When Patty Horst, owner of Patty’s Travel in Washougal, Wash., sold
two families $30,000 worth of Ritz Tour bookings this past summer,
she did not worry about the families having a good time. “When your
clients spend that kind of money, you want to make sure they are
getting everything that they want,” Horst said. “With Ritz Tours, I
knew that they would get their money’s worth.”
This booking included a lot of add-ons and Ritz, Horst noted,
worked closely with her to put together the right package for her
clients. The commission on the package was also very satisfactory
to Horst. Ritz gives 10 percent commission, but works closely with
agents giving more commission on larger group bookings, or in this
case, a high-financial booking.
“Ritz cares about travel agents,” said Horst, “and that’s not
easy to come by in this market.” Not easy indeed. With commissions
being slashed, it’s hard for agents to find suppliers who are
willing to work closely with them, as opposed to selling directly
to the consumer.
“Travel agents are our livelihood and we depend very much on
their support,” said Pista Nadj, vice president of sales and
marketing for Ritz Tours, which is why Ritz works closely with
agents, developing strong relationships.
“We try and offer the maximum commission that we can, which can
be difficult for us because our packages are so affordable,” Nadj
Indeed, when agents are selling luxury packages there’s more
wiggle room for commission, but with Ritz, which many agents view
as one of the most affordable tour operators to China, the package
prices are very economical. So agents make their commission by
selling in bulk. Nadj noted that Ritz has a very high repeat
visitor rate which is not surprising to Horst. She booked her first
Ritz tour for a client about five years ago. It was a $999 China
special including air, hotel and all sightseeing. Looking at the
itinerary and all that it included, she thought the price was too
good to be true and wondered what level of service Ritz would
provide. Her client returned very impressed by the tour and quickly
spread the word to her friends.
Horst herself did very little advertising and suddenly found
herself booking groups to China on Ritz.
“Word-of-mouth advertising is really the best and I’ve never had
a single negative comment from a client about a Ritz Tour. In fact,
I get just the opposite,” Horst said. “The prices are so attractive
and yet the tour is first-class comfort with five-star hotels,
excellent food and top-notch guides.” In fact, Horst said it’s the
little extras that make the trip for her clients. One Ritz tour
guide took his tour group to his house for tea, so they could see a
local home. Also, extras like Peking duck dinner and acrobatic
shows are included in the tour price.
“As a travel agent, you want trips with very few bumps. Ritz
tours are always smooth and that’s what you want from a tour
operator,” said Horst.
Nadj says that smoothness comes from the 24 years Ritz has been
“Our guides, I believe, make us stand apart from our
competitors. Every trip is going to have hiccups, but our guides
know how to handle them and make clients happy,” Nadj said. “Having
three offices in Beijing doesn’t hurt, either.”
Ritz’s prices also makes them stand apart. Both Horst and Paul
Arneson, a travel agent at Promenade Travel, based in Westlake,
Calif., say the prices are one of the reasons their clients book
“The deals are spectacular; they include airfare, travel
insurance, five-star hotels and plenty of extras,” said Arneson.
“Also, the hotels are located in the center of towns, which is
important for clients when they have an afternoon of free
Nadj noted that the hotels are also a secret to the success of
“People always want to know how we can offer quality at
affordable prices,” he said. “Many operators might work with 10 to
15 hotels in a city like Beijing we work with three or four. So we
can guarantee these hotels high volume, which gives us buying power
when negotiating deals.”
So who is the average Ritz traveler and where does he or she
want to travel?
Nadj said that many clients are professional, internationally
savvy 40- to 65-year-olds. First-timers to China want to hit four
major attractions: Beijing, Xian, Yangtze and Shanghai, which is
why the 14-day Golden Yangtze Discovery tour is the most
Repeat visitors, however, want to visit Tibet, China’s Silk Road
and other areas in Asia. These people are more likely to take
longer trips and add the extensions to Hong Kong and Bangkok.
Whatever your clients need, Ritz has shown they can handle
|Going Beyond China|
Clearly, China is the focus for Ritz Tours, however Nadj noted
that Ritz is expanding to other areas as well. As agents feel
comfortable selling China and clients are looking to explore new
areas with a known operator, Ritz uses client and agent feedback to
determine where to expand. “Our clients want new destinations with
the same affordable prices and same standard of luxury,” said Nadj,
“so we introduced Exotic Asia, which includes stops in Thailand,
Hong Kong and Singapore.
“Then, three years ago we launched Tantalizing Thailand, which
has become a very popular destination also,” he said. “Next, two
years ago, we launched Japan Experience, which has also been
Nadj said customer opinions especially those of agents and their
clients are important to Ritz.
“We invent new programs based on the questionnaires clients fill
out,” Nadj said. “When the demand for a new destination is high,
that’s when we launch it. So we move in a stable, safe growth
pattern and we know that we have the support of our agents and