"First, let me reiterate how grateful we are to have crossed paths with Ahipara. In speaking with many other travelers (over dinner and drinks at Huka & Matakauri), they seemed genuinely surprised (and a bit jealous) of our creative and inspired itinerary. I must have given out your name a dozen times. Seems there is some set itinerary that the less gifted travel professionals use with an overlap of activities. Even more disturbing, many mentioned that they constantly ran into the same folks who are on the exact same itinerary but either a day ahead or a day behind. Funny that when it happens once, it's okay. When it's for your entire trip, the realization that they were just on a cookie cutter trip was quite deflating. You set yourself apart from the start and we appreciate the extra time and energy it takes to plan a truly bespoke and "crafted" adventure."
and later on.......
"As I mentioned in a prior email, he was incredibly well read on wine. He also seemed to know most everyone we crossed paths with ( a common trait with all of your guides - they are clearly the respected, popular kids in their areas."
This sort of feedback is what I love. It really rewards you for all the hard work and extra lengths we go to. When someone of obvious intelligence and a highly experienced traveler comes to us and we're allowed to produce something which we think works well, then this is invariably the sort of feedback we receive. On the downside, those travellers who believe their 2-hour investment on the internet makes their opinion superior to ours (12 years times 3 people, 6 years times another 4), insist on the wrong choices, then complain about them balance this out and remind us it's a business we're running and not a fan club!
But that's not the point I want to talk about here. I want to talk about value, perceived value, commoditization and travel. And also of the gap between marketing and reality.
The second is quite simple. We have no gap. We market what we can do and what we have done. If you see a hot spring, you can go there. If you see a table on a mountaintop, you can eat there. I really wish those other agencies - private and government - would also confine their marketing to what they can actually deliver - or point people towards someone who can.
Value. Deals. Last minute booking on the internet. Yep, I've used Expedia, Hotels.com, wotif, Tripadvisor. When I travel around the country/world for business, I'm after a deal. The traveller in general is now after a 'deal'. "If you're paying full whack, you're paying too much." Thank you world for ensuring that people (including myself) now have a 'deal mentality'.
But we at Ahipara Travel are not lines of code in an internet portal. We're not contracting professionals using buying power to leverage room rates. (New Zealand accommodation at the high end has too few rooms and margins which are too tight to play that game in any case). So us and them have a value proposition based on quality. With a hotel, the value proposition is quite simple - room size, view, fit-out, amenities, exclusivity, quality of cuisine etc.
With a proper destination management company (like ours) - what do we actually do? Well, it's a lot more than booking a hotel. We start by understanding our clients, talking, emailing, listening. Really listening. With a view to then turning this country on for them. How do we then do that? Through knowledge. Investing in shoe leather. Close relationships with suppliers. Coaching of suppliers. In some cases persuading people to be suppliers. And not just a dozen lodges - hundreds of suppliers. Then understanding geography, pace, and the objectives of the travellers. Then sitting down with a blank sheet of paper, clearing your mind, and working out how you can delight them beyond their wildest dreams, within the budget and timeframe they have set. Being creative. Being open-minded. Truly caring & having the time and expertise to do something about it.
Then, when they are in-country we of course manage their itinerary hands-on, know all our suppliers who will do back flips for our clients, change things around with weather contingencies. Adapt to sudden tiredness or a request to add more. We look after people.
All of this within a mindset which sometimes does not value the knowledge, time and effort which goes into our version of travel. Of course, once people have experienced it, they get it....usually. People like our client above, who truly understand travel and experiences and who have their feet on the ground as to what is possible (no, we can't change the weather or ensure wild animals turn up on schedule) of course get it and look for other people like us around the world. I think the future is good for people like us who actually add an enormous amount of value through knowledge, time and expertise - and our very high growth rates over the last few years bear this out. And I think the cookie cutters may well get elbowed aside by value adders (if people care about the quality of this particular trip) or website discount portals (if they focus solely on cost and not value).
But, this will all take time as people discover what quality is and what they can expect from their service providers. Service and expertise are increasingly understood and valued. Lucky for us.