Pacific Delight Tours is stepping up its pursuit of the groups market, and is arming travel agents with tools designed to add to their bottom line.
The company has been in the group travel business for more than 35 years, and has set itself a 2007 target of significant growth on a strong base, says Rosalyn Gershell, senior vice president of sales and marketing. She notes that the group market nurtures repeat business for both itself and the travel agents who use Pacific Delight.
"We are focusing increased efforts in groups because it has always been and continues to be an important and growing niche in the market," she says.
From a timing standpoint, we look at everything long term, based on the belief that if you perform well for travel agents, they will come back again with other groups at a time appropriate for them."
Among the travel agents for whom this axiom rings true is Joanne Belanger. The owner of Accent Travel in Morehead City, NC, Belanger uses Pacific Delight when booking groups to Asia. By far the largest destination for her in Asia is China.
Belanger says when she's developing a custom trip for a group, the operator's market knowledge, flexibility and responsiveness are important. When she wants to add a component to a tour, she'll e-mail Pacific Delight a request; staff will make the necessary contacts and provide her with a proposal for her review and decision.
Pacific Delight provides retailers with three major options from which to choose in developing group itineraries—published programs; published programs with modifications or enhancements selected by the travel agent; and fully customized itineraries.
Pacific Delight is releasing a new groups' brochure and a full-color shell for agents' use the week of February 12; the new brochure also will include a new request form that agents can use to start the dialogue for planning a custom itinerary.
Among the clients Belanger works with on a regular basis is Discovery Diving, a company based in Beaufort, NC. Belanger says that a lot of this company's trips are dive trips, but she's in the midst of working up the details on the fourth China trip the dive company will offer to its customers.
Among the custom activities Belanger has Pacific Delight arrange for the Discovery Diving groups is a guided hike to the remote, unreconstructed Si Ma Tei section of the Great Wall. After taking a two-hour ride northeast of Beijing, adventurers make a strenuous 2-kilometer (1.25-mile) hike to the wall. At the top of the wall is a zip line; hikers hook up to the line for an exhilarating ride.
Pacific Delight also has developed itineraries for groups as diverse as high school bands and medical professionals. The operator will arrange sightseeing tours, as well as concerts in which the band members play. The latter involves arranging for the venues and placing ads promoting the concerts in local newspapers. Some bands also have marched in Tiananmen Square and through the streets of Beijing. Pacific Delight has arranged for individual concerts by choral groups, as well as participation in some of the choral festivals that take place in China.
As for medical groups, the operator arranges for visits to hospitals and clinics, with an emphasis on demonstrating the use of such Eastern medical disciplines as acupuncture and herbal medicine. In some cases, Pacific Delight can help arrange for these travelers to receive educational credits.
Although Belanger will start with a pre-existing itinerary, she'll modify it as a matter of course, perhaps changing the hotel selected. "Sometimes, it's something as small as I need Sunday left free," she adds, noting that that's the day the dirt markets with their hundreds of vendors convene.
When it comes to group itineraries, Gershell says, the number of travelers is quite elastic. "We have done family groups as small as 10," she says. "The upper limit is in the hundreds."
China's accelerating popularity with consumers and travel agents meshes well with Pacific Delight's depth of experience there. The operator is focusing on China and the Yangtze River, Southeast Asia, Japan and Hong Kong as key destinations for fully customized group travel. "For most other countries," she adds, "our most effective approach has involved a published program with modifications and/or enhancements targeted to the desires of the travel agent." Countries in this latter group include India, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Commission for itineraries based on a published itinerary is based on the size of the group; fully custom programs are priced net.
Gershell advises travel agents with a group inquiry to first send an e-mail to [email protected] These inquiries are fielded by a team that responds based on the type of request submitted. Call 800-221-7179, or visit www.pacificdelighttours.com.