The association announced eight new tour operator members, two new specialist agents and two new affiliate members ahead of its 2018 overseas conference in Ras al Khaimah (November 22-25).
These include river cruise specialist AmaWaterways, luxury tour operator Exsus Travel, specialist tour operator The Cultural Experience and escorted touring specialist Travel Department.
Jamie Loizou, sales, marketing and digital director at AmaWaterways, said as an independent, family-owned business, the Aito stamp was an endorsement of the line’s quality and service.
“We thought it would be a great platform for us to meet likeminded people in travel - operators who will hopefully see the benefit of working with us, and agents who want to add our product to their portfolio,” said Loizou. “The networking opportunities are very good, it’s an incredibly knowledgeable and friendly group of travel professionals.”
Neil Sealy joined Exsus Travel as head of trade sales in June and has spearheaded the operator’s launch to the travel trade. He told TTG 20-25% of Exsus’ revenue now came from agents, while trade enquiries were already matching direct enquires 50/50.
“Aito is a really good fit for Exsus,” he said. “We’re very bespoke, very tailor-made, very luxury. I think it’s good for our team to have access to Aito’s resources and to be able to compare notes with similar companies. It allows us to see what we can do better and how we can help each other out.”
Sealy said Exsus was already working with two Aito affiliates and a number of Aito specialist agents. “Aito agents are perfect for us - they’re specialist agents; we create specialist product.
"In fact, before joining Aito, between two thirds and three quarters of our trade business came from Aito agents anyway so it is clearly the right market for us.
“Being in Aito will allow us to work more closely with these agents, and others, and develop more business for them. We’re getting lots of trade enquiries at the moment. It’s keeping us nice and busy. We’re getting enquiries from new agents every day, which we’re slowly but surely converting into bookings so I think that ratio of trade is going to keep building.
“If you are trade facing and want to work with good agents, you’ve got some of the best around within Aito.”
By contrast, new direct-sell members The Cultural Experience, which specialises in historical, archaeological and battlefied tours, and escorted holiday specialist Travel Department said Aito membership would support their ambitions to explore launching to the trade.
Sara Zimmerman, chief executive of Travel Department, said while the operator is a market leader in Ireland, Aito membership would help it grow its “relatively small” UK footprint, trading largely in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the south west of England.
“For me, there’s a massive opportunity for more growth in the UK,” said Zimmerman. “I thought joining Aito and meeting lots of likeminded tour operators would be very useful from a networking perspective to help us understand the UK market a little better.
“We’re at the start of a new phase in our development following some private equity investment earlier this year. I’m thinking about the future and growth. It’s time for us to really start taking the UK seriously.
“We don’t currently work with the trade in the UK or Ireland, but is is certainly something I would consider for the UK market and is something we’re looking at. If we are to do it though, we have to do it properly.
Alan Rooney, owner of The Cultural Experience, added: “As a small business owner, the advantages for me [of Aito membership] are: synergy with other business owners; to challenge and confirm my thinking and decision-making processes in a way that staff are less likely to; to understand emerging technologies and techniques; and to network.
“There is a whole wealth of opportunities as a small business you would be in the dark about if you’re not part of an organisation like this. I think the objectives of Aito are very much aligned with ours and I like very much what I’ve seen so far.”