Today Travel Daily chat with John Powell, Managing Director of Footsteps in Asia, the tour operator specialising in tailor-made adventure holidays to Southeast Asia…
Q) Some people might not have heard of Footsteps in Asia. How long have you been around?
Footsteps in Asia has been operating small group adventure tours in Southeast Asia for over 18 years and has been the driving force behind several leading International travel companies during that time, including Peregrine and Gecko’s Adventures, Exodus Travel, The Imaginative Traveller, Sawadee Reisen and The Adventure Company. We had always branded ourselves to appear to be the Asian department of whichever client we served. Despite handling some 250,000 visitors to the region, almost no one had heard of us.
Q) You were impacted by the Intrepid Travel-TUI merger, correct?
It’s well known that the merger between Intrepid Travel and TUI Travel resulted in the creation of Peak Adventures. What isn’t so well known is that the impact on a number of companies, including ourselves. Basically we lost of all of our customers within a matter of months. After 18 years, it was quite a shock to the system, and certainly dumped us out of our comfort zone.
Q) So what now?
Well life goes on! After the initial shock we quickly regrouped and decided to start rebuilding the company from scratch. Our early priority was growing the Footsteps in Asia brand, so we launched a new website and promoted ourselves at trade shows. There had never been a need to do this before so the learning curve was steep! Fortunately we had one commodity to fall back on that always helps in times like this; confidence from having an intimate knowledge of the destinations. From this we have begun to build a new client base.
Q) Can you give us a brief outline of Footsteps in Asia’s itineraries?
The discovery and adventure style tours we operated for many years in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos are still our bread and butter. But we are now adding even more cultural experiences to ensure we have a point of difference from what is being offered elsewhere.
In May this year we developed our new premium brand aimed at the luxury tailor-made market, called Footsteps in Style. We launched this brand at the ILTM in Shanghai in June 2012. The fusion of adventure and unique experiences combined with luxury hotels and chic restaurants has proved very popular.
Q) That quite a big step from your origin as an adventure tour operator. What made you decide to make the change?
Actually it was easy decision as our research showed that the growing premium market was seeking more genuine experiences, while still returning to a luxury resort at the end of the day. We were the experts in offering unique cultural experiences with a twist of adventure, so the easy part for us was adding some relaxing spas and luxury hotels. We also found that agents really appreciate the experience that we have in the destination, enabling us to put special touches into their proposals that give them the edge at the point of sale.
Q) What further developments are we likely to see from Footsteps in Asia?
We are already expanding out from our original destinations of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Over the last six months we have working on adding Borneo, Myanmar, China, India, Nepal, Bhutan, North Korea, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. We are also about to go live with our new Travel Management System which will enable clients to log in and design programmes, make bookings and check prices in real time. This will cover all countries and will be phased in over the coming months.
Q) Do you offer any incentives for the travel trade?
One thing we have made sure to do is look after our network of travel agents. In a time of diminishing margins for them we are offering higher than the industry norm with up to 15% off our tours. This has proved very popular.