An Interview with Bo Adams, Owner of City Escape Holidays
City Escape Holidays was founded in 1991 by Bo Adams and his wife Claudia. He has since created and marketed City Packages to 24 cities throughout the United States and Canada and 22 Special Event Packages to major cities and events throughout North America. Bo has worked in the travel industry since 1969 and has been the Vice President of Supercities along with many other high profile positions.
TRO: Please give some background on City Escape Holidays.
BA: I got my start in the travel business at Carlson and was there for 23 years running their tour division. After they moved the tour division from California to the Midwest, I left the company after all those years and my wife and I started City Escape Holidays. We just had City Escapes’ 20th anniversary.
As far as goals, they were the same as the ones I had for Carlson and they were to be a packager of major cities around the U.S.. Not necessarily simple, two-night packages (though we do have those products) more so of the packages for longer stays that are loaded with features and activities like sightseeing, museums and restaurants, things people will want to do after they get to the destination anyhow.
Our other goal or philosophy was always to sell solely through the travel agent community and to pay them commissions accordingly.
TRO: Speaking of travel agents, because you’ve been involved in the industry so long, you must have a lot of experience dealing with agents. Please explain these relationships.
BA: I think that, essentially, when you have 100% of your business coming from one source you have to treat them well and we feel we accomplish that in a lot of different ways. We widely distribute our brochure to agents, which is more than just a picture book – we have all the packages thoroughly described as far as inclusions and we even list the prices. A lot of tour companies don’t publish pricing because they change on a day-to-day basis. We pre-package everything. We are certainly happy to customize anything based on the client’s needs but by having that kind of info in the brochure we feel we’re giving the agents important tools to help in their package planning and selling opportunities.
Also, we think we have a very good website. We’ve spent some time over the past year to enhance it and make it better to give agents more tools from simple things like booking request and credit card authorization forms to being able to click on a link on our website and see updated Branson show information, updated NY theater information, etc. This includes show descriptions and actual times of the performances each day.
Finally, we are always active in trade shows and attend as many as we can to remain in the eyes of the travel agents and let them know we’re out there to support them.
TRO: How can a relationship with City Escape Holidays benefit travel agents?
BA: First, I’ll go back to our pre-packaged program. It’s an important part of what many clients want, they want to do a lot of activities when they get to a city and we provide that, not a lot of operators do. The more that is packaged, the higher the commission.
Another benefit is that we feel we have a significant commission structure. We start at a 10-percent commission and go as high as 15-percent, which is good for city packages because there are not margins in that percentage. Some of it is marketing dollars and overwrite commissions to headquarters’ offices.
The third benefit we offer is having the good fortune to be preferred to a lot of the major agency chains. This allows us the opportunity to provide the product to about 16,500 travel agencies — whether they’re brick and mortar or home-based – around the country — through these preferred vendor relationships.
We are a small, boutique type of company and we don’t have any real field sales force so we tend to do all of our sales and marketing from headquarters. Therefore, another benefit is that if any travel agent wants to call an talk to me personally about any promotional ideas they have I am always available.
TRO: Do you have any advice for agents who wish to partner with your company?
BA: The best advice I give out time and time again is that travel agents in this market, it’s always good to specialize in one thing. However, one of the product types that always seems to be on the back burner are city packages and I’m finding more and more that by suggesting products like ours for the travel agency’s in-house portfolio is a good thing. Variety is the spice of life and the travel industry is no exception. Not selling just cruises or three-week trips to Europe. Again, they’re specialties but to offer some things that are more popular now because of the economy and foreign issues that are deterring people from traveling too far from home will only bring in more business. This is a product that can appeal to any agent.
TRO: As agents prepare for fall and early-winter bookings, what packages would you recommend?
BA: We have two product types, city packages and special events. We have 22 or so city packages, the major cities being New York, Washington, San Fran, Nashville, Boston LA, San Diego and Branson. We have the secondary market products as well. Any northeastern state is going to be fantastic to see the fall foliage.
As far as upcoming or trending events, I would recommend the U.S. Open package, which begins on August 28. It’s one of our better-booking event programs and is very flexible. We can do three matches for a four-night stay or four matches for a five-night stay or even just the championship matches. We also have the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Shoppers’ Weekends in New York City on December 1 and 8 for clients to do their Christmas Shopping. Then, the Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, which will be on Jan. 2 this year instead of the usual December 31, is also one of our biggest bookings. Those are the major events we’ll begin handling over the next few weeks.
TRO: City Escape Holidays offers independent learning trips for agents. Please explain these trips and why you think they are important.
BA: We offer these learning trips on an independent basis instead of in groups so agents can have a more realistic experience. We will make a price reduction on anything we offer in our brochure because we want the agent to experience the programs exactly as their customer does or would. They will see how our vouchers work, they’ll see how customers would experience the dinner reservations we make them, etc. We feel this is a very important learning process to effectively selling our packages.
TRO: When it comes time for you to take a vacation, where do you like to go?
BA: I have been creating and marketing city packages for 43 years and I just think there’s so much to see and do in the good old U.S.A., I get a kick out of discovering America. Our family loves Italy, but I think Europe in general is interesting because, to see the people who live in Europe travel from country to country just as state-to-state travel is so common in the U.S., is fascinating.
TRO: Anything new at City Escape Holidays that you would like to share?
BA: We don’t really plan on having new products for next year as far as destinations. I might add a couple things as far as events. I mentioned that special events are a growing part of our business and we’ve added some festivals over the past 2-3 years that were in high demand.
TRO: Anything else you would like to tell the travel agent community?
BA: An important point about our company is that, when operating groups, we don’t need 35-40 people. In fact, our average group is 16 guests. We love them, we call them mini-groups. They’re very easy to organize and the participants have a good time. We can do a lot of activities on an independent basis this way, as well. If all of the guests do not want to see the same Broadway show, we can offer a few different shows for them to choose from. We also offer independent travel, and these are also very popular. FIT participants can arrive on any day, stay as long as they want, so there is a lot of flexibility.
Finally, I want to tell travel agents that we really enjoy our relationship with Travel Research Online and we feel that it is very important to our company.
Agents who wish to learn more about City Escape Holidays can visit their website at www.cityescapes.com or call them toll-free at 1-800-222-0022.