How to Build Luxury Small Group Departures
Costa Rica - Wonders of Costa Rica
Dispatch from Alida Paljevic, IWorld of Travel Destination Specialist
A few months ago when I started speaking with Mr. Michael Gelber, the CEO of IWorld of Travel, about coming onboard and joining the team, we spoke about what makes IWorld of Travel unique and all the things that the company represents. He explained about its philosophy and purpose as a legacy company focused on honoring his father, which is fulfilled by providing the highest level of service in assisting travel advisors make travelers’ dreams come true.
I remember thinking to myself, wow, they are exactly what I want for my next chapter! Strictly B2B, which I love, and the tours and packages that they create are more than ordinary, they include something unique, they want everyone to feel special. I absolutely loved that.
We talked about these things and discovered that we really look at travel and the purpose of travel in the same way. I believe travel plays an important role in learning, growing, and embracing differences. Ultimately travel makes us better human beings. One trip at a time, we play a small part in making this world a better place!
Right there, I thought, wow! (again). They are really something else, and this leader is truly something else! Who knows, maybe he would also let me make my dream come true!?
For the past few years, I had this idea that grew into a dream of creating a set of luxury small group departures that would be filled with amazing, authentic experiences, with accommodations in smaller, boutique-style, family-run properties and delicious meals at the most authentic places. My tours would support local communities and small businesses. And I would make sure to set aside enough time in one place before moving to the other, so that besides the fantastic features included in the tour, the guests would have the freedom to venture out on their own and have those individual, personal experiences that are only possible if you are out there on your own!
So, I shared this dream of mine with Michael, and his reaction was “I would be open to doing something like that!”
Fast forward to today, needless to say, of course I joined IWorld of Travel as there really isn’t another company out there that is a better fit for me, and I also got the chance to fulfill my dream and create this amazing set of tours that I am currently working on. (Thank you, IWorld of Travel)
Hopefully, these tours will be a dream come true for many travelers and the preferred choice for our travel advisor partners who have clients who like to travel in a guided, small group, tour setting.
The process of creating these Luxury Small Group Departures is very complex and time-consuming on a regular day, and right now, with the effect of the Coronavirus worldwide it is even more challenging. Many hotels were closed until recently; people are working from home with limited access and resources; the flow of information on availabilities, prices and other certain segments of the tours is much slower than normal…in fact, I am still waiting on several prices that are missing to finalize all these programs. But it is slowly getting better, and I hope to have it all soon.
I must say IWorld of Travel has the most amazing supplier partners, each one personally vetted by Michael Gelber, all around the world, who were willing to listen to me, understand what we are doing and why, so they joined in, passionately, on this mission of putting together these amazing itineraries and programs that are, to say the least, different than any other!
We selected a number of destinations for our first year of operating luxury small groups. The selection was made according to many factors including my knowledge of destinations, our connections worldwide, and the choice of supplier partners who are ready to do something new and different.
So, it is going to be an interesting list of Europe and Latin America. We finished one of the 2 variations of itineraries for Costa Rica, with the first departure set for January 2021. We are trying to also open one departure date in December of this year, but we are still negotiating the pricing and adding some holiday-themed features. We are also working on programs for Cuba, Belize, Uruguay and Panama and we are aiming to have the first departures set for the end of this year as well.
In Europe, we will start a bit later, in the Spring of 2021. I absolutely love our Portugal program with some truly special places and gorgeous hotels in Lisbon and Porto. Our Poland program is wonderful as well—a truly unique and different tour as described by one of our local suppliers. Then there is Malta, a very dear destination to me personally, so rich with history and diverse cultures. Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro as undiscovered gems that will amaze and surprise with the treasures they hold. Best kept secrets of Europe! And of course, my homeland, Croatia, is one of my favorite tours, and the one I poured my heart into. Slovenia with its magnificent scenery, mountains and lakes. Then there is Egypt with a supreme Nile cruise and its mighty epic sights to visit. On the horizon, we hope to add Turkey, Greece, Italy and Spain, and step by step we hope to expand the number of destinations even more in the years to come.
When creating any tour, the responsibility is always huge. We are dealing with people’s most precious commodity—their time, especially their time on vacation—so whenever we get a request to prepare a tour package for someone, we really dive deep and find out their preferences to create the most amazing experience. But still, once the proposal is done, the travel advisor and the traveler can ask for changes in the order of visits, specific activities, hotels, etc.
The responsibility is even greater creating a fixed date and fixed itinerary, and this is what makes it a bit tricky. We are choosing and setting up everything in advance, not knowing who the travelers will be and what their dream tour would include. So, it is up to us to find the sweetest possible spot, with different included activities and sightseeing, as well as the choice of hotels, that will attract those travelers who think the same way we do! So, right there we will be offering what we think is the best package for a particular destination, based on our personal experiences, our intimate knowledge, and of course our local partners’ connection to the local culture. We put our signature on it and place it on the market. Hopefully, our travel advisor partners and travelers will see the value of our tours, promote them, sell them, book them and finally experience them, love them, and recommend them to their friends and families.
There are many important things we consider. First, we think about the needed tour duration and dates. Our tours are between 7 and 10 nights, placed carefully on the edge of the shoulder season, with the aim to have good weather to enhance the regional experiece, but better rates, and a more authentic experience of the destination itself. With the goal of having options for those who cannot just leave and travel during the shoulder season, we are also setting up tours in several destinations during the main season, like December in Costa Rica, or July and August in Europe.
For some of our tours (depending on the destination), we are carefully planning the dates to make it possible to book two or more different tours in a row. As one tour finishes on the same day another one starts, in the same destination, or just a transfer away. Those who decide to take two or more tours in a row, will be offered special combination pricing! Besides that, we will be offering extensions, bookable before or after the tour, for our guests to be able to enjoy a few additional days, short beach vacations, city stays, and mini tours based on individual preferences.
Then, we choose the best activities, balancing the main attractions that cannot be missed with off-the-beaten-path, authentic experiences that are aligned with our mission to create #memoriesbeyond moments. Our partners and travelers have come to expect more from us and we go above and beyond to transform dreams into reality. So, our guests will find themselves in situations where they can connect and engage with the locals through many different activities and visits. They will have cooking lessons on a wood-burning stove in Costa Rica after they create their own traditional “maroon” from clay and paper; they will witness how wine is made on an island winery in Croatia and join in the end of the harvest feast called “Kanota,” a tradition that no tourist has experienced yet. They will explore the hidden caves of Slovenia and be able to enter the “off limits” rooms of Polish palaces! In each destination, we follow our motto, Expect More, Do More. We create the opportunity, and magic happens when the traveler connects, immerses, learns, and loves. These are the ingredients for #memoriesbeyond experiences!
The next step in the creation of these tours is the selection of accommodations. The accommodations must be upscale, with outstanding service and located within walking distance to nice areas where our guests can easily go and explore on their own. We prefer family-run, exceptional and unique boutique-style hotels, with outstanding service – wherever possible, as we like to support smaller local businesses rather than big hotel brands and chains, and at the same time provide a more authentic experience for our guests. But the main goal is to have a supreme quality of accommodation, so if a certain destination does not have an appropriate, vetted, centrally located, small, boutique-style hotel, we will select a more classic 4* or 5* hotel in the area that fulfills all of the above-mentioned requirements of service and location.
Another important step is selecting the vehicles, as we want our guests to be as comfortable as possible. We pre-book only modern, comfortable A/C mini motor-coaches for our tours.
The final step in creating our Luxury Small Group Departures is the most important one: Finding the right people to be with our guests. Depending on the destination and on the sightseeing/activity, we are only booking licensed local guides who are specialists for a certain area and skilled at sharing their deep knowledge about the interesting places visited. The drivers whom we choose are those with a hospitality mindset who will make our guests always feel welcome back to the coach with a sincere smile and maybe a joke or two, and who will drive safely, but also know the closest places to park and the most scenic roads to take—while still arriving on time to the next place and adhering to the itinerary.
Last, but equally important, are the tour managers—the people who will be with our guests from arrival to departure. The tour manager will be the tour leader, the knowledgeable assistant, the operation manager who will take care of all the little details that have to fall into place to have the perfect tour experience. There are so many little details to take care of on tour. I’ve been a tour manager myself, and together with my colleague Zehava Bitton who also started as a guide and tour manager, we interview, select, and then train the lucky ones who are chosen to lead our groups. They are always local, professional tour managers with experience, but who also go one step beyond professionalism. Our tour managers have to have a passion, a factor X, a love for what they do, and a love for their destination. That is our benchmark, and the main reason why our tours will be the best small group luxury tours you can find!
Especially now, in post pandemic times, we believe our Luxury Small Group Departures, with a max of 14 passengers—led by the very best tour managers, with the included attractions, special experiences, and upscale accommodations—will be a great option for your clients who love to travel with a group, but considering all that is happening in the world, feel more comfortable in a smaller, more intimate and safer setting. Also, our tours are perfect for travelers who want to experience the destination in an authentic way, to really immerse and connect, but want a more affordable option than a private tour, and with the added value of sharing that experience with a small group of like-minded people who might even become lifelong friends.
Our prices will range between $2000 and $4000 per person depending on the duration, destination, dates, and other factors, but will always have an emphasis on value unmatched in the industry for this upscale level of service with the most unique experiences and accommodations.
Our Luxury Small Group Departures, as well as our family-friendly tours, will always have excellent value for money invested. As our CEO often says, “We are not in this to get rich, but rather to enrich people’s lives. Our purpose and mission is much more important, especially now, in these tough times for the whole world. We feel it is important for people to start traveling again. They need it, the local communities need it, and the world needs it.”