Trips for adventurous, experienced clients are agent's passion

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terra cotta warriors XianJoan Jonat, a China travel specialist at Protravel International based in Harrison, N.Y., loves working with clients who already know the country and are ready to visit areas they haven't seen previously.

If they are experienced, she said, there is more flexibility, and "we will do some tourist sites and we will include something that is just fun."

"Just fun" for one family this June will be participation in the annual Shangri-La Horse Racing Festival in Yunnan province near the Tibetan border. The fest attracts people of many ethnic backgrounds who come to town for three days of singing and dancing in traditional costume.

Jonat has arranged for her clients to ride to the festival on horseback. In addition, as part of her service, she provided them with short biographies of their guides.

Planning that kind of trip is beneficial in a couple of ways: It generates referrals (99% of Jonat's China business is referred), and it reignites Jonat's interest in China.

She said she also is getting requests from her more adventurous clientele to visit Outer Mongolia on China's northern border and the Dunhuang Caves in the Gobi Desert of northwestern China. Nearly 500 caves outside the oasis town of Dunhuang harbor thousands of wall paintings and painted sculptures, created over a thousand-year period from the fourth to 14th centuries.

These requests are not typical. Jonat said most clients are interested in seeing the country's highlights first -- "the iconic sites, the Great Wall, the terra cotta soldiers in Xian, things that represent China."

However, even with first-timers, she is seeing more opportunities to be creative.

For one thing, Jonat sees a trend toward longer trips. For example, more cruisers are staying longer to allow for a focused ground itinerary before or after the shipboard experience, she said.

When consulting about such trips, Jonat continued, it is important to evaluate the whole experience. For clients who book a cruise to gain downtime in the itinerary, she said there are other ways to relax, such as cooking classes or other special interests.

Jonat has sold China for 30 years but became a specialist only three years ago in a program run by Beijing-based Imperial Tours. She said she decided to emphasize the destination because "people are fascinated by it," and interest has increased "tremendously." Clients have been especially interested in the last eight years or so, she said.

Another Imperial Tours specialist, Tiffany Bowne, president of Lounge Couture in Los Angeles, said she became a specialist because "I felt it important to be able to sell it correctly."

She, like Jonat, finds that most clients want to begin by seeing the best known of China's sites. However, she said, they "are surprised how much there is to see and do when I start exploring options with them."

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