Wholesalers

Chernobyl and adventure travel: Explore’s Ben Ittensohn chats brand success

Christian Fleetwood

Christian Fleetwood

Less than a year after HBO’s Chernobyl put Pripyat on the map, visits to the region remain strong for Explore Worldwide.

In an August interview with Travel Weekly, general manager Joe Ponte stood by his claim that the popularity of tours to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant will continue to grow over time.

This came as the GM revealed tours there had been the adventure travel company’s fastest-growing over the past five years. Time has certainly proven Ponte right.

As one of the world’s only established and credible wholesalers game enough to visit the decommissioned power plant, Explore is reaping the reward of taking a chance on Pripyat – a gamble that began with tours that started in 2016.

As a matter of fact, based on figures to February, Explore global head of sales Ben Ittensohn told Travel Weekly “Chernobyl is up 31 per cent year on year.”

“Overall for Explore, we see a 66 per cent repeat customer base … which speaks volumes to the product delivery itself.”

Ben Ittensohn is visiting Australia from the UK as part of Adventure World Travel’s WILD Showcase (supplied)

Capitalising on this kind of success seems to be in Explore’s DNA.

As of 2020, the small group adventure specialist is the first United Kingdom-based tour operator to carbon offset all of its trips.

According to Ittensohn, Chernobyl tours – which came into popularity with the release of last year’s HBO series Chernobyl – remain hugely important for the wholesaler.

So much so that Explore continues to regularly expand them: travellers later this year will not only be able to stay within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, but also visit reactor no. 3, one of the power plant’s non-exploded reactors.

Speaking to Travel Weekly, Ittensohn said it still amazes him that there has been such a swift rise in popularity to Chernobyl, just 34 years after Pripyat endured the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

“We’re seeing a real interest in those unusual destinations, anywhere from Georgia in Central Asia, to Benin and Togo in West Africa,” he said.

“People are becoming more interested in more unusual trips, because they crave experiences rather than a traditional … holiday.

“Again, taking people to unusual places, when they’ve done trips with us, is a little easier because they’re comfortable with the brand and know what the product is about,” he said.

Adventure travel booming

Active trips to Eastern Europe and the Balkans are among Explore’s most in-demand experiences (iStock.com/stock_colors)

Explore is also celebrating an Australian and New Zealand market success, with a massive 53 per cent increase in active bookings over the last 12 months.

Ittensohn is also proud to say, “21 per cent of people who had travelled with us last year, had done so 10 or more times.”

“We’re needing to continually evolve and bring on new product, because people are doing trip after trip with us,” he said.

The fastest-growing type of experience for Explore, popular active trips now include those to Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Silk Road and the five ‘stans.

“What’s driving that [growth] is obviously the support of our trade partners in this market,” he said, adding two “strong” campaigns over January and February had been well supported.

“We hope by the end of the year to put a dedicated [Explore] account manager on to support the account managers that represent us around Australia for Adventure World Travel.”

Safari and South America: Two great tour propositions in the time of COVID-19

In Australia, Explore has seen 47 per cent year on year growth in the market up to February, trajectory that unfortunately is likely to have been arrested due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Ittensohn declined to comment when asked about the impacts of COVID-19 on Explore, but said “we’ve been affected like everyone else”.

“Where we are fortunate is we’re a global operator with 500 trips to 120 countries,” he said.”We’re fortunate that we can offer credit vouchers to customers who are looking to postpone travels.

“Or for those loyal travellers – they are a little bit more resilient and are looking to another destination instead.”

He insisted that the safety of travellers remains Explore’s “highest priority”, and pointed to many destinations across the world that are still safe to travel to.

“Trips in Africa and safari are still a great proposition at the moment”, he said adding that Explore’s third biggest destination, South America, is also a good option for travellers.

Featured image: ‘Welcome to Pripyat’ sign at Pripyat, Ukraine, near the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (iStock.com/svedoliver)

SEE WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING

Leave a Reply

Travel Agents

Flight Centre posts $234m loss, but grows its share in “large and important” Aussie leisure market

by Huntley Mitchell

If you ignore that big negative number in the headline, it’s all very positive news here from FCTG.

Share

CommentComments

Aviation

Qantas suffers $1bn half-yearly loss, pushes back international flight plans

by Huntley Mitchell

The flying kangaroo won’t be hopping overseas as soon as originally hoped, after posting a “stark, but not surprising” loss.

Share

CommentComments

Destinations

Brisvegas tapped as preferred host for 2032 Olympic Games

Crack a tinnie of XXXX Gold, because it looks like the Olympics might be coming to Queensland 32 years after Sydney’s hosting efforts.

Share

CommentComments

Cruise

Carnival Cruise Line extends US pause, as Canadian port closures spark Seabourn, Princess and HAL cancellations

Canada’s obnoxiously handsome PM, Justin Trudeau, has chucked a spanner in the works for cruise fanatics over on that side of the globe.

Share

CommentComments

Technology

Intrepid co-founder backs the Pinterest of travel apps

Getting tired of Facebook’s media ban nonsense? Combine your passion for social media with your passion for travel with this swanky new app.

Share

CommentComments

Destinations

Why your clients will be drawn to Japan’s heartland once international travel restarts

by Sponsored by Gifu Prefecture Tourism Federation

With your clients no doubt itching to get back overseas, here’s a destination that’s a realistic chance of reopening to Aussies before many others.

Share

CommentComments

Aviation

“I thought we were going down”: What we know about the United Airlines engine explosion

The flight was forced to make an emergency landing in Denver when one of its engines blew apart, raining debris on suburban neighbourhoods below.

Share

CommentComments

Cruise

Royal Caribbean cops further punishment for detaining Aussie cruiser over threesome

The man had already been paid almost $100,000 by the cruise line after being detained by crew members on Explorer of the Seas for six days over false rape allegations.

Share

CommentComments

Travel Agents

Helloworld bears $15.1m loss, but retail networks still “largely intact”

by Huntley Mitchell

Helloworld swung to a loss in the first six months of FY21, but it wasn’t all bad news for the ASX-listed group.

Share

CommentComments

Destinations

Traditional owners threaten closure of key Kakadu tourism sites over “mismanagement” by Parks Australia

Traditional owners of Kakadu National Park have warned they will close parts of the tourism hotspot after claims it has fallen into “disrepair”.

Share

CommentComments

Hotels

Marriott names new CEO and president

After the unexpected death of Arne Sorenson last week, Marriott has chosen who will succeed him.

Share

CommentComments

Midweek Interview

Life in the time of COVID-19 with Global Work & Travel’s Adelle Clements

This week, our editor enjoyed a beachside chat with Global Work & Travel’s marketing manager on the Gold Coast … until he accidentally stepped on a blue bottle.

Share

CommentComments