Thanks to a connection made between a veteran marketing
executive and an agency owner, Seattle-based Passport Travel & Tours Inc.
has been rebranded to 58 Stars and is marketing itself with innovative tools
such as pop-ups and influencers.
Mike Salvadore, co-owner of 58 Stars, said, "I built my
businesses based on getting down and dirty with customers and having them touch
and feel and really [creating] this emotional approach with customers and
brands. To me, that is what is needed in this travel industry space, and it's
where we're going to put a significant amount of energy."
Salvadore comes to travel from the marketing world. He and
his partners sold their marketing, branding and experiential agency, 206 Inc.
(now AMP Agency), in 2014. He took a year off to travel and was pondering his
next move when a friend who works in the travel industry suggested he consider
the agency space. After doing some research, he got in touch with Bob Joselyn,
president and CEO of the Joselyn Consulting Group.
At the same time, Dan Burke, co-owner of Passport Travel
& Tours Inc., also got in touch with Joselyn. Burke had worked at the
agency since he was in college, and he ended up buying it in the mid-1990s.
While the business has been growing steadily over the years, now doing about
$11 million in annual sales, Burke wanted to ensure that it continued on a
"My weakness has always been on the marketing side of
things," Burke said. "I've always loved travel. I love booking
travel. I love talking to customers. I love problem-solving. But when it came
to how to get myself out there and become top of the marketing part of this
business, that was my weakness."
Joselyn connected the two men, who began to talk and
eventually entered into a partnership. Salvadore is now an equal partner and
co-owner of the agency.
In June, the co-owners started the process of rebranding
Passport Travel & Tours as 58 Stars, a reference to the heavenly bodies
used for celestial navigation by early travelers. The rebranding included the
website, social media strategy and what Salvadore calls "an experiential
engagement strategy with customers."
That means things like high-touch customer service and
custom travel experiences, Salvadore said, as well as marketing strategies that
the co-owners believe are unique in the agency space: pop-up locations and
working with influencers.
According to Salvadore, he and Burke want to continue
growing 58 Stars' existing baby boomer and Generation X clients, but they also
want the agency to appeal to millennials.
"We will build a strategy that builds partnerships with
key social influencers who are important to this audience," Salvadore
said, including promotions and developing a content library of photos and
reviews from destinations around the world.
58 Stars co-owner Dan Burke in Vietnam.
58 Stars is also developing a pop-up retail strategy,
wherein a temporary office will be set up in a location for a few weeks to get
the nearby population excited about travel and acquainted with 58 Stars and its
advisers. Salvadore has previous experience in creating pop-ups with the likes
of Toyota and Amazon, but like working with influencers, he believes 58 Stars
is the lone travel agency executing that strategy.
"If it works for consumers and Toyota, why can't it
work just as well, if not better, with consumers who are thinking about these
wonderful places where they want to go?" he asked.
To create a pop-up, 58 Stars will partner with various
groups, including corporations, co-working spaces and even high-traffic
consumer areas, Salvadore said.
58 Stars doesn't expect its focus on leisure travel to prompt
concerns from corporations' travel management companies.
"Those are the things that we'll really navigate and
figure out where the people are who we want to connect with," he said. "And
then, create a pop-up retail strategy to get to them."
Burke added, "These are the kinds of conversations that
Mike and I had that got me so excited. These are the kind of things that I just
thought were so unique."
58 Stars recently entered into its first partnership to
create a pop-up at the Riveter, a co-working space based in Seattle with three
locations there, several locations in Los Angeles and more on the way.
Salvadore said he knows some of the Riveter's executives,
and they were interested in the concept of a partnership. Initially, 58 Stars
will set up a pop-up shop at one of the Riveter's office locations, with the
potential to set up in multiple locations. The first is expected to launch in
While the agency is still developing its pop-up strategy,
Salvadore said that, depending on the location, most will exist for one to
three weeks. They will be promoted in advance, and 58 Stars will be able to
scale the size of the pop-up to whatever space they are provided.
"We may get a very small space at one corporate campus,
and we may get a larger space in another," he said. "But the goal in
all of this is to make it feel just as inclusive and just as warm and connected
in a small space as you would in a large space."
Agents will staff the pop-up offices, and Burke said
suppliers have also expressed interest in getting involved.
Currently, 58 Stars is looking into purchasing the physical
things necessary for the pop-ups, such as furniture, video monitors and
potentially even things like virtual reality and augmented reality equipment.
"We want it to feel loungey-like, so it feels more like
an atmosphere people can walk into and sit with an adviser and talk about
travel, versus you come up to a desk and you grab a pamphlet and you're waiting
for someone to say something to you," Salvadore said. "For us, this
is about how do you engage the consumer in a way that really gets them feeling
a connection to you."
Pop-ups could potentially be themed, for instance to a
destination, and music elements and even food could be brought in to help the
agency connect with potential clients, Salvadore said. 58 Stars will also offer
pre-scheduled workshops at the pop-ups to help attract more people. The
workshop themes will include such topics as determining one's favorite style of
cruising or planning out someone's next five years of travel.
"The whole of it is all about getting the consumer to
touch, taste, feel what these places are like," he said, "versus just
reading about it and then walking away."