WAILEA, Hawaii — Classic Vacations head of sales Dave Ferran likes to position the travel wholesaler as a supermarket, its aisles filled with luxury hotels, vacation packages and tours. Now Classic is adding new aisles to its store: Classic Connections and Asia.
The Connections program aligns Classic with "like-minded companies" supplying travel and tours in regions of the world or niches where the wholesaler hasn't traditionally offered product. By partnering with third-party suppliers who are already experts in their areas, Classic is adding fresh options for agents browsing its supermarket shelves without having to build a new store.
At Classic's Star Performers event at the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort earlier this month, Ferran also announced that Classic would be entering Asia in a "very selective way" in early 2017. He did not offer any details on Asia destinations or itineraries but did say that it would be a luxury product.
"Asia will replace Europe as our most expensive per-night cost," he told agents at the meeting.
Classic Connections launched in April with the debut of a partnership with Me to We, a voluntourism company that takes travelers to Kenya and India to participate in charity work and engage with the local culture. In August, Classic formally started a second Connections partnership, with National Parks Revealed, which offers fully customized tours to parks in the Western U.S.
Jonna Jackson, head of strategic partnerships for Classic and a 23-year veteran of the company, said that Connections is about linking travel agents with companies that provide a unique experience to clients.
"These guys are the experts," she said. "We're handpicking these companies."
With Me to We, that experience is a volunteer project in collaboration with We Charity, founded by Craig Kielburger 20 years ago to end child labor. Travelers work in one of the charity's We Villages in Kenya or India, where they might help build a school in the morning, then learn about the culture in the afternoon through a Bollywood dance class or a visit to a Maasai community. Accommodations are typically four-star cottages or a tented camp.
Me to We bookings through Classic pay 12% commission, and agents receive points toward Classic's agent-loyalty program, Royalty Rewards. Classic clients also reap extra benefits, including exclusive activities like a visit to an elephant orphanage or a camel ride and a special welcome-pack gift. Itineraries can be customized to fit customers' schedules and extended to include a post-trip visit to the Taj Mahal, a Kenyan safari or a stop in the Seychelles. Coming next spring, Me to We will also offer trips to Ecuador with extensions to the Galapagos Islands.
National Parks Revealed was founded in 2010 by Marty Behr to provide personalized trips to national parks in the Western U.S., Alaska and the Everglades.
"The national parks are challenging for agents," said Melissa Ladvala, trip development director for National Parks Revealed. The company absorbs those challenges by vetting suppliers and creating custom itineraries that include private guides, active adventures, extra access and a full range of accommodations, from park lodges to five-star hotels. Most tours are self-drive, though the company can arrange for private transport and book stopovers outside the parks.
Agents booking through Classic receive 10% commission as well as rewards points. With all the media coverage of the park system's centennial this year, Ladvala said the phones have been ringing off the hook since the partnership with Classic began in August.
"Will we use it? Sure," said Perfect Honeymoons consultant Steve Macknight of the new Connections program.
"To have a vetted supplier and to have the endorsement of someone like Classic is something we've learned to trust," said his wife, Gretchen Macknight, also with Perfect Honeymoons.
Ferran said the forthcoming move into Asia and the Connections partnerships are an effort to evolve with the demands of Classic clients. "Travel interests change over time. We cannot be static," he said. "You can't work in a narrow lane."
In other words, you have to add new aisles to that travel superstore to keep customers coming back for more.