Swakopmund, Namibia – have you heard of it? I hadn’t either until I learned that the Adventure Travel World Summit would be taking place there earlier this year. I was fortunate enough to attend the Summit just this past week for my second time (it’s been running for ten years now), and I met some wonderful and interesting people (imagine 700 high-energy adventure travel enthusiasts networking in one common area) and overall learned that I have a lot to learn when it comes to the world of travel and adventure. Luckily, I had numerous chances to test my travel expertise on like-minded professionals and I absorbed an unbelievable amount in the process! I wanted to share with you one of the interesting conversations that popped up on our Peer to Peer Exchange day, when we were able to join together in small groups of eight to ten professionals to discuss issues and problem solving in the adventure travel world.
As a facilitator of the Peer to Peer Exchange Day, I ended up receiving a note card with the question: “Will advances in technology ever render tour operators obsolete?” Hmm, yes – this could definitely be a problem. With TripAdvisor, blogging consortiums, endless informative websites, and social media pages providing a plethora of access to legitimate travel information, networking amongst peers and professionals, and reasonably priced flights, activities, and hotels, it almost seems too easy to plan the perfect vacation on your own without the help of a tour operator in this day and age. After our group listed out each of the positives and negatives of today’s technology and how it has changed the world of travel, we came to a whole new set of questions: Why do tour operators exist? What is our purpose and why do people choose to work with us in planning their vacations? The following are a few reasons that our group came up with from a guest’s perspective as to why they’d choose to travel with a tour operator instead of planning their own trip:
1. Lack of time to plan
Worldwide, people are so busy in their day to day lives that planning a vacation seems like just another task to add to the endless to-do list. Tour operators take out the steps of planning the perfect adventure by providing just what you’re looking for in a pre-set package or an easily customizable adventure. We do all the work for you, and you have time to enjoy what matters: vacation time!
2. Don’t know where to start
There are so many beautiful, interesting, need-to-go-there-right-now destinations on this planet that sometimes we find guests have a difficult time knowing where to start. (Technology hasn’t made this any easier as access to pictures, travel sites, and social media seem to only make the bucket-list longer!) A trained professional in the travel industry can help you figure out where to start by determining your budget (how much do you have to spend?), your interests (would you like to travel near or far, in desert or mountains, hiking or biking?), your time frame (do you have a week or a month and what time of year works best?), and your ability (do you prefer a soft adventure walking tour or a hard core mountain climbing excursion?) Having helped so many of the “don’t-know-where-to-start types” before, a tour operator knows which questions to ask to get you moving in the right direction.
3. Not sure where to go within a country / destination
It’s your Christmas break and you only have 10 days to take in the country of Namibia. Should you travel to Etosha National Park, the Skeleton Coast, the Namib Desert, Fish River Canyon, or the Caprivi Region…or maybe all of those in one trip?! A tour operator who has “been there, done that” can help you determine just how much of a country or destination you can fit in comfortably in your time frame without the feeling of not getting enough time at a certain place. They just might help you discover that less is actually more in travel and being overly ambitious in checking off items on the bucket list in a certain country may actually stress you out more and make your hard-earned vacation time feel more like a military march. Focusing on more time spent at a few destinations will truly maximize your vacation time and give you some much needed relaxation spells.
4. Eliminates the uncertainty of travel
Sometimes traveling by yourself or perhaps with your family can be a bit unnerving and stressful at times if something doesn’t go as planned. By traveling with a tour operator, your uncertainty of whether or not that hotel reservation you attempted to make online actually went through or where you’re going to eat lunch en route to your afternoon hike dissipates as a professional tour guide takes care of each and every need. Ladies and gentlemen, your guides have done this before and they're here to make your vacation carefree, exciting, and educational. Does it get much better than that?
5. Safety, Safety, Safety
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns our sales team gets is the question, “is that country/city/destination safe?” Trust me, if we are sending you there, we are deeming it as safe. As a tour operator, our reputation is on the line, and we aren’t going to send you and your family to a city rife with political unrest or a country that’s been recently devastated by a typhoon. Plus, our travel professionals (sales team & guides alike) give you tips on how to stay as safe as you can be in an area (e.g. lock your valuables in a safe when you leave your hotel room or don’t run when you encounter a grizzly bear). All of this and more contribute to your safety when traveling with a tour operator.
Our Peer-to-Peer Exchange group actually came up with many more reasons than just these five I listed as to why a person would choose to travel with a tour operator (I just don’t want to bore you with any more details!)After coming up with all of these motives, we discovered that we had the answer to our original question, “Will advances in technology ever render tour operators obsolete?” The answer we came up with is, NO – tour operators will always remain leaders in the tourism industry due to ease of planning, eliminating uncertainty in travel and planning, and keeping you and yours safe and healthy while traveling. Yes, surviving in the competitive tour operator world requires constant education on technological advances, continuous training of your staff, and persistence in planning for the future; but when it comes down to it, the meaningful travel experiences and memories created for our guests, both while planning and executing a trip, make all the hard work we do as tour operators worth it in the end.
Off for more African adventures,