When Melanie Amos, co-owner of Avant Travel in Lexington, Ky.,
brought a group of doctors to Costa Rica in February 1998 she was
so taken with the country that she immediately set about organizing
another group trip to Costa Rica.
Then she organized another one, and another, and another. Within
just 13 months of that first trip, Amos had escorted a total of
nine groups to Costa Rica. "You get pretty innovative when you find
a place you really like," she says.
"When I realized how beautiful a country Costa Rica is, how
beautiful the people are, how pretty the countryside is and that
the best way to see it was to ride a horse, I put together some
Costa Rica riding vacations are a natural for Avant Travel, in
part because the agency is located in the heart of Kentucky's horse
country. With Amos' extensive personal connections in the
community, promoting the upscale riding vacations exclusively
through word of mouth proved to be a snap.
Amos' experience selling Costa Rica supports her belief that one
key to successful leisure travel sales is liking the product. "You
can always sell if you like what you're selling," she says.
To other agents considering putting together a program for Costa
Rica Amos offers this advice: "First of all you have to know who
you're dealing with down there, and you have to trust them. A lot
of common sense comes into play. Don't make your expectations too
high. Set your goals with something you know you can do." Amos says
she has made local contacts in Costa Rica through Elegant
Adventures, a wholesaler in Atlanta (800-451-4398).
At Explorations, A Travel Agency Ltd., an independent agency in
Atlanta that specializes in leisure and adventure travel, Suzanne
Ballew sells mostly independent trips to Costa Rica.
Like Amos, Ballew has found a supplier she can trust; in her
case, Holbrook Travel in Gainesville, Fla (800-451-7111). "One
thing about them is you know they go down there [frequently].
Holbrook is very hands-on with the properties they use," Ballew
Ballew, who is an outside sales agent, says she recommends Costa
Rica for younger clients who don't have a lot of vacation time but
are eager to sample their first adventure vacation.
"I think Costa Rica's right for people just getting started in
active travel. It's a very user-friendly country. It's not very
intimidating; it's safe, and the infrastructure is very good."
When matching clients to a Costa Rica vacation it's important to
qualify them carefully, Ballew says. "You have to find out what
their vision is, what they picture themselves doing. Do they like
to go birding? Whitewater rafting? How old are they? How much do
they want to move around?
"Determine if they want to go to the beach, because that always
takes a couple of days." While it's easy to accommodate requests
for beach stays in Costa Rica, Ballew says she doesn't recommend
the destination to clients interested in strictly a beach vacation.
"I don't think the beaches in Costa Rica are that great, [though]
it's a nice way to end the trip."
Ballew cautions agents not to be fooled by Costa Rica's
relatively small size when planning itineraries. "It takes a lot
longer to get around than you think it's going to take," she
Ballew also recommends that agents urge clients to stay for
several nights at most destinations within Costa Rica. "A lot of
people want to go to Monteverde for one night. When you look at it
[on a map], you think you can do this. But it's not so easy."
Ballew has traveled to Costa Rica twice and she says her
firsthand knowledge of the country comes in handy. Clients also
provide insights about the destination, she says. "We always talk
to our clients when they get back and debrief them. We find out
what they liked and didn't, so we can fine-tune it."