Not every agent can get to know every destination first-hand. But
getting to know Central America has been made easier over the last
couple of years by two seminar leaders who have traveled the U.S.
to share their destination knowledge with travel agents. They are
photo journalist RickFrehsee, a Maya culture maven and expert
lecturer for Grupo Taca sales seminars, and Roberto Girotti,
Continental's product development director for Latin America, whose
long-term expertise is showcased in the airline's Destination
Travel Weekly asked both to share some thoughts on selling the
TW: What travelers will most enjoy Central America?
Frehsee: Central America's greatest strengths are its cultural
and natural ecotourism superlatives. Clients who like to explore
the rain forest or go scuba diving are probably going to be those
who will enjoy archaeologically oriented vacations. Any one of
these special interests come no better than in Central America,
whose destinations are close by and fit in with today's trend in
And for spectaculars of ancient worlds, there is no ancient
civilization closer to us than the Maya in Central America.
TW: How can travel agents new to the region begin to gain
expertise on selling Central America?
Frehsee: While there is no substitute for first-hand experience,
agents can gain confidence by getting to know Central America's
suppliers, come to trust them for the most reliable tour products.
They can begin the familiarization process through brochures and
Web sites of operators specializing in the area. Also on the Web,
some countries have their own sites, and guidebooks provide good
background destination and sightseeing information.
Agents who have clients particularly interested in
historical places might pick up a copy of Archaeology Magazine
for a start on which wholesalers specialize in presenting Maya
history well to travelers on their tours. Local tour guides, by the
way, are better trained nowadays, and many have worked on the
TW: You have said that ecotourism is the fastest growing segment
of the travel industry. How can agents capitalize on this?
Girotti: It's really easier than one may think. The ecologically
aware '90s have seen the birth of a new niche of travelers really
pre-sold on stepping into a world of natural -- perhaps exotic --
attractions. Central American destinations are tailor-made for
those who want a guided walk or a canopy ride in the rain forest, a
half-day snorkle along the Barrier Reef, a visit to a butterfly or
orchid farm, an excursion to an Indian village ready to share its
customs and hospitality, an easy water-rafting experience. Clients
can enjoy all these experiences on day trips from deluxe city
hotels or top-class country lodgings.
The more active or adventurous traveler has dozens of special
interest options from expert-led birdwatching or archaeological
expeditions to serious trekking, horseback riding, white-water
rafting and kayaking.
Bottom Line: Agents have to know their clients, know the travel
products available for their special interests, and be sure to
match traveler expectations to vacation experiences.
TW: Is it really a jungle out there?
Girotti: Sure, if you head for the many national parks that all
countries have established for protecting their extraordinary flora
and fauna or their Maya treasures. But Central America continues to
be an increasingly upscale sale. Agents need to take a good look at
the region's infrastructure and services. Take accommodations:
Every capital has a good choice of international-class hotels.
Resorts by the sea offer every amenity and fine facilities for
fishing, scuba diving, windsurfing and (expanding rapidly)
championship golf. What we call ecolodges and country inns are some
of the most comfortable and charming anywhere. n