Rafael Checa was raised in the travel business. After serving in the US Army infantry for 10 years, he went to business school. Upon graduation in 1997, he joined Solar Tours, a family company, and has been there ever since. Rafael was the CFO until his parents retired from the business three years ago and he is now the CEO.
TRO: As someone who has been involved in the travel industry since childhood, how have you seen the industry change during those years?
RC: The most important change has been the empowerment of technology for consumers to gain information and purchase online with little or no help.
TRO: Solar Tours (founded by your parents) has been in operation for over 20 years. How does the company handle the changes of the industry?
RC: Working on websites where clients can customize multi-destination itineraries online.
TRO: South America has been increasing in popularity for travelers. Why do you think this is?
RC: Less political turmoil, favorable currency exchange and better infrastructure. Most notably, however, are the unique natural attractions hard to find elsewhere.
TRO: Are there any South American destinations that you see as being more popular than others?
RC: Costa Rica due to its geographical diversity in a dense area where folks can combine different environments in a 5-7 day vacation. It is close to the U.S. and easy to get to due to ever-increasing flight frequencies
TRO: For a first-time traveler to South America, what destinations and activities would you suggest?
RC: Machu-Pichu and Galapagos, Buenos Aires-Iguazzu and Rio de Janeiro, and a Costa Rica vacation combining Arenal and Manuel Antonio and Osa. Also, I would recommend combining Tikal with Ambergris Caye or some of the other outstanding Belize ecolodges. There are so many unique destinations and activities it all depends on the interests of the traveler.
TRO: Many travelers wish to engage in a ‘local’ experience. How does Solar Tours cater to this?
RC: We cater to independent travelers and although we don’t offer many pre-set fixed itineraries we do offer, in many destinations, privately guided activities where clients can immerse in contact with local folks and their cultures.
TRO: As you know, relationships with travel agents are important for tour operators. How does Solar Tours foster these relationships?
RC: We try to make complicated itineraries easy for travel agents to customize for their clients. Most client questions can be addressed via our website and suggested itineraries.
TRO: Do you have any advice for agents who wish to sell South America?
RC: Get ideas on suggested itineraries and select hotels and activities based on who your client is. Always try to qualify the client before making
your recommendation. We have tools in our site and packages that guide the user to our recommended properties and activities.
TRO: How can travel professionals become involved with Solar Tours?
RC: Easy, go see our website and you can begin customizing vacations right away. If you prefer we have agents who can guide you expertly.
TRO: Do you offer any educational programs for agents who wish to work with your company?
RC: We try to work continuously to make our website auto-didactic
TRO: What are your favorite destinations when it is time to take a vacation?
RC: I love Peru for its food and culture and Costa Rica for its diversity of natural attractions.
TRO: Anything new at Solar Tours that you would like to share with the travel community?
RC: We will soon start offering 24/7 service and allow your clients to call us toll free from their vacation’s destination.
Travel agents can visit the Solar Tours website at http://www.solartours.com/ or call their offices at 800-388-7652.