Roy Liao is the Vice President of Product Development for wholesale tour design company Super Value Tours, which is based out of Los Angeles, California. Roy’s passion for travel and his family roots as the child of immigrant parents from Taiwan are just a few of the many things that help Roy find and share the best parts of many destinations throughout Asia. Raised in the United States, Roy Liao takes pride in Super Value Tours’ ability to design tours in a different way so that the travelers can have the best experience possible. Roy and Super Value Tours take into account things such as language and cultural barriers when designing their tours. Not only is Roy great at finding the best of each location for Super Value Tours’ travelers, but as a foodie he knows where the best eats are.
Travel Research Online (TRO): Your parents immigrated from Taiwan and as a result you were raised in the U.S with exposure to many different cultures, and perspectives of those cultures. Was there anything else that influenced you to work in the travel industry?
Roy Liao (RL): I myself immigrated into travel from a completely different industry. I used to be a software developer! I still love software, but in a way, it’s rather disposable; once you write an application, people often quickly move on to the next big program or app.
With our company, we have the ability to get out from behind a desk and help people in a truly profound way. To me, travel is one of the most meaningful, lasting things anyone can do. When you have great travel experiences, these are the things you keep in your heart and stay with you for a lifetime.
There are many barriers, concerns, and anxieties which can hinder people from traveling, especially for instance, if you’re a family traveling to a foreign country.
To me, it’s exciting to have the responsibility of tearing down these barriers, help people travel comfortably, and to share all the amazing things our world has to offer.
TRO: You currently hold the title of Vice President of Product Development for Super Value Tours. Is there anything you’ve learned from previous positions that has aided you in your current one?
RL: Software has taught me everything should be as structured and rule-based as possible. Travel has taught me the exact opposite! I’ve learned that in order to succeed in travel, you have to be organic and flexible.
TRO: Can you walk us through your day-to-day operations? Is each day the same, or do they vary? Are you constantly toggling tasks, or focused on one after the other?
No two days are alike.
Our operations are very detail-oriented and the breadth of things which need attention is unimaginably wide. One moment might be spent talking with a guest about great restaurant ideas in Tokyo and the next could be focused on planning all of our tour departures for the entire next year.
TRO: Super Value Tours, which focuses on destinations throughout Asia, takes pride in designing tours so travelers have better experiences when it comes to visiting destinations with cultural or language barriers. How has this shaped the tour design process?
RL: Since we set out, we’ve wanted to be different from other tour companies who are more focused on marketing and use 3rd party companies to operate their tours. Quality is always one of our highest priorities, and from the beginning, we have always felt that in order to guarantee quality, we need to operate our own tours.
Even though we design and operate tours, we don’t believe our guests should feel like tourists. Instead, we always think about ways we can let our guests feel like travelers, not tourists by providing high quality, memorable experiences.
One great thing we see in the market these days is a desire for authenticity. We love to see this; just because someone doesn’t speak the local language, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve an authentic experience.
This fits perfectly with our tour design philosophy since we have always wanted to provide a high quality, true travel experience to our guests. For instance, in Japan, you definitely have to experience an overnight stay in a ryokan, or traditional inn. A ryokan stay is a complete experience: you can soak in natural hot springs, sleep on soft futons placed on tatami floors and try a traditional kaiseki (banquet) meal. Many tour operators often exclude ryokan stays in their itineraries since they are more costly, or might be outside the comfort zone of some guests, but we always insist on including at least one overnight stay in a ryokan for all our tours, even our entry level programs.
On our more in-depth itineraries in Japan, which are designed for experienced enthusiasts, we even spend almost every night in ryokan hotels in order to let guests try the best ones in each area.
TRO: Can you give us any insight on the start-to-finish process of designing a tour? How do you choose activities and destinations?
RL: These are closely guarded secrets! Just kidding (Sort of).
I can’t say too much, but the process is extensive. In some cases, it takes years to develop one of our tour programs. There are so many details such as finding the best time of day to visit a certain place or finding the best neighborhood restaurants; we want to make sure we get them right.
Something which surprises many of our guests is that our tours are constantly going through refinement. We are never satisfied with leaving a tour just as it is, especially since there are always so many updates in-destination, and we always feel we can be better. We have some guests who have taken the same tour several times, and they are always pleasantly surprised by the improvements we have made.
Another thing we don’t talk about often is that we even include seasonal adjustments for our tours. If there is a special festival in destination for example, we’ll find a way to work it into our itinerary for our guests with no extra charge.
TRO: Good tour design can be a matter of taste. How do you measure if a tour is successful?
RL: We care deeply about customer feedback and are always talking to our guests. This is one of the most straightforward ways to track the quality of our tours.
Early this year, we invited one lucky winner to Japan as a promotional drawing in the Bay Area Travel & Adventure Show. This gentleman was from San Francisco, and he told us he travels overseas regularly with his family but he never booked tours because he didn’t want to feel confined to someone else’s schedule. However, he won our drawing and it was free, so he decided to try it out.
After the tour was over, we caught up with the winner. He remarked he was profoundly impressed with our teamwork behind the scenes, smooth coordination, and all the great things he learned about Japan on our tour. He enjoyed the tour immensely – he told us he was able to experience things with us which may have otherwise been missed, and it inspired him to realize that when tours are planned well, they can lead to amazing experiences.
We hear this kind of reaction from time to time, and it never gets old; each time, I am so honored and proud of our team.
TRO: Food is an important part of culture, allowing people to experience tradition through meals. You do especially well in sharing destinations with travelers when it comes to the food-aspect of a tour. Would you consider yourself a foodie? What is your criteria for deciding which restaurants and food options get featured along tours?
RL: Within our own team, we joke that having a deep love for food is one of the first requirements for getting hired! For me, I guess this comes from my heritage since Taiwanese people love to eat. If you visit Taiwan, food is always on the forefront of people’s minds.
To us, good food isn’t just about finding the most popular restaurant or the one with the highest ratings. A high price doesn’t always mean the best experience, so our definition of good food can be anything from a great 3-star Michelin winner all the way to the neighborhood night market stall.
When we look for great meals to include in our itinerary, we are looking for places with quality and places which are experiences themselves, unique not just to that country, but even something you can only find in that town or village.
We want to inspire our travelers, and our definition of success here would be where a guest can travel on our tour, think back many years later, and say “Hey honey, remember that amazing meal we ate when we were in Japan/China/Taiwan with Super Value Tours.”
Before any dish can be added into our tours, we taste each one to try and meet this goal. Many meals even go through the strict approval of our CEO herself!
TRO: Not limited to just Asia, what has been your favorite destination to visit so far? How about your favorite one to plan a tour through?
RL: This is like choosing your favorite child – such a difficult question to answer, and you love them all for different reasons.
That said, I really enjoy traveling to Japan. I often say, once you’ve traveled enough, there are only a few destinations in the world where you can repeat again and again; Japan is definitely one of those places. The country is so different from what most people ever experience, so you are always finding something new!
For tour planning, this might be surprising, but I actually really enjoy Taiwan. You can feel the genuine desire in local people to share things with visitors. This attitude truly helps a lot and makes things run quite smoothly.
Even though Taiwan is a small place with a relatively young hospitality industry, I honestly believe it has developed into one of the most travel-friendly destinations in the world since it has so many great things going for it. Everything is very affordable, the locals are very nice (some English is spoken as well), service quality is remarkably good, logistics are efficient, it has a unique culture, natural beauty is incredible, and of course the food is delicious!
TRO: Is there anywhere specifically that you have always wanted to go but haven’t made it there yet? Where?
RL: I’m afraid I haven’t had a chance lately to give this proper thought. If I had to choose one offhand, I would pick Croatia. I hear its very beautiful, and I think my wife and son might like it.
TRO: What can we expect to see from Super Value Tours in the near future?
RL: I can’t reveal a lot for now, but I will say our next stop will be on another continent! Stay tuned to our website for the latest news