An Interview with Barry Karp, Co-founder of ShoreTrips
Barry and Julie Karp founded ShoreTrips over ten years ago. They found a niche that had been ignored: an independent company that could provide tours and excursions in ports and major cities. This created increased revenue for agents who now have many activity options in addition to what cruises lines or suppliers offer. Barry and Julie have grown during the past decade to offer excursions from Alaska and Hawaii to the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.
TRO: As an experienced traveler and industry professional, how have you seen the travel industry change in the last 30 years?
BK: 30 years ago people traveled to experience new cultures – broaden their horizon, so to speak. When they wanted to party, they threw parties. When they wanted to relax, they rented a lake cabin or went to a resort. When they wanted to experience something really new, they traveled. All with the help of an experienced, knowledgeable travel agent.
Today, many people are confusing partying with traveling. Many resorts are 24 hour parties. Ships are 24 hour parties. The new philosophy is to keep the people moving, keep them drinking and eating and keep them from uncomfortable situations such as meeting people of other cultures.
I have seen travel agents who are too quick to suggest a Sandals over a real trip. I’m guessing because it’s easy and profitable. But because of this quickie service, they are not cultivating travelers who will continue to travel and continue to come back to them for their expertise.
TRO: Which changes do you think are for the best?
BK: What’s good about today’s travel business is that many more people are going on cruises. It’s the agent’s roll not to suggest a cruise since the traveler is already set on taking a cruise. It’s the agent’s roll to turn the cruise into an opportunity to experience something new.
TRO: How does ShoreTrips work to handle these changes?
BK: Education. We are constantly creating webinars that deal with geography and sites. Our goal is to help agents get the education they really need.
TRO: How do you decide which local tour operators to offer?
BK: Our system: 3-6 months of research – we read everything we can get our hands on; we talk to everyone at the tourist boards; we talk with agents who have been to the area. We travel to the area to get the ‘feel’ of it. We then make a list of vendors who offer services – those who specialize in water sports; those who guide people to the area’s sites; those who offer biking, hiking, helicopter-tours; cooking classes; gardening, etc. We correspond with these people and come up with a list of ‘might-be’s’. We then travel back to the area – spending one week or more, meeting them, touring with them, snorkeling with them and testing them. We come home with our finalized list and hand the process over to our in-house research writers. Excursions We are the eyes and ears for the travel agent community. Our system is a complicated process but the only one that we feel delivers the best vendors. Our complaint rate is less than 1 in 1500.
TRO: What inspired you to offer excursions to both consumers and agents?
BK: We would rather work with agents. But some agents want to wash their hands of the excursion process. For this we developed our Referral Customer List system. Agents tell us who their customers are and we service them and pay the agent the full commission.
TRO: Some consumers worry about safety and time constraints when participating in a shore excursion separate from their ship. What would you say to these individuals?
BK: Last year we moved more than 200,000 people. No one was late for their ship. Safety? We use only the very best vendors – they are intelligent and very safety conscious.
TRO: Please describe ShoreTrips’ relationships with travel agents.
BK: We are totally committed to selling our product through the travel agency system. We spend no money on consumer advertising. To be honest, it costs us less money to get one agent to use us than 1 consumer. One agent will give us bookings for multiple customers. Our website is not consumer friendly. It is set up for the professional agent. All of our staff members work with agents – helping them with their FIT’s and their groups.
TRO: How can agents become involved with your company?
BK: One phone call does it. We’ll assign the agency an account and walk them through our process. We like to make it as simple as possible.
TRO: Do you have any advice to agents who wish to offer ShoreTrips’ products to their clients?
BK: Research before they offer. Read our site for ideas. Read guide books. Read. Read. Read. Call us – we’ll help make the agent an ‘expert’ in the locale their customer is visiting.
TRO: Are there any destinations or activities you offer that are more popular than others?
BK: Everyone loves swimming with dolphins, snorkeling with stingrays, tubing on Belize’s rivers, flying over Alaska’s glaciers spotting whales, visiting the Vatican, seeing the David, visiting the Western Wall. The list goes on and on.
TRO: And what is your personal favorite destination?
BK: We just bought a house in Vieques. It’s our favorite place in the world, other than Milwaukee where we have our friends and family and employees.
TRO: When we last spoke with you, you mentioned that you were keeping an eye on Cuba. Any new developments now that travel restrictions have been loosened?
BK: We’re ready and our operator is wonderful! We’ll have webinars for agents when the ships announce their itineraries.
TRO: Anything new on the horizon for ShoreTrips?
BK: Asia. It’s a 1 year process but we’ve already started adding a few trips.
Travel agents interested in learning more about ShoreTrips can visit their website https://secure.shoretrips.com/Default.asp.