What you need to know about Grassroots Affiliate Travel Programs

Is There A Better Way to Run Travel Affiliate Programs?

The international travel industry has never been hit as hard as in 2020. One area that saw great success during the pandemic was the exponential growth of the wealth gap which was like no other time in human history.

While COVID has ripped through our planet, taking the lives of many and leaving us contemplating what the world is on the horizon, it needs to be clear that a second pandemic has blazed through the financial well-being of our societies.

This is the wealth-pandemic, and it is now more important than ever that each industry takes a look at how they are going to address it. Time is short, as when things get started and everyone gets back to normal, it will be more difficult to break easy habits. We are on the verge of a great re-start like nonother, and as a small adventure outfitter in Costa Rica, my powers are limited, but my vision is clear. Focus on what I can do for my industry and try and do it as correctly and efficiently as possible. That’s really just copying Bezo’s. He sold books for three years, only books. Yep, those things you hardly see now and now look at him.

While I don’t plan to become Bezo’s, I envision a world of thousands of travel outfitters like myself forming together to be in our united form, a version of Mr. Bezo’s.

The idea is simple. It’s taking back what is ours in the travel industry and not sitting around waiting for it to fix itself and “get back to normal.”

I’m talking about grassroots affiliate travel programs. We are all familiar with affiliate programs. They are huge, and chances are you probably only know the five leading platforms. The same goes for large travel companies. Especially in my adventure industry, where we raft, rappel, and kayak with clients daily, I can assure you it is not in anyone’s best interest that companies get no more buying power than they already have. Trying to operate a financially sustainable business while upgrading your equipment and courses that put people’s lives in your hand is a slippery slope when too few companies have so much volume and can negotiate prices to their needs.

 

 

So why do we need Grassroots Affiliate Programs Now?

 

If you look at the last significant disruption in the travel industry, most would agree it came with social media and travel bloggers, influencers, and now for the more professional ones we refer to as Travel Content Creators, which was coined at the Social Travel Summit in 2019.

The travel industry leaders were caught off guard. Many large businesses were probably scrambling for what to do because all of their contacts were being discovered and shared by “Travel Influencers.” An influencer could go rafting in Argentina and then write an article that 100,000 followers saw, giving a direct link to the rafting company. This was a beautiful thing, but the larger companies quickly took control of this, and the influencers, to no fault of their own, took.

The extensive travel companies created their own affiliate programs. They quickly reached out to the influencers, and just like that, the travel industry was back to normal.

The influencer or travel content creators, which I will use from now on, visited the local source, went home to do an article, and then sold the local authority through a more extensive affiliate program.

Now, what would have happened if the Argentinan rafting company received the travel content creator on their tour and after the rafting trip offered them an opportunity to sign up for their own affiliate program? Yep, you guessed it. Responsible tourism at its finest. That content creator would go home and write a blog and link directly to the local source. It would be a much more authentic partnership and not to mention a more authentic booking experience.

 

 

Is this actually possible?

 

Absolutely. No one says that the larger OTAs and other large travel businesses don’t serve their part in the travel industry. I am saying that balancing out of how things are done needs to be brought to the discussion. 

We started our own affiliate program during the pandemic, and it reflects exactly what our company is—small, family-run, and over the top personalized attention. We have had great success having other small businesses become our affiliates, and the best part is we are not just offering cash earnings. We are offering experience over profit and allowing affiliates to join on one of our Costa Rica adventures. I know that is nothing new, but it will be like family when you come down and hang out with us. In a sense, you will be meeting Bezo’s at the airport, just a much poorer version but a version that will treat you like family and make you feel a part of something more than only another affiliate program.

A grassroots affiliate model is something other smaller tour operators need to have at least available. It’s not as hard to set up as it was 10 years ago, and it will be yours, something you control. You will be motivated to grow it once you start connecting with travel content creators and other small businesses that might be interested in taking one of your vacations in exchange for helping you promote some trips.

It’s not a one size fits all industry, and believe me, once you step out of your “convenience zone,” you will be surprised how much opportunity there is and how much you will enjoy the process of watching a grassroots affiliate program succeed knowing it’s doing much more for the industry and your local community than just helping your own business. 

 

 

Tom Ranieri

Owner – Pacuare Outdoor Center

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