Is it time for Grassroots Affiliate Travel Programs Movement?

On the verge of “the great travel re-start” maybe it’s time we re-shape the way we look at Affiliate Travel Programs. One small adventure outfitter in Costa Rica is doing just that.

As the pandemic leveled the travel industry, most of us sat back and watched the wealth gap take a few long flights in the opposite direction. As an adventure outfit owner in Costa Rica and owner of POC Ecolodge on the renowned Pacuare River, my heart and mind are focused on responsible travel. With the gap growing, I felt efforts from years past being washed away of creating a travel industry focused on local communities, protecting the natural environment, and a flow of economics that made the industry sustainable. 

After about two months of thinking things through, it dawned on me that all the travel industry’s affiliate platforms are pretty much run on a select few programs. Our adventure outfitter is a provider of two and three-night rafting expeditions on the Pacuare River, and we deal with some of the largest adventure companies on the planet. We are grateful that they have sent us groups. But the reality is some of these trips go through four or five vendors before getting to our office in the small rural town of Turrialba. The idea of trying to compete and break down the price in adventure sports is a slippery slope. It should go without saying that cutting costs on adventure sports can drive companies to be in complicated situations of having the cash flow to replace gear or choose between losing a contract with a large company.

The pandemic gave me way too much time to sit and think about all of this and the idea of how this can be balanced out to help the industry. Instead of talking about it, we acted by creating our affiliate program. We offered our program to bloggers, influencers, and even friends in the US’s outdoor industry that record years from people getting outdoors locally.

Our affiliate program is in direct contact with us, the actual tour operator. We set it up to offer week-long adventures and offer something much more personalized during the booking process since it starts from us, the tour operator, and not a larger enterprise as a middle man. I like to think of what we are doing as a Grassroots method to Travel Affiliate Programs

My goal started to save my own company, and don’t get me wrong; it still has some big rapids to paddle through to get there. Still, my interest is also turning to the industry, and wondering if more small outfitters and tour operators like mine can do this same model. 

The only difference is it involves more work initially, but the affiliate marketers you bring on board are like bringing them into your family. It is a much more fulfilling experience and a more level playing field of economics if other companies try.

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I would be happy to let companies know how we started our affiliate program and where we went to have people sign up. Many of the affiliate marketers we have were thrilled to know that something like this and was hoping for more tour operators to do the same.

The tools are out there, and the process is easy. At the very least, have an affiliate program set up, and when a travel blogger or influencer visits your tour, you will be set to offer them a true partnership and not just a referral.

Here is our Affiliate Program for our week Adventures in Costa Rica.

About Author

Tom Ranieri has been working in adventure tourism for 20 years mostly in Costa Rica where he started a women’s coop to treat their rural village as a hotel. Each house was a room. 5-Star service in the “real/authentic” Costa Rica. Tom also owns and operates the Pacuare Outdoor Center and Ecolodge on the world-renown Pacuare River. Their junior rafting team has traveled to 5 World Championships with 50% of the funding coming from The women’s fundraisers they do with local visiting groups to the village. Tom dreams of a future where “responsible” and “sustainable” tourism become such a norm it’s just called “tourism”.

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