Big interview: Atas chairman Giles Hawke

Big interview: Atas chairman Giles Hawke

The Association of Touring & Adventure Suppliers was unveiled this week. Robin Searle spoke to chairman Giles Hawke

Q. How has Atas come about?
A. The touring sector has worked together in the past to promote itself to the trade, with organisations such as Better Escorted Touring (Best), but a combination of commercial challenges and a relatively small number of engaged companies made these efforts hard to sustain. Insight Vacations sales director Paul Melinis has been particularly vocal in his belief that the sector has great potential to work together, and I think the efforts of Paul and others over the past decade have now come to fruition with the creation of Atas.

Q. Why do you think the time is right for Atas?
A. Touring and adventure holidays are growing in popularity, with both established and relatively new suppliers continually developing new products, new destinations and new routes to market. The founder members of Atas agree that there is huge scope for agents to grasp the opportunities that this evolving sector offers, and having seen what has happened in the cruise industry in the last 15 years, it feels like there is a similar chance for touring to form a key part of agents’ product offering.

Q. What are the key objectives of the association?
A. At this stage there aren’t many agents who have touring and adventure holidays as a central part of their offering; it is often a reactive approach to a customer requesting a touring holiday rather than a proactive promotion. The role of Atas is to help agents understand the size of the opportunity, the range and quality of what is on offer and how best to talk about and sell this type of holiday. If we can take away the misunderstandings and improve knowledge so agents feel more comfortable promoting and selling this form of holiday, then we will have made a successful start on which to really grow.

Q. Is it important to have a cross section of members and how will you ensure all parts of the sector are represented?
A. Much like cruise, this isn’t a homogenous sector. Every organisation in touring and adventure has similarities, but every company equally has elements that make us unique. It is key for agents and all members that we focus on the sector and then talk about the individual elements. By having so many members, those who are engaged in the association will be able to influence what we do, how we do it and ensure their interests are represented, while ensuring that our core focus is on promoting the sector as a whole.

Q. What are the main challenges facing agents when it comes to touring and adventure holidays?
A. It is vital to have an understanding of what is on offer, the range and quality of the product and who does what and where. It isn’t just for old people, it isn’t downmarket and dull, and it isn’t normally full days looking out of a coach window. Having touring as a sector represented when talking to agents will encourage more agents to feature it as a differentiated part of their consumer offering.

Q. You mentioned the parallels between touring and adventure now and cruising 10 years ago – do you think there are similar opportunities for agents?
A. Absolutely. We have lots of entrenched views to overcome. We need to help agents understand the product so they can talk knowledgeably and comfortably with customers about touring and adventure at a generic level and then at a very specific level as well. In the same way that not every cruise line is for every passenger, but there is a cruise for everyone, we need to ensure agents have the knowledge and confidence to put the right customer on the right tour. Looking at the range of companies and holidays represented by Atas, we will be able to demonstrate that there is a touring holiday for everyone.

Q. How will Atas benefit agents?
A. There will be online training, conferences and showcases, news and updates, sector information and benefits, as well as key selling points and we will work to debunk misconceptions. There are some exciting things already planned for agents and part of this will be us understanding what they need to help them succeed.

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