One of the best ways for travel agents to build authentic client experiences is by working with the growing network of partners who can provide a wide array of vetted options the agent otherwise wouldn’t have the time to source and manage.
“It’s a real art for a travel agent to package that up,” said George Stone, editor-in-chief at National Geographic Traveler.” It requires collaboration with the operators on the ground at these destinations, developing a trusting relationship with tour guides.”
“Many travelers are very experienced nowadays and may have visited certain destinations multiple times already. They are looking beyond the obvious things to do and see,” said Eric Gnock Fah, president and co-founder of Hong Kong-based Klook Travel, which markets activities online and sells to agents.
“Though there’s a fast-growing number of free independent travelers who book experiences by themselves, there are still customers who prefer to book through travel agents. We believe Klook and travel agents are complementary and we look forward to partnering with travel agents in the U.S.,” he said.
Another website, Rezdy, believes “distributed bookings, through online travel agencies, traditional agencies and others, are exponentially growing,” said Simon Lenoir, founder and CEO. The travel industry is now actively serving the ‘Experience Generation’ and as some call it, the ‘Experience Economy.’”
Rezdy head of North America sales, Bob Gilbert, said agents need to take advantage of aggregators, especially as more travelers make spur-of-the-moment decisions about what they are going to do.
“We are seeing shifts in narrowing of the booking window, with the most significant growth in last-minute bookings,” Gilbert said. “As the consumer is educated, the tour and activity community needs the tools to facilitate bookings online in real time, particularly through mobile devices.”
Leverage reliable partners
Agents have a number of options to choose from in developing their preferred local suppliers. More and more traditional tour operators have been developing itineraries that include “authentic” local experiences that go beyond the typical “private” tour of a famous museum, or cooking with a local celebrity chef.
U.K.-based bespoke tour operator Audley Travel saw a more than 80 percent growth in U.S. revenue in 2016 and expects even stronger growth this year, four years into its launch of services in America. Demand in the U.S. is so high that Audley’s U.S. staff has grown from 27 employees to 160.
The company believes that is because in market, Audley employs “country specialists,” which they define as “a passionate travel enthusiast who has worked, lived or traveled extensively in their country of specialty.”
Many agents rely on their host agency or consortia to help them curate destination experiences. Wendy Burk, CEO and founder of Cadence Travel in La Jolla, California, described how as a Virtuoso National Account, “we have the benefit of leaning on a list of carefully vetted brands that have been invited into the Virtuoso network. Of course, you still need to know which supplier to choose, so really taking the time to network and educate yourself is critical. We love discovering amazing local suppliers and are constantly sharing our findings as an agency.”
In other cases, websites like Rezdy and Klook represent tens of thousands of local travel activities that agents can pick and choose from, and then resell at a commission.
Rezdy, which opened its U.S. office about a year and a half ago, represents about 5,300 suppliers and agents in 90 countries with a network of more than 45,000 tours, attractions and services for travelers. The company handles more than $3.2 million in daily bookings and $1.2 billion annually.
For travel agents, Rezdy helps source and access more products to offer their customers. Agents contract directly with suppliers, or opt-in to distribute at the supplier’s standard rate and commission. Rezdy has no booking fees for agents.
Klook, has been offering local activities to travelers since 2014, and offers commissionable bookings to agents as well through its Agent Marketplace. The company recently received U.S. $60 million in funding backed by a number of investors to help it expand operations to the U.S. and Europe.
A key objective of opening U.S. operations is to introduce American travelers to Klook’s more than 30,000 worldwide experiences from 3,000 suppliers, Gnock Fah said. Klook’s offerings range from local transportation, WiFi, one-day tours, outdoor excursions and unique experiences, to even food and dining options.