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Six years ago, Anthony Cheng left behind a career trajectory that included work as a management consultant and an Internet entrepreneur to join the family business. That business was founded by his mother, Theresa Cheng, more than four decades ago.
“She adapted the model over the years according to what was successful in the industry,” said Cheng, who is chief operating officer of APF Travel, Inc., Go Latin Travel and ABC Study Tours, based in Alhambra, Calif. “We have shifted from being an air consolidator in the 1970s and 1980s, to a corporate and government-focused agency in the 1980s and 1990s, to what we are today.”
Business Model Today, the Cheng family business includes travel agency, tour operator, wholesaler and air consolidator operations in Latin America.
“We are a travel agency for half of our business, an air consolidator for 20 percent and a tour operator for 30 percent, meaning we sell our packages through other travel agencies,” Cheng said.
Client Base About 80 percent of the company’s clients are Chinese living in North America, and the other 20 percent reside in China and Taiwan, according to Cheng.
“Our core business right now is sending Chinese travelers to Latin America,” said Cheng, noting that the company has been involved with that market for more than 30 years. “We are the only Chinese agency in North America specializing in Mexico, Central America and South America.”
Most of the company’s clients are affluent, 60 years or older and retired or semi-retired. That reflects the current price and structure of the company’s all-inclusive tours, which range from 14 to 30 days in length and visit three to five countries. Average tour price is $4,000.
Innovative Practices The business has branded itself as the leader and expert in travel to Latin America for the Chinese market.
“There is no other agency with our level of knowledge since we constantly personally visit our destinations and improve our tours based on the needs and tastes of our unique clientele,” Cheng said. “This is particularly important in Latin America where operations are constantly changing, and efficiency is not what you get in the U.S., Europe or Asia.”
The business has also established itself as an official partner with many of the tourism boards in the countries it promotes, an accomplishment that lends credibility to operations in the eyes of clients and gives the company access to additional marketing content and local contacts.
“Last but not least, we have had great air contracts with our partner airlines for decades, and those air prices give us a competitive advantage that others cannot attain,” Cheng said.
On the Horizon True to the innovative spirit that has characterized the Cheng family business from the start, plans to expand into new areas are underway. Cheng develops strategic direction for the company together with his sister Regina Cheng-Sheu. Their next idea is a new line of four-day trips to Mexico that are designed to attract a younger audience and enable online sales transactions.
And, in a major directional expansion, the company plans to launch Latin America tour products for the English-speaking market this year. Travelers tight on time are the target market.
“We will launch into the non-Chinese English speaking market for people with very little free time,” Cheng said. “We are going to start with South America, and the shortest trip will be five days in Peru. We are positioned well at a point when interest in travel to Latin America is growing fast, and we hope to catch that wave.”
Perspective“I am most passionate now about creating high-quality products for our clients,” Cheng said. “In the Chinese travel agency and tour operator community, there has always been a focus on low prices at the expense of quality trips, but that trend is shifting. We pride ourselves now on having clients come back from a trip and tell us it was one of the best trips they have ever had.”
APF Travel Inc.www.apftravel.com