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Getting travel agents into golf

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Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

The owner of one of the country’s leading golf tour operators says early bookings this year point to a banner year for golf tourism, and he wants to enlist more travel agents to tap into what he says is a lucrative niche market.

Alan Hale, a former travel agent and now  president of Fairways Golf Vacations in Birmingham, Ala., says his company has seen sales in the first two months of this year that far exceeded expectations, as golf travelers are throwing their recession-era budgets out the window and returning  to luxury resorts and pro courses.

“We’ve seen a move toward the experiential,” he said. “Higher quality hotels, better courses … they want more than just three rounds of golf. They want to play where the pros play, Pinehurst, Pebble Beach, and they are willing to go back to the Ritz Carlton, the Four Seasons.”

Despite reports in recent years about the decline in golf, Hale points to data that shows golf tourism has remained steady; per-person prices are up 16% this year. And he says his business has grown during each of the six years that he has owned it.

Hale said he would work to get more agents engaged in booking golf packages. He said he was planning workshops with travel professionals and was working with the Travel Institute to update and upgrade its golf workbook.

The golf tour operator business evolved as many agents ignored the market because they didn’t know much about it, he said.

“Golfers want to talk golf and talk about the special courses they want to play,” Hale said.

Still, he says, the agency channel is far more capable of selling golf than many agents believe. In fact, Hale says, many agents probably don’t realize that many of their high-end clients are also golfers.

“If you are booking [Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at] Troon North,” he said, “you are probably booking golf and don’t know it. …. We have Four Seasons golf packages where you would get paid a commission not just on the room but also on golf."

Additionally, he said, his company pays 10% on car rental, spa or other offerings in a package.

“We’ll help you make sure you don’t stumble on the golf side,” Hale said. "And as a former travel agent, we’ll never undercut the travel agency channel. If your customer comes directly to us, we’ll refer that customer back to you.”

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