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Canadian Travel Press
Issue Date: Dec 11, 2017
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The adventure advantage

Special Agent G takes education to new heights


Once a year, a chosen group of travel agents from coast to coast gather in Toronto with one main objective: to become adventure specialists.

Put on by G Adventures at the adventure operator’s Base Camp over the course of a weekend, the interactive Special Agent G (SAG) program goes far beyond educating the trade about the company, says Denise Harper, director of sales, Canada for G Adventures.

“So much of training is boring – push products, push, push,” she tells Canadian Travel Press. “We want them to learn about G, but there’s a huge piece of the weekend that gives them the tools to build their own business. The goal, the desired outcome, is to create these specialists who really understand what adventure travel is and how to identify potential travellers because we get people all the time saying ‘I don’t have people who’d like adventure travel… I don’t know people who want to do adventure travel.’”

So, what is adventure travel?
Although adventure travel is one of the fastest-growing segments in the industry, there are many misconceptions about what the term actually means or what clients think it means.

“I think most people when they think adventure they’re assuming that it’s high-impact activity – like climbing Kilimanjaro or Everest Base Camp, that sort of thing,” she says.

Citing the Adventure Travel Trade Association, she defines an adventure travel trip as having at least two of the following three segments: physical activity, cultural immersion and contact with the natural environment.

“You travel to Peru and you’re trying new foods that you’d never eat – like you wouldn’t eat guinea pig here – that’s adventure travel,” she says. “It’s not assuming that you’re hiking or climbing. So that’s a big thing for them. And then they start thinking, ‘hey, yeah I’ve got a client that may like that.’”

How does SAG work?
For the last two years, G Adventures has partnered with agents from Transat Distribution Canada (TDC), who came from BC, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, and beyond to participate in SAG.

“Throughout the weekend, they truly get to experience the G culture and our team’s passion for what we represent and what we do everyday,” she says. “People don’t really get our culture until they see it, so that’s why we bring them into our office, it’s not like sitting in a hotel room and trying to push product on them, they actually feel and see and touch what G is all about.”

One of the most unique aspects of SAG is that only thirty agents are selected to take part, and even those who live in Toronto stay with the group the entire time.

“These agents are actually chosen; we’d look at the agents that have the biggest opportunity or the biggest passion for adventure travel,” she says. “We really wanted to focus on just a smaller group because G is not for everybody, right, we’ve got to pick the ones who really care about adventure and then help them understand it. They get to experience the culture, passion and key differentiators of our product. They become immersed into everything we do and represent.”

Along with various sessions led by subject matter experts on topics like building business via social media, building private groups, how to master storytelling, how to overcome obstacles, and how to sell adventure travel, Harper says a big focus is also on G’s range of eight different Travel Styles to help agents pick the right tour for the right traveller.

“All G Adventures tours share a common love of adventure, but life-altering experiences come in a variety of flavours,” she says. “At the end of the weekend, each agent is given a Adventure Specialist certificate. They’re there from the Friday to the Sunday, and we spend three days together. It just creates such a strong bond. Honestly, people are crying their eyes out at the end, me included.”

Susan Bowman, vice president, Marketing and Industry Relations at TDC, says they partnered with G Adventures again because it provides agents with exclusive education on adventure travel, which is growing in demand.

“Adventure travel is not the millennial adrenalin junky we immediately think of,” she says. “It’s anyone seeking a unique travel experience. Adventure means something different to each person and comes in a variety of flavours, which G Adventures’ Travel Styles can accommodate.”

Bowman told CTP she’s already noticed agents are more confident selling unique vacations since taking part in SAG.

“These agents are now more ready to step out of their comfort zone to offer these types of exciting experiences to their clients,” she says. “[They’ve gained] the ability to surprise and delight them with options they may never have considered.”

Travel professional Gina Marcone with Transat Travel in St. Catharines, Ont., who participated in the recent SAG, says the experience gave her an understanding of how G Adventures works and insight into the adventure customer, which has the potential to positively impact her sales.

“I just called in to set up a group to Morocco for March 2018,” she says. “We have the opportunity of getting many students that go to Brock University.”

From the top down
For many agents, a highlight of the weekend is a two-hour session with G Adventures’ founder Bruce Poon Tip, including a talk on the value of a travel agent and a Q&A, style interview.

“It’s always a hit,” says Harper. “They get one-on-one time with him
and it’s very personal.”

With TDC team members, including Bowman, also on hand during SAG, she says it also showcases how important the partnership is for both companies.

“It’s really important to have the support and buy in from their senior leadership,” she says. “It really just kind of hits home to their TDC agents. Yep, this is supported from the higher people in the company. They’re really invested and the partnership is important.”

While the biggest takeaway from SAG is becoming certified and gaining an understanding for adventure travel, Harper says the agents also have fun along the way.

“They get to network, they get to meet people from their own company and learn ways to build their own business,” she says. “They also have so much fun, like we go out for dinner, we have a food truck come, we went to Chill Ice House. To make sure they’re paying attention and learning, at the end we give them a little quiz and one person wins a trip, and whoever sells the most G in the following three months wins a free spot on one of our FAMs, so there’s a reward there for selling, too.”

The advantage of adventure
Along with getting marketing collateral and promotions to help them sell G, Harper says the program equips agents with tools to stand out in a competitive industry.

“Agents are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and offer their consumer something unique,” she says, adding participants are also tagged as SAG graduates on their online booking system. “They’re looking at something different, and, if you know enough about G, we’re all about giving back, focusing on sustainability and are creating projects around the world. We focus on women, youth and the environment, and I think that really resonates with the consumer today. They’re looking at ways to travel differently and how they spend their money. People are more focused on the environment and human challenges now. I think we offer them a way to give back while travelling. So that’s probably the biggest thing. That’s what really hits home with these agents.”

An agent’s take

With Leanne Birkas,
manager, Marlin Travel Service
Guaranteed, Kingston, Ont.

How do you think taking part in Special Agent G will help you increase your G Adventures or adventure travel sales?

Being a part of Special Agent G made me fall in love with their product in a different way than what I expected. I always knew their product was great, but when you get to experience a company from the inside out, you really understand why they are amazing at what they do. I walked away wanting to talk to anyone that would listen about G, what they stand for as a company, and all the great adventures they have to offer. It’s true that you sell what you know, but you also sell what you love.

What was the biggest selling tip you learned in the process?

The biggest tip I learned was not to assume that the all-inclusive client wouldn’t switch to a G product. With such a wide range of itineraries, you really can switch and sell that avid all-inclusive person to something from G.

Are your clients interested in adventure travel? Is there a growing demand for these types of trips?

I absolutely have clients that want adventure travel, and not just adventure by itself, but adventure that thinks outside of the box, and makes the experience feel unique to the traveller. There is a growing demand for this product for many reasons, but the one that I come across most often, is that people want these types of experiences because they are different and not everyone is doing them. People want to be able to tell their friends, and post on social media, to brag they have done and seen things that someone else hasn’t. More and more people are starting to push themselves to try new things, and G allows them to be able to experience that, with the comfort of knowing that they will be treated special.

By the numbers

G Adventures saw a 900% sales growth with Carlson Wagonlit Travel agents who attended the first SAG in 2015. The program was so successful that the tour operator replicated it in the UK market.

“The growth numbers are phenomenal,” says Harper. “Last time TDC did this, in the three months afterwards, the agents that came to that session, the sales grew 104% and 190% in passengers. Isn’t that awesome? Even the agencies that they’re a part of, the agents that didn’t go, but they’re obviously talking about it, the growth was 36% in sales and 17% in passengers.”

Feedback from this year’s TDC agents:

  • 100% say they feel more confident in selling adventure travel after attending SAG;
  • 62% said they’ve never participated in this type of training.

“On a monthly basis-we continue to see double-and triple-digit growth with G Adventures,” adds Bowman. “The adventure travel market is in big demand from millennials to boomers. While our demand for mass market travel remains strong, we also have requests for all types of personalized travel adventures.”