Atas Conference 2023 preview: Touring and adventure ‘in total growth mode’

Attendees at event in Liverpool will hear how demand continues to grow despite a raft of challenges facing the sector. Samantha Mayling reports

Our sector is in total growth mode – in revenue, departures and number of customers,” says Zina Bencheikh, chair of the Association of Touring & Adventure Suppliers (Atas).

“It’s going to benefit agents if they sell touring and adventure holidays.”

Intrepid Travel’s managing director for the EMEA region was speaking to Travel Weekly ahead of the annual Atas Conference, which will welcome more than 400 delegates to Liverpool on Tuesday and Wednesday (October 10-11).

The conference will be “the biggest and best” yet from Atas, with record attendance figures expected and the addition of a New to Touring and Adventure session.

“We’ve chosen ‘discover’ as the conference theme because delegates will discover plenty about Atas, the sector, destinations and members,” Bencheikh adds.


Market trends

Conference-goers will also hear the latest sales trends from research conducted among Atas suppliers.

Claire Brighton, Atas director, will reveal the findings at the conference. She says they show increased sales and confidence, with a “buoyant” market that is well ahead of 2022.

The fortunes of destinations will also be examined.

Bencheikh says: “Since 2022, we’ve seen a very strong comeback from Jordan and Egypt.

“People want to see iconic sights and do activities but with the safety of a touring holiday. Europe remains the winner for touring.”

Looking at consumer types, the sector is seeing the rise of female solo travellers, especially ‘queenagers’ – adventurous women aged over 50.

People want to see iconic sights and do activities but with the safety of a touring holiday

“Most of them have paid their mortgage, don’t have kids at home any more and are really keen to discover the world. They book tours because of the organisation, logistics and safety,” notes Bencheikh.

“Solo travel is a large market trend; touring is a great way of making friends. There’s a ‘loneliness epidemic’, with people working from home, so they’re looking to make connections through travel.”

She adds: “People are still prepared to spend money on holidays even though they’re more expensive than pre-Covid.

“Touring holidays are such good value because so much is included.

“From an agent perspective, it’s all included in one easy booking.”


Keynote speakers

These trends and more will be explored during the conference, especially with four keynote speakers.

Wendy Wu Tours founder Wendy Wu will talk about classic touring; Contiki chief executive Adam Armstrong will explain how to make the most of the youth travel sector; and Bob Simpson, expedition product development vice-president at Silversea Expeditions, will show how expedition cruising differs from the mainstream sector.

Adventurer Alice Morrison will talk in a session sponsored by Intrepid Travel about solo holidays for women aged over 50, and ways the sector supports local communities. She will also update delegates about the situation in Morocco, especially as she was near the epicentre of the earthquake last month.

It has been a year of turmoil, with February’s devastating earthquake in Turkey, wildfires, heat waves and flight disruptions caused by strikes and air traffic control problems.

Bencheikh says operators have incident management plans to cope with such incidents, but are also adapting to climate changes.

“For example, we’re looking at adding more European departures in the shoulder season,” she says.

If awareness grows with consumers, it will have a positive impact on the trade and agents in particular

Intrepid operated a December departure for the first time last year with its Best of Spain tour – and it resulted in the operator’s highest-ever Net Promoter Score, she recalls. It is also offering more trips to northern destinations as some consumers may prefer cooler places if Mediterranean hotspots regularly become too hot in the summer.

Bencheikh notes the rise in Atas members over the past year and hails the wide mix of conference sponsors.

“It’s a really good reflection of the sector and it’s great to show the connections between the different parts of the industry – airlines, cruise, activities and so on,” she says. “That’s where travel agents play an incredibly important role, packaging these different types of holidays.”

Bencheikh took on the role of chair in June, taking the reins from Brian Young, EMEA managing director at G Adventures.

As well as helping plan the conference, she’s been looking at longer-term strategies, such as raising the visibility of touring and adventure holidays among consumers, as well as the trade.

“If awareness grows with consumers, it will have a positive impact on the trade,” she adds.

Another priority for her is sustainability, which is embedded into each session of the conference.

More: Atas Conference 2023 website


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