Industry Q&A: Barbara Banks of Wilderness Travel

Industry Q&A: Barbara Banks of Wilderness Travel

Wilderness Travel’s director of marketing and new trip development talks adventure travel trends and what makes the tour operator tick By: Giselle Abcarian
<p>Barbara Banks // © 2017 Wilderness Travel</p><p>One Wilderness Travel itinerary will include a stop in Ladakh, India. // © 2017 Creative Commons...

Barbara Banks // © 2017 Wilderness Travel

One Wilderness Travel itinerary will include a stop in Ladakh, India. // © 2017 Creative Commons user praveenpn4u

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Wilderness Travel

While watching a solar eclipse, Barbara Banks, a Public Broadcasting Service  documentary filmmaker, had a realization. She was ready to make a career change, and the words “adventure travel” were clear in her mind.

More than 20 years later, she is now the director of marketing and new trip development for Wilderness Travel. In her role, Banks designs award-winning and unique trips that bring small groups on in-depth, active experiences taking place everywhere from European countries to the wild terrain of Patagonia.

We had a chance to chat with Banks about Wilderness Travel’s goals, clients and exciting itineraries for next year, as well as her take on emerging adventure travel trends.

How did you get your start with Wilderness Travel?
I received catalogs from a number of different adventure travel companies, but Wilderness Travel was the only one I called up to interview with, and that was more than 20 years ago. There was just no question for me about wanting to be a part of the Wilderness Travel team. 

What is the company’s philosophy?
We ultimately want to give our clients a deep human experience. Our job is to create experiences that invite people to try something that is completely new to them, which will hopefully surprise them in ways that engage their curiosity, mind and senses.

We want our clients to challenge themselves in a new place — oftentimes physically and mentally — and connect with the people, food and culture in a truly meaningful way.

What sets Wilderness Travel apart from other adventure travel companies?
Wilderness Travel is still run by its founder, Bill Abbot. It’s going into its 40th year of offering successful trips around the world. Having the original founder still at the helm — and having him know the trips intimately — really makes a difference. Ultimately, this attention to detail shows in the mindfulness that goes into designing our trips. We care passionately about offering well-planned, enjoyable adventures, and working side by side with the original founder really supports that.

How would you describe Wilderness Travel’s typical client?
Most of our clients are very well-traveled. More importantly, however, they are innately curious and want to experience the world in an active way. Our typical clients are neither looking for the top luxury vacations nor looking to cut the absolute most rock-bottom deal. They’re looking for a quality experience, and that is what we’re offering them.

The maximum size for our groups is about 12 to 15 people. We found that to be a sweet spot for allowing people to meet each other and become great friends. We have many clients who have met on our trips and returned together for future trips.

What is the operator’s relationship with travel agents?
We love working with travel agents and consider them trusted travel advisors. Travel agents who know our company understand that our trips are thoroughly vetted and that we’ve deeply researched them to ensure the highest-quality experiences.

Some of our adventures can be hard to wrap your head around, but travel agents are able to recognize clients who would be interested in our type of adventure travel and then recommend trips accordingly. The agents we work with closely also call us to discuss future trips a client might enjoy based on the client’s previous trips, so, in a way, they act as our eyes and ears with our customer base.

Any new and exciting destinations or itineraries that agents should be aware of?
We have a fantastic trip following an elephant migration crossing the border from Botswana to Zimbabwe. There’s a new trip in the south of France, where we will hike, dine at Michelin-starred restaurants and have special access to beautiful prehistoric caves. We’re also doing a spectacular trip in India that starts with observing snow leopards in Ladakh and ends with seeing tigers in central India.

What are some new trends you’re noticing in the adventure travel industry?
The trend of the multigenerational travel is definitely one that is going to stay around for a while — and we really love it. We see a lot of active grandparents taking their children and grandchildren on Wilderness Travel trips. 

Another trend we’re noticing is the single traveler turning to group travel, and single doesn’t have to mean partner-less. Work schedules are so crazy these days that even if your husband or wife is interested in traveling, it can be hard to find a time where schedules align — group trips are a nice option for these cases. 

We’re also seeing a lot of couples and friends traveling together to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones.

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