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REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) is presumably best known as a national outdoor specialty retailer, as well as the largest consumer-co-up in the nation with some 6 million active members.
Indeed, selling high-quality gear and apparel for outdoor activities — including camping, cycling, hiking, fitness, snow sports and more — does comprise REI’s core business. But for more than 30 years, the company has also offered adventure trips around the globe through its active travel company, REI Adventures.
Below, we chat with Cynthia Dunbar, general manager of REI Adventures. She has been with the company for 25 years, and nowadays is excited about its plans for development as well as renewed priority in working with travel advisors.
How does REI Adventures stand out in the adventure travel market?Because REI Adventures is owned by REI, our focus on travel is related to the activities that REI sells product for in the store: hiking, camping, climbing, bicycling and more.
We’re also known for a higher level of activity, so our trips are usually more rigorous than those of our competitors — they’re designed to include activity all day long. So, folks need to be prepared for it and have the right equipment.
REI Adventures supplies items such as camping equipment, kayaks and bikes, but there’s personal gear that people need to be prepared to come with. We try to make sure that travel agents understand that how important these things are; if it says a down jacket is required, the client can’t show up with a fleece and a raincoat — it’s not going to work.
REI is often praised for its superior customer service. Does this extend to the REI Adventures brand? REI has a 100-percent satisfaction guarantee, and REI Adventures also supports and stands behind that. Plus, I think there’s an advantage to being a part of REI. We’re a big company, and we really care about the places we go, the guides we choose and the companies we work with.
Additionally, clients can find how-to guides and resources through the advice section of our website. If someone wants to learn a new skill and then go on a trip, they can do all of it through REI.
Our trips are not dividendable; only product is through our co-op. But we do offer REI members a discount upfront for our trips; they receive about 10 percent, give or take, off each trip. (Editor’s note: Becoming a lifetime REI co-op member costs a one-time fee of $20.)
Can you describe REI Adventures’ relationship with travel advisors? REI Adventures just officially kicked off its travel agent program in March. We’ve always worked with the trade, but not very well. But we’re going to expand our efforts a lot next year; I’m bringing on a manager to lead that.
Previously, we didn’t have the technology in place to be able to work with agents. So, we invested a lot of time into creating something that we think will work well for agents: They can log in, book directly through the portal once they become certified and then go back in and get all the information they need. We’ve been able to track sales, pay commission on time and make sure it’s all working well for the trade and for their client.
When doing active trips in remote places, it’s important to ensure your customer is matched to the right program. We require a lot of paperwork from every client to understand them before they get into the field.
For agents to become certified, we have a small presentation followed by a few questions. It’s not hard; it’s just a way to ensure that agents really understand who REI is, what we’re selling and ways to navigate through our site as well as through the portal.
What has been the response to the new agent program?It has gotten off to a softer start than we had hoped, which is why we want to hire someone who is dedicated to it. REI Adventures is really a unique product; the program needs that face-to-face aspect so travel agents can be confident in selling the trips and ensure that they’re setting up their clients for success.
Sometimes people sign up for a bike trip because, for example, they have always dreamed of doing a bike trip in France — but they’ve never ridden a bike for more than an afternoon at a time. REI Adventures can help them prepare for it. Or, we can help them choose a trip that’s more appropriate for their skill set or skill level right now.
I think there’s an advantage to being a part of REI. We’re a big company, and we really care about the places we go, the guides we choose and the companies we work with.
Are certain trip types or destinations trending among REI Adventures’ clients?We’ve had a lot of success with our women-only adventures, and we plan on expanding them. When I first started at REI 25 years ago, the customer demographics were much more skewed toward males than females. But that trend has changed in the last 10 years or so; right now, we’re probably 56 percent female to 44 percent male in terms of participation.
For our women-only trips, Greece has been super popular over the last few years. This year, the Lares trek in Peru has also been popular.
Our family trips are also doing well, so we will be growing those, too. After their trips, families have shared with us how great it is just to enjoy the trip and experience it with their children — and not have to worry about the planning aspect. Our most popular destination is Thailand. It features hiking, kayaking, homestays, cooking classes, a river camp stay and more. It’s just a great cultural experience for families.
Overall, Portugal has been incredibly popular for the last few years. So, we just launched two new trips to the destination; one of them is the Camino de Santiago, but it’s the Portuguese way.
The DetailsREI Adventureswww.rei.com/adventures