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In 2001, Barry and Julie Karp — two former travel agents — started a shore excursion company that delivers exceptional experiences at a reasonable price; pays commission to advisors; and guarantees travelers’ departures and return to the ship. With some 3,000 excursions in more than 400 ports, their company, ShoreTrips, served half a million clients last year.
The Karps created ShoreTrips when they found that passengers were not having exceptional experiences in a destination. So they designed trips that took advantage of the time clients had in port, offering them real cultural experiences and customizing tours to coincide with guests’ interests. Soon, others were asking them to arrange tours for them, and the Karps realized that they had found a niche product. Now, about 30 to 40 percent of their business comes from groups.
Eighty-six percent of the company’s bookings are commissioned to agents, but 50 percent of all bookings are made by travelers. How is this possible? A program that ShoreTrips launched 16 years ago allows agents to register clients with the company. Clients get their own traveler account login, and that account is “married” to the advisor — and that marriage lasts forever (or until the traveler requests a divorce and remarries another agent). So, when an agent’s traveler books directly with ShoreTrips, the agent is notified and receives the full commission on the booking. The company has preferred arrangements with Virtuoso, Signature Travel Network, Avoya Travel Network and many more. For an unaffiliated agent, commission starts at 10 percent for $0 to $12,000 and increases by 1 percent as revenue doubles; setting up an account takes just one phone call.
ShoreTrips provides tools on its website to make it easier for advisors to manage their groups, including pages accessible only to members of the group where individuals can select their own excursions. The company also often advises agents to package in tours when selling groups so that they don’t have to sell excursions in each port separately.
In addition to 24/7 customer support, ShoreTrips has a Webinars with Wine program — hourlong webinars with agents and their groups where the company discusses the tours on its upcoming itineraries, and guests can sign up for the tours they’re interested in afterward.
The Karps spend a great deal of time selecting the companies they work with in destinations, accepting only one-fifth of the guides and activity providers that they test. They have a tiered product that ranges from a private car and driver for a day to a premium shared Mercedes van tour with the same driver/guides and a maximum of six people (all with window seats) or a value share that carries 24 passengers. And ShoreTrips advertises pricing that is as much as 40 percent lower than that of other cruise lines.
ShoreTrips also arranges themed excursions for individuals and groups with special interests; these have included Jewish heritage tours; visits to jewelers museums and high-end jewelry manufacturers for a jewelers group; and a themed event at Noel Coward’s Firefly House in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, with an open bar, snacks and lunch and a pianist playing Hoagy Carmichael on the lawn for a large group of realtors from Texas.
The line offers tours from the continental U.S. to Asia; eastern Canada and New England; Cuba and other Caribbean islands; Central America; New Zealand and Australia; Alaska and the Pacific Northwest; Hawaii; South America; the Mexican Pacific Coast; and Bermuda.
The Karps can arrange pre and post tours, recommend hotels and restaurants and make train reservations. Julie Karp is currently creating programs of overnight excursions where ShoreTrips concocts custom experiences for travelers.
“Anytime anybody needs to do something, we’ll do it,” Barry Karp said. “We love setting up customized trips.”