Kirk Demeter, President of Down Under Answers, has built a foundation of more than two decades of passion in the travel industry. He began building his lifelong career travelling the world for a year following his graduation from the University of Washington in 1989, never knowing this journey would light up a spark and lead him to build a business for the purpose of allowing others to experience the joys of traveling.
Immediately on his return, he joined a Seattle adventure tour outfitter (Progressive Travels) and was shortly promoted to Director of Marketing, where he excelled at promoting tourism and adventure travel to New Zealand even before New Zealand themselves knew they had such a market. The Gulf War in the early 1990’s presented an opportunity, and with Kirk’s entrepreneurial spirit and his determined personality, combined with his expertise in adventure travel and his passion for the South Pacific, he started his own business called Down Under Answers. His focused business plan, obvious expertise in travel to the South Pacific, and his ability to exceed customer expectations, grew the business beyond his expectations, allowing him to open his first office in 1992 in downtown Seattle.
Leveraging the ever-changing travel industry, such as the expanding growth of the internet, airline deregulation and the routine economic struggles of the industry, Kirk’s creative business style allowed him to rise to the top and DUA rapidly became a favorite wholesaler for travel agents across North America. They knew Kirk and his team to be the experts in New Zealand and soon requested more destinations. Australia took off in the adventure travel arena, but more importantly, Kirk had found a niche in the small boutique travel wholesale arena which catered to the individual travelers who wanted a more down-to-earth method of travel and expanded to the more discerning traveler who wanted the luxury experience in both Australia and New Zealand. With a belief of “Who could sell their own country with more passion than Australians?”, Kirk began recruiting Australians with a travel background to come work for him and help sell the country they love to Americans.
Travel Research Online (TRO): Before your life-changing year long journey after college, what were your plans for your life?
TRO: How did you find yourself drawn to the New Zealand and South Pacific regions in the travel industry?
KD: When I backpacked around the world in 1989/90, I was fortunate to spend over a month in Australia and New Zealand. Outside of the beauty of the countries, it was the amazing people that really lit a fire for me in wanting to be part of selling the destination. People I’d just met invited me to dinner, they explained the nuances of rugby to me in local pubs, and they wanted to make sure I was enjoying every minute in their country – I just really appreciated and enjoyed my time in both countries and felt I had a calling.
TRO: Tell us about your day-to-day role at Down Under Answers.
TRO: What can travel agents expect when booking tours for their clients with Down Under Answers?
KD: Travel agents get a Down Under Answers agent with experience and passion for the destination, and knowledge of where to go and what to do. They’ll also notice the enthusiasm of our own, and the fact that we aren’t doing “cookie cutter” tours but really trying to give the travel agents real insight and options to get the very best for their clients.
TRO: What services or areas of Down Under Answers do you wish the travel agent community were more aware of?
KD: I would say that there are really great options for cooperative marketing, to raise the profile of Australia, New Zealand, and the islands of the South Pacific in their community. There are so many people across North America that would consider these the destinations they most aspire to visit, yet they’ll often book somewhere else simply because they feel it is easier. We have so many tools to help agents sell the destination, and we partner with some of the best Tourism Boards in the world. Plus, we’re extremely fortunate to have such excellent airlines serving the destination.
TRO: Why did you decide to recruit Australians as sales representatives?
KD: I just felt that Australians and New Zealanders were the best ambassadors of their own country. I was fortunate being in the Seattle area, in that Microsoft seemed to recruit a large number of employees from these destinations and their spouses could work for us, and then we started getting applications from travel specialists that were from Australia and New Zealand. I’ve always loved how enthusiastic people can be when selling their own country.
TRO: Did this change the dynamic between the company and the travel agent community?
KD: Certainly to the effect that the travel agent felt that the employee from DUA had ultimate credibility when speaking of her/his own country. I think there is something comforting in that ability.
TRO: What is your favorite travel destination to date?
KD: Well, I’ve made over 70 trips “down under” and never had a bad one. But I’ll name a few: I love the Kimberley area of Western Australia – so remote and remarkably beautiful. I love Queenstown, New Zealand; it may be a real tourist center, but it is for a reason – some of the most strikingly beautiful scenery you’ll ever see. Melbourne and Sydney are two of my favorite big cities I’ve ever visited, and going there frequently allows me a bit more of an “insiders” experience. Kangaroo Island, and especially Southern Ocean Lodge, make for a perfect holiday. I took my son on a kayaking tour of the Abel Tasman National Park last year, on the north part of the South Island of New Zealand, and that trip was truly amazing.
TRO: What is on the horizon for Down Under Answers?
KD: We’ve experienced great growth in our last three years, with 2013, 2014, and 2015 all setting records for us in both passengers and revenue. I expect we’ll see this continue in 2016, and we’ll work our very best to continue to ramp up our service and offerings to our travel agent partners. We had a big travel agent event in Melbourne in June 2015, where we had 55 agents at an educational forum followed by a series of famils – look for that to be repeated in 2016. Our main goal is to continue giving our travel agent partners the best possible experience for their clientele, as well as raising the profile of all the great offerings in the South Pacific.
For more information on Kirk Demeter and Down Under Answers, visit them online at www.duatravel.com.