Comment: Atas Conference showed appetite for touring and adventure sector

Atas director Claire Brighton reflects on association’s biggest-ever event

It’s been less than a month since I was in Liverpool for our annual conference but I’m already hearing plenty about travel agents making their first touring and adventure bookings – or lucrative group sales – all thanks to our event.

Held at the Rum Warehouse in the city’s Titanic Hotel, it was our largest-ever conference, with 400 delegates, including 250 agents.

We extended it to two days for the first time to accommodate our inaugural New to Touring and Adventure Workshop. This was introduced to the agenda as it’s clear there is an appetite among agents eager to discover more about our sector.

Our original plan was to have a small session with 100 agents and operators – but we had to scale it up as more than 140 agents signed up.

The theme for the whole conference was ‘Discover’, as it was our vision to enable every agent to discover something fresh about the sector, whether they’re a newbie, making progress with sales or an established expert.

Attendees have told me that it was our best conference, and I have to agree, judging by the responses from agents who joined us.

One agent who had never booked a tour before was delighted to sell her first touring holiday less than a week after the conference. Another who had been busy looking for new opportunities at the trade fair identified an opportunity for a special‑interest group in his area – and promptly booked a large group tour to that destination.

Supporting destinations

It was heartening to see delegates come together to demonstrate how Atas can help support destinations in many ways, not just by educating agents and promoting the region or country to tour operators.

The issue of sustainability came up in every session, as an integral part of our members’ strategies.

And agents are embracing those sustainability messages and incorporating them into their own businesses – as exemplified by Travel Matters, which scooped the Sustainability Champion award.

We also heard an emotional account of being caught up in September’s devastating earthquake in Morocco from author and adventurer Alice Morrison. Alice, together with her colleagues at Intrepid Travel, told conference goers that Morocco remains eager to host British tourists, so booking holidays to the country is one of the best ways we can help. Lots of delegates have now signed our Morocco Pledge, demonstrating how they aim to support the country to continue its recovery.

Bringing products to life

We also generated great excitement with the announcement of our Atas Experiences, a new type of event aimed at bringing our suppliers’ products to life for agents.

The first one will take more than 50 agents to Lake Como in March to get under the skin of that wonderful destination by taking part in a wide range of activities and experiences.

Agents were also inspired by the stats from our data project with Atas suppliers, produced in partnership with Radar.

It showed that bookings made by travel agents are “substantially” higher in value than those made direct – and that despite the cost-of-living pressures, our members are anticipating yet more bumper growth in 2024.

Since the conference, several members have announced new products and services for 2024 and beyond – even some departures in 2026.

I’ll be catching up with more agents and suppliers at our regional Atas Presents events this winter. We met in Birmingham earlier this week and our next one will be in York on December 6.

I always look forward to meeting agents, as they are so enthusiastic about the sector and how to capitalise on the wide range of opportunities.

There was plenty of food for thought in Liverpool and it’s been uplifting to see how the conference has already generated business, useful contacts and inspiration for the future. Planning has already started for next year’s Atas Conference, guided by the amazing feedback and positivity we’ve had from Liverpool. It all bodes well for 2024.

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