Q&A With Trafalgar’s President Paul Wiseman

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Ultimate Iceland is one of the newest trips Trafalgar is offering in its 2016 Europe & Britain brochure. 
Ultimate Iceland is one of the newest trips that Trafalgar is offering in its 2016 Europe & Britain brochure.

Simply the best is so much more than just the tag line of Trafalgar’s 2016 marketing campaign—“the best” are the two words guests used most when reviewing the company’s trips and describing its travel directors, hand-crafted itineraries and insider experiences. While other companies publish self-posts or solely positive reviews, Trafalgar differentiates itself by using an independent third party company, Feefo, to curate and verify all of its reviews. “It’s not us telling you that we’re ‘simply the best,’ it’s our clients,” says Paul Wiseman, president of Trafalgar USA. In order to avoid fraudulent reviews, guests must enter their booking number to take Feefo’s survey. Trafalgar has more than 13,000 unedited reviews published on its website (the good and the bad) and has received a 97 percent guest satisfaction rating. Recommend reached out to Wiseman to get the inside scoop on what’s in store for travelers with the company’s new 2016 Europe & Britain brochure and learn more about how Trafalger’s Simply the best campaign is changing the way agents sell Trafalgar vacations.

Melissa Bryant (MB): Why does Trafalgar believe it is so important for potential clients to be able to read past guests’ unedited reviews when they could rely on Trafalgar’s own expertise?

Paul Wiseman (PW): We believe very strongly on a global level that the world has changed dramatically, and that companies like Amazon, TripAdvisor, [etc.] have engineered this change. We’re now at a point where almost no consumer buys any product without first looking at real customer reviews of that product. We’ve known for a long time that customers don’t really believe the advertising. Now it’s very obvious globally that there is a huge trend towards customer reviews, and the harsh truth is that customers will believe other customers far more so than industry experts or companies. [Because of this] significant shift in the world, we decided to do a contract with the English company Feefo, which provides unedited, un-curated reviews from all of our customers on our website.

In order to do that you have to be very confident in the product, and we are, because the reality of the Trafalgar trip is that it’s very high end. A Trafalgar travel director is simply unequaled in their professionalism, their experience and they’re with the clients the whole time. So there are an endless number of small problems to overcome when you travel, and if you have a travel director with you the entire time then that’s something that builds great confidence with customers, it’s [one of the reasons] that travel agents recommend our products, because they know if there’s a problem the customer is not going to call the agent at three o’clock in the morning from Europe to fix the problem because the travel director is right there to do it. So that results in much higher customer satisfaction than any other kind of product and that in turn allows us to put live, unedited reviews up. We may not be the only company doing it, but we’re certainly one of the very, very few in our world that are doing it.

MB: Do you believe third-party travel websites such as TripAdvisor are positively or negatively influencing clients’ opinions of hotels, destinations, tour companies, etc.?

PW: We went to a Google marketing seminar a couple of years ago and the very simple message from Google to every company on the planet was, ‘If you lie, you die.’ What they were saying was, ‘Guys, the world is now completely transparent and if you promise something that you do not deliver, you will get huge negativity.’ TripAdvisor and Amazon and everybody else that has ratings of products [are] destroying [bad products] and rewarding good products. [They’re] forcing companies to change and respond like never before to their clients. Hotels have always had a customer questionnaire in the room and I think between 3 and 5 percent of those were ever filled in, in the history of hotels. People just don’t do it, and if there was a minor irritation, nobody would hear about it. Today, people are very keen to go on TripAdvisor and write an entire story about their experience and every little thing is now being shared, not just with the hotels but with the entire world. It adds responsibility, great responsibility actually, for all companies to be far more in tune with their customers.

MB: What has the feedback been from potential clients (and travel agents) who’ve looked over these reviews?

PW: Forward sales for next year are excellent. So I think the simple truth is, if people weren’t liking what they’re reading or if it wasn’t helping them to select their product, the one that’s right for them, then we’d certainly be hearing from our travel agent partners and our customers very quickly. Sales on some of our products are up 150 percent right now. We’re in a very good position for 2016, so right now it’s a very positive influence on our business and part of it is because we’re one of the only companies doing it.

MB: What are the three qualities that make Trafalgar stand apart from the pack?

PW: Well, I’d actually have to give you four, and those are the four pillars of the brand. Three of them are quite unique to Trafalgar and one of them is the essence of why our product exists. The Simply effortless pillar (highlights its stress-free vacations with concierge-style service)—[guests] have a driver so they don’t have to drive, they have a travel director and they have VIP entrances to all of the big attractions that have four hour waits these days. The other three refer to why Trafalgar is different. Simply perfect refers to our handcrafted itineraries. Simply authentic highlights the deeper, richer experiences that Trafalgar provides, that others simply don’t. Simply unequalled is talking about how we’ve transformed our staff and our travel directors to be far more engaging than anybody else. The whole idea of it is to connect travel directors to our suppliers and to personalize the trip as much as possible.

MB: What can agents expect to find in Trafalgar’s 2016 Europe & Britain brochure? Tell us a little about the new City Explorers at Leisure tours in Rome, Paris and London and why was it important to add these types of tours in these cities?

PW: They’ll be a fabulous new look and branding that we have with the company. I’ve been told that people are very excited about how simple and clear all of the points in the brochure are. As I’ve mentioned, we’ve defined four pillars for our company, so that customers can understand what we do and agents can understand what we do. Those four pillars are Simply effortless, Simply authentic, Simply perfect and Simply unequalled. The brochure layout follows that formula and all of our marketing is now based around those four pillars. In addition to that, agents will see some new products. Previously, Trafalgar has offered hotel package products that were not fully guided vacations and we’re moving away from that. Everything in the Trafalgar-branded brochure now is completely consistent with our authentic experiences. Specifically London, Paris and Rome were three products that weren’t fully guided. We’ve changed that now from our City Break packages and we’ve evolved those into our Explorer program, which is the London Explorer, the Rome Explorer and the Paris Explorer—and those are fully-guided vacations with all the Trafalgar trimmings. It’s important for all of our agent partners to be assured that our product is consistent throughout and when they sell a Trafalgar-branded vacation they’re selling a guided vacation with all of the four pillars involved.

MB: Due to the addition of a new Ultimate Iceland trip to the brochure, there must be more than moderate interest in vacationing in Iceland. Why do you believe this is so?

PW: Absolutely. Every year we consult with our existing customers and our travel agent partners. We run a number of travel agent advisory boards, we are constantly in communication with our agents and our customers and we’re always looking at what is trending as the next destination that is suitable for our kind of product. Iceland and Cuba were top of the list. We decided that Cuba is not suitable, because the infrastructure simply does not exist there for us to be able to deliver a quality Trafalgar-branded product, but Iceland is a fantastic opportunity. It’s unique, it’s different, it’s customer satisfaction levels are very high with the travelers that have been there, so it’s perfect for us to package and introduce to our current and future customer base.

MB: Is the strong dollar pushing first-time visitors to Europe or are the U.S. travelers visiting Europe repeat visitors?

PW: It will be interesting to see if the mix changes in 2016. Generally speaking, about one third of our customers are going for the first time and two-thirds are returning from previous trips. I think all of us in the travel industry believe that all of the fundamentals to grow travel, to grow international travel, are a good economy, high share markets and a strong dollar. Every conference I’ve been to in the last couple of years has been very buoyant about that and now there’s a very strong millennial market coming through as well. You kind of have an equal number of people that are retired or will retire in the next 10 years, but it’s kind of equaled in numbers now by the millennial market. So there are opportunities at both ends of the scale.

MB: There’s always a lot of talk about millennials at the annual USTOA show (and most other travel trade shows). Why do you think it’s important for tour operators to grab this generation’s attention now—or is Trafalgar not focusing on the millennials?

PW: Trafalgar has a broader age range than any other operator, because we have family products that attract the teenage demographic, we have adventure products, we have CostSaver products all within the Trafalgar brand. Our average age has been getting younger over the last few years, so I think that is a balancing influence. The wave of baby boomers coming through is actually being balanced by millennials empowering themselves to travel.

MB: Why was it necessary for Trafalgar to differentiate CostSaver as an affiliate brand?

PW: Trafalgar has evolved in its brand product from escorted tours to guided vacations by focusing on those four pillars and specifically the Simply authentic pillar where we have our Be My Guest dining experiences and all of our insider experiences that are exclusive to Trafalgar. We’ve made a huge investment in evolving the Trafalgar brand product away from what the perception of what a basic tour is. The CostSaver brand is focused on delivering an incredible value and a base package. It’s attractive to younger travelers, it’s attractive to value-seekers and it’s attractive to independent travelers who want more free time. The travel agent’s life is complicated enough with so many different products in the world, so we need to make it simple and clear to our agent partners—what it is that they’re selling, who it is that they’re selling it to. CostSaver brand customers are very different customers from Trafalgar-brand customers and we just want to continue to make that clear.

The opportunity for agents in the CostSaver brand is going to be huge next year. The enemy of the travel agent is spending a lot of time on products that don’t earn them good money. And the traditional value-seeking customer is probably getting the agent to construct an itinerary piece by piece that the agent is only going to get a little bit of commission off of. CostSaver allows the travel agent to target those value-seeking customers and present a product to them that’s perfect and get commission on every single element of the trip.

MB: What are some of Trafalgar’s tools and resources for travel agents going into 2016? How do you see the role of travel agents changing with sites such as TripAdvisor and these real-time reviews?

PW: Our objective is to make things easy for an agent. We run a travel agent resource area on our website and everything that we create for the brand, we create for our agents, so that they can customize it, and use it. In fact, we’re just about to release the new travel agent guide book 2016. It takes agents through how we would sell the product and provides them with product information, as well as selling tips.

It’s important for travel agents to realize that because customers are seeking reviews as part of the research and purchase decision-making that there’s a big role for agents to ensure they’re providing that information. What we’re saying to agents is ‘turn the screen.’ Now ‘turn the screen’ is a conceptual idea given that more than half of the travel agents in America don’t physically see their clients anymore, all transactions are done by phone and email, but, we’re conceptually saying, ‘Look, being an agent is part of this conversation. You need to use our reviews to help you close the sale. Travel agents have always been the greatest source of reliable, professional expertise in travel and they need to absolutely ensure that they’re always at the center of that.

For more information, call (800) 854-0103 or visit trafalgar.com/agents.

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