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Ken Firestone, cofounder and managing director of Zohar African Safaris’ North American and global markets, said he has previously relied on social media and online blogs to spread the word about Zohar’s customizable East-African safari tours.
But, he felt that there was a missing piece of the puzzle when it came to the company’s distribution channel.
Enter North American travel agents.
The four-year-old Tanzania-based tour operator offers custom-tailored themed safaris to five countries in East Africa: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Although Firestone manages the Northern American branch of the company, he said that about 70 percent of clientele hails from outside the U.S. and Canada.
Now, he’s hoping travel agent support will help grow his business in the North American market.
“The issue is geography,” Firestone said. “Europeans are much closer to East Africa. North America, it’s my market. It’s where I’m from and I know it really well. We get business, but I feel like we ought to be getting ongoing relationships with individual agents, too.”
Zohar began its initial bid for agent relationships by launching several agent-friendly initiatives for 2015: Travel professionals will receive 15 percent commission on all land bookings through April 30 and 12 percent commission thereafter.
The company’s website also features a new online booking form, which allows travel professionals to pay initial deposits and final payments for both preplanned and customized safari tours. All preplanned packages have set departure dates and are designed around a theme, such as “Wildlife Overview” or “Adventure Safari.”
“There is a lack of awareness of the company,” he said. “There are already dynamic companies that are doing the kinds of things I’m doing, but agents don’t see us. We’re not on the map.”
However, Firestone wants agents to see the “Zohar difference,” and is hoping that the aggressive commission structure, wide variety of packages offered and opportunity to customize trips will be enticing to them.
The company is also hoping to incorporate fam trips in the future so that agents can experience a Zohar safari for themselves.
“When dealing with individuals, they send friends and so forth, but I feel that working with people who [have] high-volume access to clientele would not only expand this, but allow me to develop a strong relationship with the travel agent,” Firestone said. “In a sense, the travel agents become my clients, too.”