We all know that agents are valuable when it comes to booking a holiday, but what about from the trade perspective?
According to Back-Roads Country Manager, Dennis Basham, tour operators and wholesalers rely on travel agents to keep them ahead of the curve and on-trend with their products.
In an exclusive chat, Basham told Travel Weekly one of the key ways they choose their next destination or tour product is through the feedback they get from agents.
“We try and stay ahead of the trends and emerging destinations by talking with our preferred agents and tourism partners and incorporating this into our program,” Basham said.
“Back-Roads Touring is preferred with all major agency chains in Australia & New Zealand and this is where the majority of our business comes from.
“Touring can be considered confusing especially if bundled with other products. Most often an agent is required to also assist with airfares, pre/post accommodation & insurance, so why not let the experts take all the hassle out!
“Guest feedback also plays an important role here,” he added.
“With high repeat clientele we are often the first to hear where our guests want to go to next via their feedback!”
Basham admitted that OTAs have made a big move into the traditional travel space, and it’s a part of the landscape wholesalers can’t afford to ignore these days.
“Many of our guests have done their research online prior to booking so our presence online is quite crucial in helping passengers in the research and dreaming phase of the purchase,” Basham told TW.
“There are a couple of OTAs who present touring well, however there are opportunities to improve in this area.
“Personally I think there is room for both as everyone likes choice and flexibility to book with who they want and when they want.”
As for his secret marketing sauce, Basham revealed it was about authenticity and word of mouth.
“For me the secret is to keep doing what we do well by sticking to our true DNA of authentic local experiences and guides, delivering unique, mostly all-inclusive tours to destinations not commonly experienced by bigger operators,” he said.
“This allows us to continue to be different and it is our hope that agents automatically think of Back-Roads when they identify this is the type of touring their clients would appreciate.
“By continually being great at what we do, we hope word of mouth continues to spread and often this is the best form of marketing.”
Back-Roads has added new products recently to cater for changing demand, including “barges in France and sailing in Croatia and Italy”, which Basham explains helps to expand the product “beyond traditional small coach touring experiences only”.
Back-Roads has even added the option of a Dubai stopover tour, for travellers wanting a niche way to break up a long-haul flight to Europe.
The majority of Back-Roads tours start in major capital cities, making it easy for international travellers to access.
But that’s not where they stop, Basham assures us.
“Once on route, Back-Roads tours certainly move to a more regional focus to take a more scenic journey, avoiding busy motorways.
“Our guests tell us they enjoy the flexibility of having a driver & guide who bring their expertise to the trip but also enjoy the leisurely paced itineraries and free time to self-explore.
“Our guests often compare our tours as a self-drive itinerary without them having to do the driving which is why I believe our tours are so popular. They are after unique experiences where they can mix and mingle and feel like a local.”
Basham also told TW that the younger crowds have started making appearances on tours.
“We are starting to see a slightly younger audience on tour breaking away from the cliché that coach touring is only for those in their 60’s, 70’s or 80’s,” he said.
“I believe that because we offer small group touring for between 15-18 guests we attract more single travellers as it is not as intimidating for them when travelling alone.
“Back-Roads touring started over 25 years ago as the Battlefield experts and the product range and offering has grown from there. Our new 2018 brochure has just been released and we now offer 50 tours with over 700 departures, many already guaranteed.
“But it doesn’t stop there, we have big plans to keep growing!”