“Industry Q&A” Featuring Carrie McDougall of Cultural CrossroadsMarch 21, 2016
In the fifth edition of the “Industry Q&A” series, we visit with Carrie McDougall, President of Cultural Crossroads (@culturalxroads). Carrie shares insights from the perspective of a niche tour operator specializing in enriching cultural journeys, and how DMOs who have this offering can best work within this segment of the travel industry.
Q: What trends in the leisure travel market are you noticing this year that DMOs should understand and be prepare to address?
A: Overall, I have noticed a continued increase in consumers wanting new and different experiences when they travel to a destination for the first time or if they are a repeat visit. Travelers are looking more and more for programs that offer experiential activities and culinary experiences, cater to their personal interests, accommodate multi-generational travelers and provide opportunities to give back to local communities.
With regard to popular places, there is strong demand for Colombia which has transformed dramatically over the years in its tourism offerings and infrastructure; Ecuador (because of the Galapagos) and Peru are great options for multigenerational trips; Cuba is picking up in popularity and now is the time to go before prices and tourism increase which will change the feeling of the place; Iceland is getting more attention and is a very interesting and beautiful country, and lastly is the continued rise in river cruising in Europe along the Danube and the Rhine rivers.
Q: What factors do you consider in order to add a new program/itinerary to your product portfolio?
A: Since I am a small operator, I really appreciate FAM trips as a way to learn about what a destination has to offer. However, I also make sure that I add time on the front or back of the trip to explore specific experiences that are in line with the type of tailor-made programs we produce for our clients. It’s incredibly important for me to get a sense of local tour operators/DMCs that could potentially run a program that brings first-timers but potentially repeat visitors.
It’s very important that I see all the places we offer first hand to make sure the programs we offer in the end are exciting and off the beaten path, and will ultimately “wow” travelers.
Q: What role, if any, do familiarization trips play in your program/itinerary decision making?
A: They play a huge role. A great example of a FAM trip that influenced my programs for the long-run is Ireland. I went many years ago and while there I was able to explore the great things the tourism board wanted to showcase, but also to connect with a local tour operator who helped me craft programs that are specific to my journey parameters. My Ireland programs perform really well – so well, in fact, I have clients booking for the 5th or 6th time, because they know they are going to get a very different experience every time and rave about it each time they return.
Q: What have you found to be the most effective means for marketing your products/programs?
A: Word of mouth and referrals are key for my business. Half of my clients are repeat clients and often bring friends on future trips or tell others. Also, the awards we have won as third party endorsements help with attracting new clients and organizations.
Q: Based on your experience so far, what can DMOs do better when working with members of the travel trade or organizations like your own?
A: While I sincerely appreciate the help of those that I have worked with, I feel like partnerships with DMOs are often a one-time shot – I would love to have more of a continuing conversation on how to build on a partnership that is focused on growing bookings and client interest.
I think it’s also important for DMOs to understand what the travel trade and organizations like mine need, in terms of required response times, what the client is looking for, and truly building trustworthy relationships.
Q: What advice would you give to DMOs looking to enter the North American market?
- Know your market – the American market is very fast paced and requires fast response times. It’s important to understand the experiences and the expectation level of the market for when they travel.
- Think small but mighty – don’t overlook the smaller tour operators. We’re often booking 8-16 PAX on a trip, but the full focus is in crafting intimate experiences which ultimately drive a deeper understanding and appreciation of the destination being visited and encourage word of mouth.
About Cultural Crossroads:
Cultural Crossroads (www.culturalcrossroads.com) is an award-winning tour company specializing in outstanding enriching cultural journeys to classic and exotic destinations. Discover the world through one-of-a-kind itineraries for the ultimate travel experience. Cultural Crossroads offers small tailor-made tours for individuals, families, multi-generations, groups and non-profits. They connect travelers to people and places through unique events and experiences. Visiting with locals, travelers delve into customs through traditions including dance, art, music, food and wine. We proudly support sustainable community projects in the places where we travel. Cultural Crossroads’ tours have been chosen by both National Geographic in their “50 Tours of a Lifetime” and Condé Nast Traveler Magazine in their “50 Trips of a Lifetime.”