Rene Jongmans is the President of Vacation Express, a leading tour operator based in Atlanta, GA offering packages to the Caribbean, Mexico and Costa Rica. Born and raised in Holland, Mr. Jongmans spent three years in various management positions in St. Maarten before joining Vacation Express in 1992. With the exception of a one-year hiatus, he has held the position of President since 2000. As a frequent traveler, Mr. Jongmans is an expert on Vacation Express’ destination offerings.
TRO: When Vacation Express first entered the travel industry in 1989, it only offered trips to Jamaica. What inspired the expansion to other destinations?
RJ: In those days, Jamaica had decent airlift from Atlanta, which was our hometown market and therefore was our first destination. As our company began to grow, we looked for other destinations that had good flights from the Atlanta and surrounding markets. Key Airlines became a good partner of ours and as they expanded their routes, we were able to grow with them and expand our product offering as well.
TRO: Please explain some of the most popular packages or trips you offer.
RJ: Mexico, and in particular Cancun, remains our top selling destination for almost two decades now. Cancun offers great flight schedules from every large city in the US and at very competitive price points. In addition, the quality of the hotels and the level of service are of the highest standards and still provide a great value compared to other destinations.
TRO: How customizable are Vacation Express’ trips?
RJ: Most of the destinations that we offer in the Caribbean and Mexico do not require much customization since most travelers require air, hotel and transfers, which is a fairly simple and straightforward process to book. However, as it relates to Costa Rica, where many travelers like to stay in different areas and participate in a large range of activities, we offer one of the most customizable products in the industry. Our online booking engine allows travel agents to book all the different regions, transfers in between the regions, and tours and activities in a matter of a few simple clicks. In addition, we provide pre-set itineraries for the most popular regions to make the shopping process for agents even easier.
TRO: Of all the packages and services Vacation Express provides, do you have a personal favorite?
RJ: For someone who has traveled to all our destinations it is very hard to pick one favorite so I will have to go with a few choices….
When I want to do something active and different, you really cannot beat Costa Rica. Each of the different regions in Costa Rica has something unique to offer and the activities are so much fun. Whether I travel there with family, friends, travel agents or employees of the company, we always seem to have an amazing time.
Then for a few days of relaxation, my long time favorite has been Cancun. The beach and ocean are just phenomenal and the service cannot be matched anywhere else. I am sure I have been well over 100 times already in the almost 20 years that I have been with Vacation Express and it feels like a home away from home.
Lastly, Jamaica offers a unique local experience and gives you that true “island feel” that relaxes you the moment you arrive. I usually just go for a short weekend, but never seem to want to leave, which is a good sign.
TRO: Vacation Express specializes in tropical destinations. Have you ever considered offering trips to other types of destinations?
RJ: At this point, we are not looking into expanding into other destinations. It is my belief that travel agents favor a small group of preferred vendors that they know have expertise in the areas they offer. For us, as a Caribbean, Mexico and Costa Rica specialist, it would be extremely difficult trying to persuade an agent to now book Europe with us, because they know we are not an expert in that area.
TRO: Many travelers seek a ‘local’ experience, how does Vacation Express cater to this type of traveler?
RJ: With most of our destinations being beach destinations, we find that most travelers are simply looking for a great hotel and a great beach and only spend a small amount of time on tours and activities outside their resort. In Costa Rica, however, travelers are more into experiencing the local culture and spend more time in various parts of the country, which allows them more access to local customs and experiences.
TRO: Please explain your relationship with travel agents.
RJ: As a wholesaler, we depend on travel agents for our survival and our focus is to provide agents with all the tools that they need to sell our product with confidence and make some extra money in the process. Our agent incentive program is unique in the industry in that we offer agents the ability to earn 15% commission on many products, pay a cash bonus for each booking, offer free nights for the agents at a wide range of hotels and offer other stimulus programs during the year. In addition, we have an outside and inside sales team that is available to assist agents and provide additional training when needed. Overall I feel that we provide a great package for agents to seriously consider Vacation Express as their preferred partner.
TRO: How can travel agents become involved with your company?
RJ: If an agent or agency has not used our company in the past, they can contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we will create a profile for them. The process is easy and quick.
TRO: Do you offer any training or educational programs to travel agents who wish to offer your packages to their clients?
RJ: In addition to our annual tradeshows in our main cities, where we provide training on certain destinations or products, we offer webinars on a consistent basis to reach an even larger audience. Webinars have become a much more important component of our training process in the past few years since our travel agent base has expanded nationwide, which has made it impossible to reach everyone in person. In addition, our sales and reservations team travels to our destinations on a frequent basis to stay on top of changes and they are more than willing to share that with travel agents who have specific questions.
TRO: Are there any new packages or programs at Vacation Express you would like to share with travel agents?
RJ: As mentioned before, our Costa Rica program is unique in that it allows travel agents to sell all the different regions in a very easy way. Earlier this year, we launched eight pre-set itineraries and the response to that has been great, because it provides agents with the confidence to sell an itinerary without having to worry about making a mistake.
Travel agents can learn more about Vacation Express by visiting their website at www.vacationexpress.com