PHOTO: Trafalgar's "Wild West Cowboys and Buffalos” family program visits Yellowstone National Park.
Since its inception, Trafalgar has been a major player in the family market and offers dedicated programs that are specifically tailored to that niche. We caught up with Paul Wiseman, president of Trafalgar USA, to discuss the company’s guided family programs and how they can help you capture more business from this market.
How entrenched is Trafalgar in the family market?
Family is something we talk about quite a bit because we are one of few major operators that actually has a dedicated family program, a dedicated family brochure, dedicated itineraries purely for families. Family travel has been part of Trafalgar’s DNA from the beginning. The guided vacation world is a very easy one for travelers to experience. It’s very hassle free.
Organizing families for a vacation, however, is one of the most logistically difficult things on the planet. We’ve always had strong support from families on all our trips. So we decided to take it the extra step and dedicate itineraries, making the activities more interactive for kids, while working hard to balance the enjoyment for the kids and the enjoyment for the adults.
Why should families opt for guided vacations versus those they plan themselves?
First is the huge amount of work in planning an entire itinerary. The second part is delivering the itinerary. Someone has to drive, someone has to navigate and someone has to make decisions around the problems that emerge because of traffic or weather or any other of those things. And the final part is all of the logistics around cooking and making sure that everybody can get what they need when they need it. When that responsibility is delivered by us, Mom and Dad can relax. And because Mom and Dad are relaxed, the kids actually have a much better time.
I understand that you recently took your family on a Trafalgar family trip.
I recently did our “Wild West Cowboys and Buffalos” trip with my family, including my two 11-year olds. My honest observations were that I think the kids grew an entire year’s worth in a week. It was unbelievable. They’d come out of the theory of the classroom into real American history, face to face with it.
And they were able to have a degree of independence while joining in the experience with us. It was amazing to watch them. It just expanded their horizons and we didn't have to do anything. I know Trafalgar well, but they didn’t. It was very interesting to see their comments coming off the trip. They really had no idea what I do for a living until we did the trip. I thought I had done a reasonable job of explaining it, but obviously not, because after a couple of days they were coming up and saying, ‘Wow, this is really cool. We had no idea this is what you did.’
On that trip there were 12 kids aged 9 to 13 and they formed their own clique. They explored things together and got amazing photos together. They loved it. As soon as we got to the hotel they were like, ‘Can we go out? Can we go out? Can we go and hang with the gang?’ It was awesome. They absolutely loved it. Just like the adults do, they made friends that they still communicate with on Facebook.
Your problem explaining what you do to your kids is the classic communication problem of tour operators.
You are 100 percent right. It is the biggest challenge we face: the difference between the perception of a product like ours and the reality of what we’re delivering. The No. 1 frustration of Gavin Tollman, our global CEO, is the size of the gap between perception and reality. So there are two things we are doing for agents to help close that gap.
The first is using customer reviews from Trafalgar’s Family Experiences as a front-and-center tool to show [travelers] what other families said and did, how they talked about the product and how they experienced it. It’s a fantastic selling tool because people don’t necessarily believe the agent or us. Corporate advertising? They don’t believe it. They want to see what real people think. So we spent a huge amount of time and money setting up the ability for all of our customers to post reviews.
How do you help agents communicate the value of Trafalgar’s family vacations?
We are doing a lot of training with agents. Step one is for them to give us their perception of our product and what words they use. Step two is we give them a very simple tool and that is to use the words that we find best describe the product. When we look at customer reviews there are three words that emerge most clearly: effortless, authentic and fun.
We train agents to use those descriptive words in their discussions with potential clients. That gives them a frame of reference. It’s three very simple words, but it’s a frame and it allows them to introduce the concept of a guided vacation. And it really works. I’m getting a lot of feedback that it is really helping them.