Web editor Lane Nieset caught up with Paul Wiseman, president of Trafalgar, to discuss the popular America’s National Parks itineraries and find out why Americans are vacationing closer to home.
Lane Nieset: Why do you think the National Parks itineraries are so popular for Trafalgar?
Paul Wiseman: I think the diversity is really what is so appealing to people. If you look at the possible vacation options in the United States, the main vacation options are Florida, California, East Coast, and this incredible national parks area. I think within such a short distance, you’ve got incredible diversity of the visual experience and things that you can do physically—whether it’s riding trains or walking through western towns. All these incredible natural wonders in your own backyard is what appeals to people.
LN: Have you seen a trend in multi-generational travel with these itineraries?
PW: Trafalgar has always been an organization that caters to family vacations. About four or five years ago, we formally created a series of family vacations and put it into a family brochure. We made sure we created itineraries that were a perfect balance of cool and interesting interactive things to do for the children, while keeping the adults engaged as well. There is a great trend toward multi-generational travel. I think after 9/11 there was a massive cultural shift in the U.S. where families did want to take their vacations together, and now we have the very first baby boomers turning 65; we’ve got a lot of people who are financially well off enough to take their children (who are adults), and their younger children, on these experiences. The top-selling product that we have—in the National Parks—is called Wild West Cowboys and Buffaloes, which is, in fact, a family vacation.
LN: Who would you say is the target clientele for these itineraries?
PW: The kids are out of school for summer, which is peak season for family travel to the national parks. Outside of that, the typical Trafalgar traveler on this type of product is active baby boomers. People that are actually reasonably well traveled, and who have potentially been overseas; maybe done a trip or two to Europe with us, or perhaps ventured to South America, and they’ve kept the U.S. for a later trip. America is home country, the flights are not very long, and the language and food are very familiar. People do have a tendency to accept that those magnificent experiences are in their backyard and will get to them later.
LN: Do you think this trend of U.S. travelers staying closer to home will continue as the economy gets better?
PW: Over the last few years there has been economic suppression of international travel. That did fuel a mini-boom in domestic travel trips with Trafalgar’s U.S. program. We’ve expanded the U.S. program all the way to more than 50 itineraries. In the 65 years we’ve been in business, we’ve never had so many departures in the U.S. What we’re now seeing in 2013 is huge growth on the international side—particularly Europe—but we’re not seeing a corresponding decline in the U.S. business. That is because the baby boomer market is retiring and a great number of those people have left American travel for later in their lives, and that’s fueling growth.
LN: Can you talk about the Insider Experience and some of the other things that make Trafalgar’s tours stand apart from other tours?
PW: What makes Trafalgar different is our Insider Experiences and the way we approach the guided vacation product. We’ve changed it dramatically over the last five years, and it’s the Insider Experiences that make all the difference. A huge part of that is the unique insight we provide and the level of personalization. Our travel directors understand that the modern customer does not want to just listen to historic commentary all day long; that’s probably the way we ran things 15 year ago. A lot of our trips are between 10 and 14 days, and our travel directors have the time to get to know the people, get to know what they’re interested in personally, and then tailor the delivery of their role as the travel director to those individual needs.
LN: Why should travel agents recommend a tour-packaged vacation instead of a solo vacation?
PW: From an agent’s perspective, it’s getting harder to sustain the business model that they need to sustain. It’s a business—they need to be paid for their time and paid for the quality of service they produce. They need to be paid good commissions for the products they sell. And quite honestly there is no better commission available out there than there is available on a Trafalgar package with a preferred agent of ours. The packages are largely inclusive—transportation, accommodations, sightseeing, meals—so that the agent can earn commission on all of those. They also need efficiency in their lives. To create a 10-day independent vacation for two people covering four different states and nine different hotels plus transport takes a lot of time. Trafalgar’s itineraries can be booked with one phone call. It takes 10 minutes, and the job is done. They’re getting paid a lot of money, and it’s incredibly simple and efficient.
The 14-day Scenic Parks Explorer visits Zion, Bryce, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Arches, Mesa Verde and Grand Canyon National Parks. Rates include first-class accommodations for 13 nights; airport transfers; audio headsets for guided visits and sightseeing; and 13 breakfasts, eight evening meals, and four three-course dinners. Rates start at $3,250. For more information on Trafalgar, visit trafalgaragent.com or trafalgar.com.