A Two Nation Vacation

Clipper Vacations has the Pacific Northwest covered

By: Marty Wentzel

In July 1986, when the Victoria Clipper first sailed between Seattle and Victoria, the passenger ferry helped turn the remote Vancouver Island city into a year-round destination. Better yet, it brought all of British Columbia within easy reach of Seattle visitors and Pacific Northwest residents. Twenty years and 6 million customers later, Clipper Vacations is powering full speed ahead, by land, sea and air.

Based in Seattle, the company which launched that inaugural ferry now lays claim to a fleet of two high-speed passenger catamarans, linking Seattle and Victoria, and one catamaran used for Seattle/San Juan Island runs and whale-watching excursions. In addition to the ferry service, the firm organizes vacation packages to an impressive variety of Northwest destinations including Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Vancouver Island, the San Juan Islands and Canadian Rockies.

Along with ferry transportation, the company helps clients explore the region via passenger train service on Amtrak Cascades; rental cars and SUVs; seaplane flights; and ferries outside the Victoria Clipper service area, such as Washington’s Bainbridge Island, Port Townsend and Vashon Island.

Recently, Western U.S. travel agents and meeting planners got an in-depth look at the Seattle-based company’s broad product line during its Two Nation Vacation Travel Trade Show. The annual affair traditionally takes place in Seattle, but this year Clipper Vacations expanded the event, adding five venues in Arizona and California in late February and early March.

“We brought the show to cities outside of Seattle because we recognize the potential of travel agents in those markets,” said Clipper Vacations’ vice president of sales and marketing Janis Smith.

In Phoenix, Tucson, Ariz., Pasadena, Calif., Irvine, Calif., and San Francisco, attendees learned about Clipper Vacations’ 2007 products as well as those from 40 suppliers in Washington, Oregon and Canada. Among the exhibitors were hotels, attractions, transportation services and destination marketing organizations.

Agents have a lot to like in Clipper Vacations, which pays 10 percent commission on the entire package booked, including all the modes of transportation it offers.

“These days we’re really pushing our tour product,” Smith said.

The company has a sales representative based in Southern California who calls on agents daily, reminding them of the benefits of working with Clipper Vacations.

Meanwhile, as the firm charts the rapid growth of Seattle’s Alaska cruise business, it’s tapping into the trend by promoting pre- and post-cruise tours.

“A lot of agents are booking the extra nights in Seattle, Victoria and Vancouver through us,” said Smith. “As demand grows, so does our product line.”

The company is also enjoying an uptick in group business, mainly leisure gatherings like reunions, associations and special interest clubs.

“We arrange whatever they need,” explained Smith. “Travel agents tell us what they’re looking for, and we do what it takes to make it happen.”

Another area of expansion comes by way of add-ons, like spa, golf and romance programs, which enhance the overall Clipper Vacations experience. Anglers can book a Campbell River fishing package in hopes of snagging a prized salmon. Skiers can slalom and snow plow during a day at Grouse Mountain. Nature lovers can join excursions to black bear country. Sports fans can catch a Seattle Mariners baseball game, while travelers to Portland can discover the charm of coffeehouses, pubs, wineries, galleries, bookshops and live theater.

Clipper Vacations is currently revamping its Web site to make it easier to navigate.

“It works well now, with 25 percent of our business coming from online bookings,” said Smith. “But there’s always room for improvement.”

And in the months to come, travel agents should expect to see Clipper Vacations promoting more product in Whistler, B.C., site of the Olympic Games in February 2010.

“We’re not focusing as much on the two weeks of the actual games,” Smith said. “Instead, we’re looking at the build-up and follow-up exposure, pushing bookings before and after. The Olympics will bring a lot of people to the area, not just Whistler, but the entire destination surrounding it.”


Clipper Vacations

Commission: 10 percent on entire package