Special Agent G: G Adventures Is Shaking Up The Training Model

Open Jaw
by Bruce Parkinson

Aizaz Sheikh

Susan Bowman

For many travel professionals, adventure travel – however broadly defined – is outside their comfort zone. Some agents lack the knowledge and expertise required to sell it with confidence. But many also recognize that responsible, socially conscious travel is a fast-growing and lucrative segment of the market – and they want in.

Enter G Adventures.

G is the Canadian success story that mushroomed from the 1 man show of founder Bruce Poon-Tip to an admired global brand with over 1,350 employees and more than 100,000 annual travellers.

The company knows it has to provide agents the tools and expertise to confidently sell such a vast product line, but – in typical G fashion – it’s not going to do things the old-fashioned way. In other words, don’t expect a G rep to wander into your agency with coffee and donuts.

“What ends up happening too often is that a supplier shows up at the end of a long day and goes over the latest product developments in the back room to agents who may have already tuned out for the day,” says Aizaz Sheikh, G’s Canadian Marketing Manager. “We wanted to shake up that training model.”

The result is Special Agent G (SAG) an interactive program developed to cultivate adventure specialists. To date there have been 2 SAG training events, both held on weekends at G’s downtown Toronto HQ, also known as ‘Base Camp.’

“Culture is a massive part of our brand,” says Sheikh. “And Base Camp is where the culture of the brand lives.”

The 1st SAG training was held for a group of CWT travel professionals which G says resulted in 900% sales growth, albeit from a small base. A 2nd event was recently held with 30 TDC agents in attendance, and G sales from that group have jumped by 195%.

“We had 30 participants and the satisfaction score was 100%, our best ever,” says Susan Bowman, V.P. Marketing & Industry Relations for Transat Distribution Canada. “In the follow-up survey, they characterized it as fun and interactive and all were impressed with the passion coming from the G Adventures team. It was contagious.”

Kimberlee Sturgeon, a travel professional with Goliger’s Travel Plus in Paris, Ontario, told Open Jaw that she has always liked G product and has sold some of it in the past, but after a recent return from maternity leave she realized that in a fast-changing industry, specialization was more important than ever.

“You have to set yourself apart. And when you find something you’re passionate about, go after it. The G training was invaluable. It was small and intimate, like G’s tours. It was understandable and relatable and really broke it down for you. When you’re confident about a product, you’re going to lead with it. Shortly after the training I recommended a 29 day Indochina tour and the clients were so excited by my enthusiasm that they put a deposit down then and there. Without the G training I wouldn’t have felt that confidence.”

A distinctive product requires a different approach, says G’s Sheikh. “Agents get used to selling certain types of things... Adventure travel opens the industry to a completely different-minded person, and the agent mindset has to be different too.”

Sheikh says the morning of the training focuses on the adventure travel market and the many tour styles and hundreds of adventures offered by G around the world. The afternoon “is more about the agent who is investing in themselves,” with topics including how to grow business with groups, the power of strong storytelling and social media strategies. “A lot of the training is relevant to other sales as well,” says Sheikh. “It’s not exclusive to G and it’s about making them better agents.”

That fits perfectly with TDC’s mandate as well. “TDC conducts over 6,000 training engagements a year to ensure our travel professionals are current in their product knowledge,” says Bowman. “These are offered through webinars, conferences, in-office and more. The TDC Academies are longer-duration, focused on one specific product type such as cruise, groups, sales/product and now G Adventures.”

The results are demonstrable, Bowman says. “Other TDC training academies have proven their effectiveness as we track sales post-academy. In every case our graduates outperform their peers.”     

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