CTS seeks growth with soft-adventure division

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Here's a twist: Just as many leisure travel vendors are turning to incentives programs to boost revenues, one corporate incentives provider is turning to the leisure market for growth.

Brenda Rivers, president and chief executive officer of Corporate Travel Services, a $50 million-per-year meetings and incentives business based here, began marketing a new entity last spring that caters to groups of 24 people or fewer, the majority of them women.

Although Corporate Travel Services moves 200 to 300 people at a time, Rivers' new division, TRAX World Tours, takes parties of as few as four on soft-adventure tours. Two-thirds of Rivers' clients are women looking for an adventure trip that is off the beaten track, not something they could get as a normal FIT (unless they were willing to pay high prices) and not dangerous.

Rivers said her decision to form the specialized tours division grew out of her own life-long interest in adventure travel, as well as a demand for high-quality tours with all the advantages of small group travel. She listed among these advantages negotiated pricing, careful crafting of itineraries and attention to comfort.

An attorney and businesswoman in her early 50s, Rivers surrounded herself at the outset with an experienced staff.

She began hiring for TRAX in October 1997, bringing in trip operations manager Nicole Peelle, who had 20 years of adventure travel experience with Mountain Travel Sobek; historic and cultural director Judy Albright, a former cultural tour company owner, and client services specialist Bonnie Siemens, an FIT leisure specialist and experienced trekker whom Rivers lured from an East Coast agency.

To date, the company has operated two tours to Australia and one to Baja, Mexico, and has paid bookings for upcoming trips to Kenya, Austria, Peru, the Galapagos Islands and South Africa. Thirty-six departures are listed on the 1999 calendar, with a goal of at least 250 participants, including FITs.

The company's nine millennium tours to five continents, including two to Africa, are filling up, according to June Nery, an environmental biologist hired by Rivers as one of two marketing coordinators. The 10-day millennium trip to South Africa departs Jan. 15, 2000; the 15-day Kenya tour leaves Dec. 26. "We wanted to offer some trips that were traveling after the actual [change in calendar year] in case travelers are hesitant [because of the potential computer problem known as] Y2K," said marketing coordinator Britt Matthews.

TRAX tours include most meals, airport transfers, ground transportation, the best available accommodations, local guides and no single supplements. A TRAX escort accompanies most tours.

In addition, TRAX has negotiated tiered pricing with its ground operators and hotels. This ensures that departures are not canceled if a tour does not fill but, rather, will operate with fewer participants at a slightly increased cost, according to Matthews. There is a four-person minimum if using a TRAX escort. The FIT minimum is one person.

For the booking agency, she offers a 12% to 15% commission as well as "joint marketing opportunities," such as providing preproduced marketing pieces with a direct-mail service option and TRAX speakers for travel functions hosting more than 20 potential clients.

The 10-day South Africa tour, which takes in Cape Town, the nearby wine country and the Londolozi game reserve, costs $2,995 per person, land only, based on 15 to 19 participants; $3,295, based on 10 to 14 participants. Internal air fare is $455. The single supplement is $545. Upcoming departures are Sept. 25 and Jan. 15, March 25, Sept. 23 and Dec. 23, 2000.

The 15-day Kenya trip starts in Nairobi and ends at the Masai Mara Game Reserve in the Serengeti. Per person, land-only rates are $3,550, based on 10 to 20 participants; $300 for park fees; $250 for internal air fare, and $495 for a single room. Departure dates are July 4, Oct. 24 and Dec. 26 this year and Feb. 6, Oct. 22 and Dec. 24, 2000. On all tours, the 11th guest goes free with a group of 10.

Corporate Travel Services, a member of Woodside Travel Trust, employs nearly 100 people: 65 in its main office here, including 18 TRAX staff; 15 in the Bay Area of San Francisco who specialize in travel management for the entertainment, video production and record industries, and the remainder in offices in Golden, Colo., and Chicago.

When Rivers took over CTS in 1992, the company was losing money. "Since 1991, we have tripled our revenue," she said. "We'll do $60 million this year."

For the past five years, CTS has been included on Colorado Business magazine's top 10 list of the most successful women-owned businesses in Colorado. It also has been recognized by the Denver Business Journal as one of the top three independent travel agencies in Colorado. TRAX World Tours, Phone: (888) 340-TRAX or (303) 694-8749, Fax: (303) 267-0988, Web: www.TRAXtours.com

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