Dienstag, 7. Juni 2011

How to plan your offline-holiday with a online-focused travel agency in Costa Rica

Traveling is an exceptional way to educate yourself, get open-minded to different cultures, ways of living & thinking and seeing countrysides or animals you might never imagined they even exist. 

Due to my interview with Alex Jensen from SIXT I also got in contact with Mauricio Alfaro – one of the owners of a very well established inbound travel agency here in Costa Rica and one of the partners of  the SIXT franchise system as well. “Costa Rican Trails” (CRT)offers very interesting tour packages to enjoy some outstanding holidays. But they also have a very good reputation in using the online channel as their main way of customer communication. 

Costa Rica in general was one of the first countries who established eco-tourism as a main business. Ticos (as you call the inhabitants) don't have such a long cultural history but the landscape is more than breathtaking. With these thoughts in his mind Mauricio founded CRT in 1989. 
Market & target groups
The target group is mainly from US and Europe. In the meantime even the numbers of travelers from South America are increasing. At the beginning (there are still 10 years without much internet connection :-)) CRT mainly operated with call centers from wholesalers as L'TUR, Dertour, Miller and others. For each of their target groups CRT produced special travel information, hotel recommendation or complete packages as print material. Their main success factor was the knowledge what English, US, German or French travelers are expecting as a service to spent their holiday in Costa Rica. And this differentiates a lot as you might imagine.
Once the online channel started 10 years ago all printings were stopped and the whole communication changed to the new channel and is still remaining there. Customers only need to define in which way they want to spent their holiday – the whole organization around is provided by CRT. Target groups via the direct online channel are mainly families or middle aged persons who do not travel on a budget level. 70% of clients are from US, 25% from Europe and already 5% from South America. Since 8 years customers are also able to reserve their choice online which shows how far developed the whole platform was already right from the beginning. 

Next to these direct clients CRT still serves all contracted wholesalers around the globe as well as travel agencies who have direct contact to customers. 
The customer relationship management system is very sophisticated. Direct customers (who didn‘t book via a wholesalers or travel agency) get a THANK-you message a couple of days after finishing their trip. Further on they get asked to share their experiences on Facebook or TripAdvisor . Now and then they receive email newsletters with new offers of CRT. The content of the news are not 100% targeted on the customer behavior itself due to limited resources in web analytics. 

Wholesales and travel agencies get special deal infos from time to time and even the possibility to check it out for a special bargain. To establish a successful long term business relation between wholesaler / travel agent and CRT - they never get direct in contact to customers of wholesales or travel agencies - even the data itself are available of course. 
Website concept & Internet spread
The website itself (www.costaricantrails.com) offers a lot information which are relevant to find a suitable travel offer fitting to your interest. Next to detailed descriptions of tour packages, hotel recommendation and contact points you can also reserve tour places.  Customer requests are answered between 10 hours from one of the 32 current employees. CRT secures their high quality standard of their tours through employing the tour guides as well. 
The website itself is very well SEO optimized for keywords which are relevant to their target groups in different countries. According to Mauricio SEM activities are not necessary so far because the website gets a high ranking anyway. If online competition between companies in travel business increase in upcoming years this might change. 
Facebook or other social networks as well as mobile devices are not used as a main communication channel so far. A facebook fanpage exists already and from time to time customers leave comments about their experiences. Within our interview we discussed some possibilities to use social networks next to CRM activities also as a channel for vacant places. In my personal opinion as a frequent traveler, social networks will probably one of the main future exchange platforms. TripAdvisor is already a great example how recommendations influence your decisions. CRT is ranked here as No.1 suggestion already.
Future strategy
Future strategy heads in two different directions. 
On one site CRT is extending their activities as a franchise system to their neighbor countries Panama and Nicaragua with the same concept they are using in Costa Rica already. The quality of the tours and customer management remains on the same level. Latin America is also seen as a future market for own tour packages. First online activities in Chile have already been started and will be extend in upcoming months and years.
On the other hand they are focussing on different niche target markets with a similar concept. All motorcycle fans get special tours offers. CRT will even act as a tour operator for the BMW motorcycle club in the future. I am sure the more you think about different niches the more appear as a relevant group. 
The customer holiday itself  takes place more or less offline of course. But online communication as  a pre- and after sales process has become an inevitable part to attract new travelers and providing a all-around convenient experiences for the existing customer base. 
So now it is up to you to decide where your next travel leads you and what kind of online platform provides all-around information :-)
Thanks Mauricio for the exciting interview !

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