APT’s managing director spoke to Robin Searle ahead of the association’s second conference in Birmingham this month

You are the second chairman of Atas – why were you keen to take on the role?

I have spent 25 years in the travel industry, 18 years of which have been firmly focused on promoting touring. With my product knowledge and passion for this travel style, I was keen to get more involved, and it seemed a natural next step to pick up the mantle from Giles and continue to build on the foundations he has laid for Atas.

Touring has evolved almost beyond recognition. Long gone are the days where it symbolised coach touring around the UK for pensioners. Today’s touring and adventure portfolio is dynamic and offers clients the opportunity to explore a huge variety of destinations around the globe, taking in some incredible hand-picked experiences along the way. For me, heading up Atas offers the opportunity to share my enthusiasm for touring and help further elevate its profile and growth.

How have you found the response to Atas in its first 18 months?

Starting a new organisation is always going to be a challenge. It’s natural to be concerned about the response it will receive and whether there is enough appetite amongst your industry peers to make it work. Luckily, the trade engagement by agents and operators has been, and continues to be, amazing. For example, shortly after launching Atas we had over 200 agents join our first conference in Birmingham and I think that just highlights the demand.

What will your priorities be as chairman?

My main priority is firmly centred on education, with the aim of getting as many consultants as possible to really understand the product offering. Education comes in many forms and so with the partnership of Atas members we’ll use a range of formats – from familiarisation trips, through to video tutorials and our Atas training programme – to achieve our goal. Once agents understand what a touring or adventure holiday is, then they can make sure they are promoting it to the right guest.

You have a history of championing the sector with the Better Escorted Touring group (Best). What do you think had changed between Best and the launch of Atas, and what lessons were you able to learn?

Great question! For those who are too young to remember, I had an idea years back that all the big touring partners should collaborate and work on the ethos that we would be stronger in numbers. I spent years talking at events or through the media about it, highlighting how great touring holidays are. What the idea lacked was a structure to back it up. With Atas the concept is the same but we have all the things that were missing back then, including an all-important Atas secretariat and 28 other members who are working towards the same goals.

Do you think the travel trade understands the opportunities offered by the touring and adventure sector?

I think it’s getting a lot better and that is a testament to Atas in its first year and the companies that are in the sector. By the same token it is clear we also have a long way to go, but we are certainly on the right road.

What are the main barriers to growth?

I don’t think there are any barriers and the growth is endless. We know that by 2020, baby boomers will make up the majority of the UK and that is our perfect target market. That, combined with amazing repeat rates and evolving product, leaves the sector in a fantastic place for growth.

What are the key selling points of the sector for agents who aren’t currently engaged?

My question to agents would be, do you sell holidays? If you do, then you have the market. The only barrier to achieving sales is in having a clear understanding of what your client wants and then being able to match them to the right company and holiday. You just need to ask the right questions and Atas will help you do that.

What has been your most memorable experience on a touring or adventure holiday?

Over the last 18 years, I have been lucky to travel on at least two tours a year. Although I prefer to lie on a beach, I am also a big foodie and there are plenty of escorted tours that offer the chance to experience both on one trip. My most memorable experience was a tour to Northern Spain. The food and wine in San Sebastian, the great weather, architecture and people just made it a lasting memory and will take me back again and again. There are so many places in the world to visit and I am sure there is a memorable tour or adventure in every one.

More: Atas Conference website