Yesterday, we got a great comment on our “Why Tech Companies Suck at Adventure Travel” post. Anna Pollock, from a cool initiative called Conscious Travel, wrote a response so good, I had to put it on the front page:
A thoughtful article, Doug – thank you.
The only aspect of the ATTA Summit that disappointed me was the technology content – partly because I’ve had the privilege and curse of working in this space since the Mosaic browser actually caught people’s attention three decades ago. What I did observe, as you did, was a tendency to suggest that somehow adventure tour operators are missing the bus by not jumping on the next technological car leaving the station DESPITE the fact that adventure travel is out pacing the rest of tourism – where technology has ripped through it like a hurricane through a small town in Kansas!
You hit the button when you described the operator’s main purpose is enhancing the HUMAN experience. So this is likely where adventure and technology ships pass in the night. Techies assume that their intervention always improves the human experience when what it really does is improve the efficiency of a human-designed process.
I believe adventure travel is growing because it is the last frontier where people can “be alive:, “have fun,” “change their lives” “get back to basics” and experience something real, earthy, juicy, unpredictable without a 24*7 support line that rarely supports anyway.
But there was a much more insidious and dangerous remark made by the venture capitalist who is clearly eyeing up the opportunity for an adventure travel product comparison engine that seemed to go unnoticed.
Adventure travel is growing faster than the rest of tourism because not only do its providers enable their customers to feel what it means to be human (scared, stretched; exhilarated; inspired; emboldened; and fully alive) but because they do so in a way that depends completely on a trusting, personal relationship. The nature of the experience is unique – success is determined by location, timing, weather and the relationship between provider and participant. It is difficult to commodify like a hotel room or a half day city tour. The intrusion of comparison engines into this space would be a step down a slippery slope, encouraging less aware customers to rely more on price and less on suitability. With accommodation, a bad choice might result in a sleepless night. In this aspect of tourism, a wrong decision could have fatal consequences.
We’ve heavily resisted and fought off potential investors who believe that the way to building technology in this industry is to effectively commoditize it thus allowing companies to sell more volume through existing channels. The reason that people are turning to adventure travel is because it something unique and meaningful to THEM. Finding ways to package this stuff so it can flow through an easy distribution channel is not the answer. We believe that if we can make human-to-human interactions more meaningful, the whole community can benefit from these interactions. If successful, we have the basis for a whole new model for distribution that not only allows adventure travel to run better, but it does it while retaining its entire reason for existing.