Tr@vel Pioneers February 2008 – The Adventure Company

By taking a modular approach to its redesigned website, Adventure Company has won the first Tr@vel Pioneers award. Nathan Midgley talks to webmaster Keith Lavender.

Good websites do not always hit the market fully formed. They’re not even necessarily the product of a fully articulated content strategy. Many are simply the product of an open-minded team tinkering with and updating a solid but adaptable framework.

That’s how the Adventure Company’s site developed into one of the best in the competitive adventure holiday sector from a fairly basic beginning.

“Back in 2004 or 2005 it was primarily an information site with online booking, and it didn’t include any strong calls to action,” says Adventure Company webmaster Keith Lavender. “It was very much based on leading people to brochures and getting them on the phone. What we have now is much more destination-led – we try to invite people to think about what kind of holiday they want and where, rather than funnelling them towards a particular brochure.”

The change certainly reflects changing online shopping habits. But the site’s current incarnation isn’t the result of a hard-and-fast strategy established at the beginning of the development cycle. Indeed, it was mainly the technical limitations of the old site that led to its redevelopment.

“The old website was too slow,” says Lavender. “It made it difficult to do things, like add late availability updates. We knew the company needed something better.”

At this point the Adventure Company had never considered videos, community features or Google Earth – all elements it would add or put into development later. Rather, it was looking for a website flexible enough to allow it to incorporate new features and content.

Lavender says: “There is no point designing a site where a few months down the line you want to add something and can’t. We knew we wanted to be able to take a more modular approach, adding to it and changing it when we needed to.”

That, and some improved SEO – vital when you are one of a limited number of operators selling niche adventure tours – formed the core of the brief that Adventure Company put out to tender, and which was won by Netizen Digital from a field of around half a dozen companies. “One of the core points of the brief was to improve SEO and differentiate us from competitors such as Explore and Exodus,” says Lavender. “That was a number one aspect.”

The redesign was a success, boosting online bookings by some 80%. And crucially, the Adventure Company was able to build on the framework Netizen delivered, experimenting with new features and responding to both consumer expectations and new developments in online media.

“We were the first adventure company to go ahead with Google Earth. We’ve also added a live chat facility so users can talk to our salespeople online.”

Google Maps has also been integrated. It’s a less radical addition than the company’s Google Earth layer, which features information on all its tours and was also developed by Netizen, but Lavender points out that being usable is as important as being innovative – the Google Earth layer can only be as well-used as the software’s install base.

“We also have Google Maps for all our countries. People love playing with Google Earth, but Google Maps doesn’t require them to download and install anything.”

Lavender believes the Adventure Company’s current approach reflects the move of travel retailers into online content provision. “Content is it,” he says, pointing to the company’s videos, photographs and features as well as the Google elements. But content provision creates new resource issues. The Adventure Company takes a flexible approach here too, using a mix of user-generated, in-house and licensed content.

“All the core content – the tour details and so on – we write ourselves, but we also buy in content from Lonely Planet,” says Lavender.

“Images come from a library that we keep of both staff and customer photos. We sent out some people to make tailor-made videos for us, but some clients have sent them in unprompted or pointed us to them on YouTube – it’s something we want to actively encourage people to do in future.”

Core content is search-engine optimised in-house, and Lavender says there are plans to train staff to tailor their writing for the web. The company also drives traffic through paid listings campaigns on Google, Yahoo! and Ask, a job it outsources to digital communications agency Guava.

As well as resourcing existing content, the company is always on the lookout for ways to add to the site – and Lavender stresses that staying innovative means looking everywhere for inspiration.

“I’m constantly coming up with ideas. I also keep a check on sites such as Amazon.”

Next in line are community elements such as message boards – Adventure Company is looking to integrate a version of Lonely Planet’s community platform. This works as an example of how the Adventure Company can add in new kinds of content in response to trends in consumer media; but it’s also a way of using content to encourage repeat sales, a key job for operators whose business relies so heavily on yield and loyalty.

Lavender says: “I’ve been keen for a community for some time. It brings in loyalty – it makes holidaymakers feel like they are part of our team rather than just our customers.”

Lavender cautiously says that community elements will go live this spring. Team profile pages are also on the way, and should help increase customers’ sense of involvement with the company.

And the company shows no sign of sitting on its laurels: while he is tight-lipped about specifics, Lavender promises there is plenty more in the pipeline.

John Harding, sales and marketing director at and sponsor of the Travolution Tr@vel Pioneers

Two very successful years on and Travolution has undoubtedly established itself as THE VOICE of the online travel industry, both as a must-read title and the authority on all subjects in the fast-evolving online marketplace.

With an excellent executive advisory board reflecting the wide spectrum of the online industry and an extremely well-focused editorial team, I have no doubt that it will continue to go from strength to strength in the next 12 months.

As a result we at are delighted to continue our support as sponsor of the
Travel Pioneers.

Travel Pioneers identifies and acknowledges those enterprises that have grasped the nettle and done something very positive to develop their online presence and are worthy of special recognition.

Previously this recognition was directed only to travel agents through the Sm@rt Agent award, but in the past year other areas of the industry have applied innovation to their specific products and this has prompted us to readily agree to expand the coverage of the award.

So… we are looking forward to seeing the gates open and the opportunities for all creative developments to be recognised – be it from travel agents (high street, online or call centres), tour operators, suppliers, system providers, software developers or any other contributors to our industry that lay claim to be one of the new Travel Pioneers.

We’ll be presenting a certificate and a bottle of champagne to each winner and a fine trophy to the most innovative enterprise at the annual Travolution Awards, starting in 2009. The upcoming awards in 2008 will recognise previous Sm@rt Agent winners.

If one of your suppliers has done something special to help you get your head above the parapet or if you’ve done something in-house that has driven your business forward – and you’re prepared to share it! – why not send in your nomination to Travolution?

How to enter:

The travel industry is evolving at a phenomenal pace and Travolution wants to recognise those companies that are leading the way.

Has the Internet opened up new avenues in your business? If so, you could be in the running for a Travolution Travel Pioneers award.

Every issue, we will focus on a business that has transformed its fortunes by making the most of the online opportunity. It could be that the web or a unique way of working with your partners has brought in new forms of business. Maybe you’ve got a better understanding of your customers or clients.

Or perhaps you’ve changed your whole business model to take advantage of new channels and a fundamentally different consumer landscape. In addition to being recognised by the UK’s leading media brand for the online travel industry, each winner’s story will be subject of an indepth case study – inspiring others to learn from your experiences. This month’s winner is The Adventure Company from Alton, Hampshire.

E-mail Travolution editor Kevin May on if you wish to nominate your own or any other company in the industry.

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