When you’ve been in business for 253 years, you must be doing something right. Part of that “something” has long been high-quality service and attention to detail that won the early version of Cox & Kings’ high praise in its role as agent for British regiments. Fast-forward to 2011, and we find that this longest-operating-travel-company-in-the-world continues to expand horizons: re-locating its North American headquarters to Los Angeles and launching an all-new Europe product.
“We’re a world-class brand, and we now have a world-class address,” says Thomas Stanley, centre head and COO for Cox & Kings, The Americas. “At the same time, keeping pace with our steady growth, we are increasing our presence in the U.S. market with a highly experienced regional sales staff covering the Northeast, Midwest, South and Western states, as well as Latin America. I believe this will more efficiently serve the needs of Cox & Kings’ valuable travel agents.” Additionally, the company continues to expand its team of destination experts, and Stanley believes strongly in supporting agents with expertise. ”There is a difference between an agent saying to the client, ‘I have Cox & Kings on the line’ and an agent being able to say, ‘I have our expert from Cox & Kings on the line.’”
And for 2011, adding to its in-depth destination offerings in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, Cox & Kings expanded into an entirely new, albeit “Old World” continent: Europe. The product is luxury five-star Private Journeys and value-driven Discovery Group Journeys, highlighting the less-visited, under-the-radar destinations that include Turkey, Romania, Russia, Sicily, the Balkans, Scandinavia and Iceland. While the official Cox & Kings Europe catalog full of bespoke experiences will be available this month, the Private Journeys are currently available on the company’s website, and those include the 8-night Timeless Romania—visiting medieval towns, royal residences and the fabulous painted churches—and the 9-night Classic Sicily, covering the island’s impressive art, architecture and archaeology.
Overseeing the development of the new Europe product is Europe specialist and destination manager, Thor Forsberg. “This is the first program initiated from the U.S. office of Cox & Kings, developed as the company does traditionally to focus on unusual and unique destinations, in the case of Europe giving travelers new perspectives and taking them off the traveled track.” The best-seller for this year is the 10-night Private Journeyacross Northern Spain aboard the deluxe El Transcantabrico train between San Sebastian and Santiago de Compostela.
Forsberg points out that each destination has different itineraries that can be combined for more in-depth travel in a country or region. For instance, the 7-night Treasures of the Ukraine or a 7-night itinerary for Wonders of Georgia adds on easily to Classical Russia, although, “We are finding that the Russia Private Journey is selling best with pre- or post-Scandinavia touring.” Two interesting Private Journeys—one a 4-night Iceland, Nature’s Saga and the other a 6-night Iceland and the Faroes—are proving popular because this undiscovered, fascinating and beautiful country is relatively close by; the shorter program people are booking for a wonderful long weekend.”
Stanley reports that the largest part of the company’s business is FIT bookings, and 75 percent are repeat travelers and new travelers referred by satisfied clients. Further, bookings are strong this year— doubled in July over last July—with Turkey being the biggest European destination hit, although this year’s hotspots have been Montenegro and Slovenia, with Colombia, too, booking well—it’s new, it’s short haul and clients love it. Additionally, Cox & Kings travelers are going to Egypt and Tunisia, saying they want to be part of history.
“In this economy,” Stanley notes, “people are doing escorted tours, finding they are fun, and that the sociability is enjoyable. Additionally, escorted tours are a great product for single travelers. Certainly, we all know that escorted tours aren’t what they were a decade ago. They have become more FITish, with optional tours and dine-around features.” On the other hand, he points out that part of the strength of the FIT business is that “people are becoming much more knowledgeable about areas like South America and feel more confident about planning their own itineraries in conjunction with our regional experts.”
The next horizon, according to Stanley, is that Cox & Kings is working on a whole new world of special travel experiences in the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Author’s note: Modesty pays—neither gentleman interviewed above even mentioned that Cox & Kings placed No. 6 on Travel & Leisure’s list of Top 25 Tour Operators and Safari Operators for 2011.