A Key to New Ventures

Dedication and vigilance help a California agency owner tap an underserved market and grow her business

By: Margot Carmichael Lester

Adeline Castiglione already had a successful travel business, Sweet Adeline’s Travel & Tours Inc., when she stumbled onto an underserved market: religious tours.

Castiglione capitalized on the opportunity to grow her business by forming Adoration Tours, a new division of her Granada Hills, Calif.-based company.

Castiglione talked recently with TravelAge West’s Margot Carmichael Lester about the evolution of her ventures.

Q. How did you get started in the business?

A. I actually began organizing groups with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles over 24 years ago. Part of my responsibility was to negotiate prices for retreat houses and hotels, to organize conventions, to make airline and hotel reservations for couples and priests attending those conventions/meetings. When we retired from that position in the church, several of my friends seemed to think that the logical thing to do was to get into the travel business.

Q. What prompted you to expand into religious tours?

A. Since most of my clients originally came from parish backgrounds, and I also had many contacts with priests and people of the parishes, it seemed like the logical next step to create a division of Sweet Adeline’s Travel & Tours that focused on religious tours. Adoration Tours was born in January 2000.

Q. How did you promote the new venture?

A. Many of the parishioners already knew and trusted me from seeing our names in the church bulletins and knowing our involvement in the church. In the beginning, I placed brochures in the bookracks of the neighborhood churches and also placed small ads in the church bulletins. I also advertised in the archdiocesan newspaper occasionally because people want to know what we have to offer.

I always carry my business cards in every pocket and purse. I give them to grocery clerks, our doctors and dentist and just about everyone else I run into.

I can usually find a way to strike up a conversation about travel ... questions like, ‘So where have you traveled to lately?’ or ‘Have you taken your vacation yet this year?’

That sort of breaks the ice, and then I have an excuse to offer them my card without seeming forward.

Now, we only advertise seasonally. We truly depend on our service to speak for itself and for our relationship with our clients to sell our tours and cruises.

Q. What is your competitive advantage?

A. We are best known for our service and availability. Our tours are personalized and organized specifically with the needs and desires of each group leader.

Nothing canned here it’s all tailor-made. Each time we escort another tour, it’s like I’m seeing it for the first time because I’m seeing it through the eyes of our guests.

We take them for fabulous authentic meals at a local restaurant where they can mingle with the locals and enjoy home-cooked meals. When we plan tours to Prague, Vienna and Budapest, we offer them free time to experience an opera or concert.

In our Mexico City tour, including the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we include a performance of the Ballet Folklorico.

Q. What other services do you provide?

A. We have Document Parties before all of our group tours, give out great travel bags with our logo and phone number and fill them with travel goodies like flashlights to avoid a lot of ‘bumps in the night,’ passport carriers, luggage straps and tags. And as a unique gift for special occasions, a personalized photo album complete with their names and dates of their particular tour.

We also invite our groups to a Welcome Home Party, usually at our home. Almost all will come to share their photos and reminisce. This is when I bring out the brochures for our next cruise or tour and invite them to join us. Our motto is: ‘Wine ‘em, dine ‘em and sign ‘em.’

Q. What is the result of adding this niche market?

A. It’s been four years now and we have grown from a mom-and-pop agency with about 40 families to a clientele of about 2,000 families. Our business is about 95 percent repeat clients and referrals.

Q. What advice do you have others?

A. Go where your heart is. Go for it and don’t look back. You can’t succeed unless you first step out of your comfort zone and give it all you got. Have fun with it. We have the most envied job on the planet. Enjoy!

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