Large Tour Firms Jump on Exotic Travel Trend
by Robin Amster

A growing number of travelers are venturing far afield to exotic and remote destinations in search of once-in-a-lifetime vacations, prompting growing numbers of tour firms to expand in this direction.

While tour operators like Journeys International and G Adventures have long specialized in this type of travel – including adventure travel, ecotourism and “experiential” travel to exotic locales – larger tour operators are moving in.

The development has created more choices, and more decisions, for agents and their clients.

Agents will, of course, want to know if the specialist tour operator pays commission and many do, including Journeys International and G Adventures.

Once the commission question is answered, choosing between a smaller specialty firm and a larger tour op is a matter of assessing the different natures of each.

What specialty firms offer
“It’s not so much a question of taking people exclusively [to exotic destinations]; rather we take them differently,” said Will Weber, senior director and co-founder of Journeys International, a specialist in small group adventure travel and ecotourism.

Journeys International tailors its trips, “curating the experience to match the individual’s interest,” Weber said. “Many of our people tell us, ‘I don’t take group tours, but I know I can’t do this on my own.’”
 
“Our clients tend to have higher expectations in terms of gaining more in-depth knowledge from local guides and more opportunities for interactions on a personal basis.”

In contrast, the larger tour operators “tend to have a more generalized focus,” according to Weber.

The advantages of big
For Jeremy Palmer, Tauck Tours’ vice president/general manager, land division and new ventures, choosing between a specialist or larger tour operator, “is not an either/or. There are pros and cons to each.”

“If you’re going with someone who only goes to one place for 30 years, you would hope there’s a level of service that comes with that,” he said, adding: “I think we match that.

“But on the flip side, because we are so large, there are things clients can expect before and after the journey, not just while they are there,” Palmer said,

The tried and true
Traveling with a larger tour operator, especially to more remote destinations, provides travelers with a greater level of comfort, according to Steve Born, vice president of marketing for the Globus Family of Brands.

“We know these niche operators are perceived as specialists by agents, but they have to weigh that against more tried and true operators like us,” he said.

“A specialist operator may not have the range of product we offer and, with Globus, the different brands we have. It’s also more than likely the client will be more familiar with our brands, giving us more street cred.”

One advantage for agents is that bookings they make with Globus to exotic destinations contribute to their overall volume with the firm, whereas a booking with a specialist is likely to be a “one-off,” Born added.

Healthy competition
Overall, the increased competition in the exotic travel arena is desirable, said General Tours World Traveler president Bob Drumm.

“The competition is healthy, and it addresses the particular needs that travelers have,” Drumm said. Some companies focus on specific interests or activities, others on particular destinations and budgets.

“The U.S. has always had a very fragmented tour operator market, with operators offering tours all over the world,” he added.

Next time: Advice from tour operators on selling exotic destinations.

Related story
Tour Ops See Rising Demand for Exotic Destinations

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It's interesting--although not surprising--that travel agents, with whom our members work so closely, ranked high among travelers, and it reconfirms the value travel agent partners bring to our members.
 
Terry Dale
President & CEO, USTOA
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