Cengiz Aras, president and CEO of Flo Tours // © Devin Galaudet
Cengiz Aras started Flo Tours 14 years ago, leading small group tours in Turkey. When he launched the company, Aras was already an experienced tour guide with a Ph.D. in archeology and a desire to share history and culture with travelers. He was confident in the new tour venture’s success.
“I knew if I did the right thing at the right prices I could do better than other companies,” Aras said.
Flo Tours has since grown into a significant player in the booming Turkey travel market. But even more notable is the company’s expansion into 20 additional countries, including some of the most remote and least-traveled destinations on the planet. Flo Tours now takes adventure seekers into Mongolia, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Iran, in addition to the more mainstream destinations of India, Greece, China and Thailand.
I recently returned from a Flo Tours trip to the rarely explored Caucasus region, touring Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan with 22 other travel pros (I’m editor of the In the Know online magazine). Aras’ flair for history and culture illuminated the entire 14-day trip. The adventure showcased monasteries, mosques, great food, 12,000-year-old petroglyphs and a hill of flames that has burned continuously for at least two thousand years.
The same trip is also available with a nine-day extension to Iran that includes visits to Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz, home of The Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, or Pink Mosque. While it is rare that U.S. travelers make it to this historic and controversial country, it is legal to visit.
Central Asia Tour
In central Asia, Flo Tours has developed a 19-day package to Kazakhstan and four other seldom-seen countries: Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. The tour includes history, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, museums, mosques and local people. Travelers might know Kazakhstan as the home of the fictional character Borat, star of the popular 2006 mockumentary.
Perhaps Flo Tours’ most ambitious trip to date is the recently announced 39-day Grand Silk Road tour covering nine countries. The trip, which includes five days in Iran, begins in Urumqi, China and ends more than one month later in Yerevan, Armenia. Priced at $19,895, it offers a significant commission opportunity for travel agents.
Flo Tours pays agents 12 to 15 percent commission on set tours and 15 to 18 percent commission on private tours and excursions. The company also offers 14 fams a year to accredited travel agents, as well as discounted rates on other tours.
In a recent interview, Aras shared one more surprise with me: A new 73-day tour along the historic Silk Road will be introduced later this year and will follow the oldest available maps of the trade route.
I asked Aras about the inspiration for expanding Flo Tours to include programs to some of the most interesting and unique destinations in the world.
“I love it,” Aras told me. “I love to provide unique packages and accommodations. It makes me happy.”