GAP Adventures sales and marketing director EMEA John Warner talks to Travel Weekly's Kelly Ranson about the sinking of Explorer and plans for e-learning and travel agent fam trips.
GAP Adventures is one of the largest adventure travel companies, how is it growing in the UK?
The Canadian company started 17 years ago as a one-trip tour, which was paid for on the founder’s (Bruce Poon Tip) credit card. We now organise trips for 63,000 travellers on seven continents.
We are focusing on pushing our presence in Europe. We have an office in the UK and we aim to be the biggest adventure brand in the UK.
We have retail stores in the US but it’s not something we would do in the UK – we are extremely happy with the network of trade partners we are working with.
What is the company’s relationship with the trade like?
Since we launched in the UK about 12 years ago we have worked with the trade. We are a land-only product so we need to organise flights and other parts of the trip with agents.
I think we work with the best partners in the UK – that’s not to say that we wouldn’t work with any more, though. But we do want to work with agents who have a similar philosophical and cultural mindset to us so they can sell our product to the right people.
So what are you doing for agents?
I think frontline staff need to see the product to sell it. I am keen to take agents on a trip so we will be doing a series of fam trips this year.
We are also developing an e-learning site for agents to give them an overview on adventure travel and GAP Adventures. It will focus on our philosophy, cultural and environmental concerns – agents can become an expert in this area.
What do you think are the trends for the adventure travel sector?
There has been a massive movement to adventure travel in general. A Mintel report in 2005 showed that one in four trips was adventured-based. The market is continuing to grow and we are expanding the portfolio by 25% this year.
Trend-wise we are definitely seeing a move towards the family market and we also have 10 trips focused on ‘voluntourism’ – we are always trying to find projects that allow us to help communities.
GAP Adventures has had an ethos to promote sustainable tourism since it started in the 1990s.
What do you think people are looking for on an adventure holiday?
They are enjoying something from a cultural perspective. People are more in tune with our philosophy now.
Travellers have more hobbies and want to combine this with a holiday as well – in areas such as cuisine, cooking and photography.
How is the company coping following the sinking of your cruise ship Explorer in Antarctica in November last year?
We had the most iconic vessel in the Antarctic. It will never be the same; the company has been in mourning and we need to find something to replace it.
Initially our main aim was to get all of the passengers back safely. Now we have had a chance to look at the future.
We have got a replacement ship (Polaris) covering the itineraries Explorer would have sailed for the rest of the season.
Moving forward we are actively looking to have another vessel of our own. A lot of future passengers who were booked on Explorer only wanted to sail on that ship so we couldn’t help them; some booked with other companies but a lot of people put their trust in GAP and will travel on Polaris.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
You always look back and see how you could have done it better.
We did extremely well – no one was hurt and we were able to mobilise contacts in the area. We have such good contacts that we spoke to the Chilean air base to get their help.
We had a lot of support and need to thank everyone in the industry for this.
Do you think it has put people off travelling to the region?
On the contrary, I think it may have made people want to travel there. It was put to the forefront of the news and the front of people’s minds.
Profile: John Warner
- Age: 41
- Lives: Clapham, London
- Employment history
- September 2007: Joined GAP Adventures
- 2001-2007: Esprit International (online music memorabilia site) director of sales and marketing.
- Warner has also worked in teaching and for other travel companies including Trailfinders and TravelChest.com.