important role in this trend while at the same time earning significant revenue and commissions for themselves and their agencies by designing customized corporate adventure-travel programs. 

For agents to be successful in convincing company executives to forge ahead with an off-site team-building program they must “focus on the benefits for the company” and deliver something that will boost productivity, employee engagement, loyalty, and profits.    

There are four key elements to include in the program:   

  • Exclusive luxury. Go somewhere out of the ordinary so employees feel special. It’s okay to schedule relaxation as part of program. 
  • Escape and disconnect. Be free from noise/distractions/technology. 
  • Confront raw nature. Be challenged in the activities/reconnect with nature. 
  • Be restored by balance. Have a chance to process recent activities and their impact.  

From Alaska to Zambezi
Alaska is one excellent destination for a corporate adventure-travel program.  Since Alaska is remote you can truly disconnect from corporate life. And it provides the setting and atmosphere for corporate executives and company employees to truly engage with program activities while connecting with nature in its raw form.  Alaska also allows a wide range of outdoor activities, from fishing to glacier hikes.   

For more adventurous groups, consider Africa, where one of the most popular activities to promote teamwork and bonding is whitewater rafting.  Everyone must contribute and you need to work as a team to successfully navigate the rapids.  The Zambezi River at Victoria Falls is a favorite location. South Africa, meanwhile, offers safaris, wine tastings, and zip lining.   

Successful proposals to corporate clients need to stress that it’s not just about a good time, but rather focus on the tangible benefits for the company. Mwila cited a Yale study showing travel experiences are amplified when shared; employees will come back thinking bigger, and being more collaborative, creative, and productive.   

In an era of worldwide competition, companies are looking for ways to increase productivity and profits while retaining employees.  It’s far less costly to keep an existing employee than to hire and train a new one.    

Travel agents need to think beyond just doing their clients’ flights and hotel bookings in the corporate arena, or vacations on the leisure side. Don’t be afraid to suggest an adventure travel team-bonding and leadership-skills program to corporate clients, or to leisure clients who own businesses. 

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