South America -- Experience pays off

The key word in the South America market -- for both suppliers and agents -- is experience.

For agents truly interested in developing South American expertise, says Daniel Taramona, president of Tara Tours, Miami, there is no substitute for first-hand experience. "So when you can, go on a fam trip. We -- and other companies -- offer a host of fam trips each year. Agents should check with wholesalers specializing in South America or airline representatives for fam trip options. And don't forget to sample the trips that include birdwatching, river rafting, or [spiritual] attractions. Special interest is becoming a rising piece of the continent's business."

Tara Tours: (305) 871-1246, (800) 327-0080; fax (305) 871-0917.

Selling South America means gaining expertise, says Jaime Alvarez of 4th Dimension Tours, Miami. "Today's travelers are doing their homework and are better informed, and agents -- in fact, all of us -- are going to have to keep up with them.

"Key to this is becoming familiar with the travel products in the marketplace, both through brochures and the Web sites of operators specializing in the area," Alvarez says. "Furthermore, read everything you can get your hands on in consumer magazines, trade publications and the most up-to-date-guide books you can find."

Alvarez also suggests keeping an eye out in trade papers for destination seminars, usually held in key U.S. cities, sponsored by airlines, hotel companies, U.S. tour operators and travel suppliers and tourist offices from South America.

4th Dimension Tours: (305) 279-0014, (800) 343-0020; fax (305) 273-9777.

Tour operators and agents are dealing with consumers who know where they want to go, says Laura DeArment of Solar Tours in Washington, D.C. "We all have to be prepared to offer a myriad of travel opportunities and to plan vacations that produce great experiences."

Solar Tours: (202) 861-5864, (800) 388-7652; fax (202) 452-0905.

The client's experience is a key, say U.S. tour operators specializing in South America. They generally agree that the satisfied customer an agent has sent on an African safari or an expedition cruise -- the more "adventurous" destinations or itineraries -- is a likely candidate for South America.

Since most North Americans taking South American vacations are seasoned travelers looking for new experiences, the FIT market is strong for single-country itineraries, locally hosted, that cover as much as possible and offer a lot of sightseeing.

Single country bookings fit into the pattern of shorter vacations, which means visits of seven to 10 days, and that means they go to countries in the north or middle of the continent, closer to North American gateways. For long-haul destinations to the south, such as Argentina, Chile and Brazil, travelers need more time for a satisfying experience -- time to get there from the U.S. and to fly from point to point in the region.

A few years ago, says Annie Berk of Ladatco Tours in Miami, travelers took escorted tours, more or less going round South America and hitting the highlights over two or three weeks. There are still major players -- Collette Tours or Globus for example -- who sell this market very successfully, she says. But the heightened interest in travel programs focusing on natural history, foreign cultures and antiquities has led to increased demand for expert-accompanied escorted tours, and these are usually limited to one country or region. By calling on organizations or clubs in one's community, Berk suggests, agents have an opportunity to develop their own special interest groups.

Ladatco Tours: (305) 854-8422, (800) 327-6162; fax (305) 285-0504. n

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