Last month, we had the opportunity to travel to Central Europe with Adventures by Disney. The group consisted of media, Disney staff and travel agents, including Virtuoso agent Staci Kimball. I had an e-mail chat with Kimball, who is an executive concierge specializing in Disney Destinations for Glass Slipper Concierge, whose parent agency is Sanborn’s Travel Service. She gave us her take on what it’s like to sell the Adventures by Disney product and what she learned from her travels with the tour operator.
Paloma Villaverde de Rico(PVR): What are your biggest obstacles when selling an Adventures by Disney itinerary?
Staci Kimball (SK): The biggest obstacle is that not enough people are familiar with the product. Adventures by Disney is not advertised as widely as the theme parks and cruise line, so before I can sell the tours I have to educate my clients about them and share with them all the wonderful places that Disney can take them. The second obstacle is the price, which seems high if you don’t have a full understanding of all that is included. I find it’s important to sell my clients on the value of Adventures by Disney before I try to sell them a specific Adventures by Disney tour.
PVR: What are the demographics you focus on when selling ABD itineraries?
SK: Prior to taking an Adventures by Disney vacation, I specifically marketed to my high-end clients—those that travel frequently and typically stay at deluxe resorts or five-star hotels. I came away from this experience feeling that my target audience is much broader now. Not only will I market Adventures by Disney to guests who have the means to travel regularly, but also to those families who may be saving for years to take that “trip of a lifetime.” When people fully understand all that is included with an Adventures by Disney vacation, the price tag is no longer a deterrent.
PVR: Do you think these itineraries, considering the experiences that take place and the accommodations, are fairly priced?
SK: Yes, I absolutely think that Adventures by Disney guided tours are fairly priced. With the exception of airfare, Adventure Guide gratuity, and a meal here and there, these are all-inclusive vacations, the value of which well exceeds the actual cost per person. With Adventures by Disney, everything is pre-arranged to offer guests the very best at each stop along the way, including luxury accommodations at incredible hotels and resorts; exciting, hands-on experiences that immerse you in the culture of each destination; private tours of historical and scenic locations with exclusive extras just for Adventures by Disney guests; fabulous, authentic meals in one-of-a-kind restaurants—many of which include complimentary beer and wine; enriching, family-friendly entertainment; unlimited snacks and refreshments; digital and printed photographs throughout the adventure; and little keepsake gifts along the way to commemorate the various experiences.
PVR: How many of your clients have ever heard of Adventures by Disney?
SK: New clients often contact me to inquire about European vacations, having no idea where to start the planning process. If those clients are traveling as a family, I always start with Adventures by Disney. Most of the time, these clients aren’t even aware that Disney offers guided tours and they are curious to learn more. People are always surprise to discover that the list of ABD guided tour destinations is so extensive.
By the time my existing clients travel, 90 percent have been made aware of Adventures by Disney in one way or another. I try to share information about ABD as much as possible, either by sending out a brochure with their travel documents, mentioning it during a phone call, or including information via email. Even if they have no future plans for this type of travel, I want them to know that it is an option, should they decide to take a guided tour in the future. I’ve also found that word spreads quickly from friend to friend, so what may not be of interest to one family may be just what another family is looking for.
PVR: When you first bring up Adventures by Disney to clients who have never heard of this product, do they automatically think it’s going to be Mickey and Minnie all the way?
SK: Not necessarily. The first reaction is usually surprise, because people don’t recognize the name “Adventures by Disney” and they weren’t aware that Disney offers guided tours. Those who know and trust the Disney brand (which is just about everyone) are intrigued to learn that Disney can take them beyond the theme parks and cruise destinations. I think people understand that this is an upscale guided tour experience and that the focus is on service, not the mouse. That being said, I am occasionally asked if there will be characters on the Adventures by Disney tours. I explain that while they won’t see Mickey and Minnie, they may discover some historical characters along the way. The Adventure Guides and local guides use storytelling, role playing, costumes, and unique venues to bring history to life in memorable ways that Adventurers of all ages will enjoy.
PVR: Why do you think Adventures by Disney is a good product to sell?
SK: Most clients who express an interest in Adventures by Disney are already sold on the Disney brand. Having visited the resorts or sailed with Disney Cruise Line, they have come to trust in Disney’s commitment to families, and they know what to expect in terms of safety and service. Adventures by Disney makes the world more accessible for families. The accommodations are upscale and conveniently located, the guides are exceptionally well trained and knowledgeable, the transportation is clean, comfortable, and reliable, and the tours are private and pre-arranged. As a travel advisor, I can sell Adventures by Disney with confidence because I know that my clients will be safe, that all of their needs will be met, and that their expectations will be exceeded.
PVR: Do you think Disney can do a better job of promoting this product to travel agents and what do you think they can improve upon?
SK: Disney does an excellent job of promoting the product to travel agents and providing us with the tools to market it to our clients. Frequent Agent Education Programs (AEP’s) through Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Disney Cruise Line include presentations by ABD guides who highlight the various tours and share their experiences. These presentations are so valuable because they not only educate us about the product, but they give us a taste of what our clients will experience. By getting to know the Adventure Guides, we understand the level of service and professionalism our clients will enjoy, as well as the enthusiasm that the guides bring to each and every tour. Disney also keeps us updated with regular e-mails about the various additions to the Adventures by Disney product, with marketing tips and strategies for selling the tours. We are provided with printed brochures to send to clients, as well as e-brochures which can be customized for a client’s specific family composition and tour interest. If an agent wants to host an Adventures by Disney marketing event in their hometown, Disney offers hands-on support and provides representatives to attend and the event. Best of all, Disney makes it possible for travel agents to experience Adventures by Disney first-hand, either through reduced travel agent rates or as part of a invitation-only Agent Education Program.
PVR: What were some of your favorite experiences throughout the trip? Why so?
SK: The time we spent in Berchtesgaden, Germany was incredible, definitely a highlight for me. From the blooming flower boxes in the windows of every home to the majestic alps and green-blue streams that ran throughout the picturesque Bavarian town, Berchtesgaden seemed like someplace straight out of a fairytale. The Kempinski hotel was equally as breathtaking as the town itself. The mountain-top location was idyllic and perfectly fitting for our time in the Alps. We were practically the only guests in the hotel, so it felt like our own private getaway miles away from the rest of the world. We had a full itinerary for our few days in Bavarian Alps, and each experience was unique and special in its own way. I especially enjoyed the mountain-side hike to the amazing Eishole Ice Cave. The scenery was spectacular, so much so that the long hike up the winding path didn’t seem to matter. Once inside the cave for our private tour, we were permitted to take photos and venture off the path to test the ice—special privileges only Adventures by Disney guests enjoy. To add a little more Disney magic to the experience, our Adventure Guide Stephanie surprised us by playing ‘Let it Go’ on portable speakers as we made our descent through the deepest part of the frozen cave. A fitting tribute to our ice adventure!
The other experience that was a real stand out for me was our backstage tour of the Spanish Riding School at Hofburg Castle in Vienna, Austria. As a horse lover and former rider, I have always been fascinated by the graceful Lippizan Stallions, but I never knew much about them. During our tour, we had the opportunity to meet one of the riders who eloquently shared with us the history of the Spanish Riding School, explained how Lippizans are bred, and described the intensive training that results in such skilled performances by the beautiful white horses. We had a chance to get up-close and personal with one of the stallions, and we were even permitted to take photos, a rare treat reserved only for Adventures by Disney guests. Our private tour included an escorted walk through the stables, an look inside the tack room, and a glimpse of the stately riding arena. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was only possible with Adventures by Disney.
PVR: Adventures by Disney’s website notes that the itinerary is a good fit for kids 6 and up; do you agree with that?
SK: I agree that this tour is appropriate for kids 6 and up. Some of the outings are strenuous and require a lot of walking, climbing, hiking, etc. There were six children on our recent tour, ranging in ages from about 6 to 15. None of the activities proved too much for them, but I can definitely see where certain activities would be too difficult for children under the age of 6 or less active older children.
PVR: What did you think of the adventure guides? What made them great; what were they lacking?
SK: Our Adventure Guides were amazing! Dean and Stephanie had a great rapport and their admiration for one another was evident throughout the tour. They were so in sync with one another, but their presentations never felt staged or rehearsed. They did an excellent job of keeping everything moving as scheduled without ever making anyone feel rushed. Both guides were very approachable, answering frequent questions with a smile and helpful attitude. The bus rides flew by because the guides kept us entertained with games and activities. Best of all, Dean and Stephanie were wonderful storytellers, together and individually. Every day we were immersed in the history of the area we were visiting through the stories told by our guides. I was particularly intrigued by the stories told by our local guide, Stephanie. Stephanie grew up in East Germany and she remembers when the wall came down, an emotional and life-changing event that she shared with us in great detail. Stephanie has incredible depth and an appreciation of historical events not often found in someone so young. I think we all learned something from the story of Stephanie’s East Germany upbringing, and I doubt any of us will soon forget the way she made history come alive during our bus ride through Bavaria.
PVR: Did you find any bits of the experience that you think could be improved upon?
SK: Honestly, no. I was very impressed with the entire experience from beginning to end.
PVR: If you had one word or one phrase to describe this trip, what would it be?
SK: Culturally immersive, family-friendly travel through Central Europe.
PVR: Do you think this gave you a good taste of ABD’s new river cruising product? Do you think you’ll be able to sell a product like that to your clients?
SK: This trip definitely gave me a taste of what guests will experience on the Adventures by Disney Danube River Cruise. Like us, ABD Danube River Cruise passengers will be accompanied by two knowledgeable Adventure Guides as they set out on culturally immersive experiences throughout Central Europe. I had the opportunity to enjoy several of the same excursions that River Cruise passengers will have the option to experience at the various stops along the way, including a visit to Hohenwerfen Castle with a live falconry show; a private “Sound of Music” tour in Salzburg, a marionette performance and strudel-making demonstration at Schonbrunn Palace, an exciting exploration of a working salt mine, a backstage tour of the famous Spanish Riding School, a visit to the beautiful, seaside town of Mondsee, and more. Given the enormous popularity of the current ABD Danube River Cruise itineraries, it’s clear that the demand for family-focused river cruising is there. I have no doubt that my personal ABD experiences through Central Europe will prove invaluable when selling this new product to my clients.
For more information on Adventures by Disney, visit adventuresbydisney.com.