‘Unique experiences’: How a travel agency stays relevant in the age of book and buyAugust 23, 2020 | Trisha Delmoro
By Barbie Salvador-Muhlach
MANILA, Philippines – Business is booming for travel and tourism as more and more people are flying in and out for work and pleasure. But unlike in the 1990s and early 2000s, many of today’s travel junkies are skipping the travel agents. Thanks to book and buy sites, arrangements for airline tickets, accommodations and tours can be easily arranged online.
So how does a travel agency thrive in the age of digital platforms?
For a second-generation travel entrepreneur, the key is differentiating with unique experiences.
Chal Chang Lontoc Del Rosario of Jeron Travel did just that and reinvented their family business into an experience-oriented travel company. Among her pioneer offerings: a Coldplay concert travel package to Taiwan in 2017.
And now she’s coming up with a UK travel arrangement, this time with a concert stop to watch the Spice Girls.
I asked her a few questions over e-mail for a peek into the tricks of the trade and a look at travelling from the perspective of an industry expert.
Q: How do you stay relevant and competitive in this age of book and buy?
A: Online booking is something that has made lives easier. But just the same, there are still people who will need travel management and human connection when planning things that will be memorable and part of their lives. I always tell my team: if it’s cheaper online, let the client know. We are not competing with online travel booking engines. Rather, we are complementing it by providing something an online platform cannot.
On a more practical note, when we package things for the client, we really come out cheaper. We see what goes on behind the scenes. We can really update our clients of cheaper, faster, more convenient routes or advise on even more special experiences. We can help our clients save as much as 30%. Though this is not always the case, good service is what really counts.
At the end of the day, we highly differentiate ourselves by the unique experiences we give our clients. We believe that we should all experience life through travel, just like how our credo goes!
Q: What are some of your favorite or best-selling experience travel packages?
Being an experience junkie, this is a tough question for me because the list goes on!
Africa is always best experienced as a package. It’s not something that you do in patches and through a DIY (do-it-yourself) process. Not only does it come out more economical when packaged, but you really get to squeeze out the beauty and adventure that lies in that continent when you go to a travel purveyor that specializes in it.
Taiwan! Jeron Travel is the #bestinTaiwan, having been awarded for consecutive years in this arena. But there’s no bias when we say that this country has so much to offer. It has the beauty of Japan’s nature, the bustle and great food of Hong Kong, and so much more without breaking the bank! Not only is it my other home from my mother’s side, but I love the authentic food tours and all-around the country tour that we offer with it! A lot of the city can be explored on your own but there are some parts and experiences that are worth packaging.
For example, we offer the only @TaipeiEats tours in the Philippines. This is a fully authentic food tour of less touristy markets where you get to try the food and understand the history of each product and vendor.
Turkey is another because it is just beyond mesmerizing. I always joke that it may sound like blasphemy to most, but Turkey over Paris anytime! There’s just so much texture in that country and the people are amazing too! Istanbul itself allows you to be in both Asia and Europe at the same time!
Of course, Japan and Korea are also on the list. It doesn’t matter if it’s winter and snowing, cherry blossom time, or even during the summer. Filipinos will always love these two for their food and contrast from our daily lives.
Cruise packages are something more Filipinos should really explore as well! This is the most sulit thing ever! Debunking thoughts that you won’t get to explore as much by being in a ship or it is too expensive, so wrong! It is cheaper than jumping around from one country to another and having to pack and unpack all the time.
Q: What was the first concert travel package you did and how did that start?
Our credo, ‘Experience life through travel,’ means that no matter what type of person you are, there is something for you worth traveling for — from foodie travels, farming experience, cultural immersion, and business and learning trips to kid-friendly family travels, honeymoon, or corporate incentive tours. Traveling for music or concerts is just one of them. It really goes hand in hand with what we believe.
We’ve always been getting travel inquiries from people who travel for concerts and festivals abroad. We formalized this and formed a group to Taiwan for our #ColdplayCrayCrayinTaipei package. We had more than a hundred people (a mix of fans, first-timers, family, friends, celebrities and influencers) fly to Taipei, enjoy the concert with the best tickets, and getting around Taipei too — all for the same price of one concert ticket in the Philippines! It was super sulit and fun! The guests even carried Philippine flags to represent our ‘delegation.’
Q: As a travel entrepreneur, how many countries do you visit every year/ month?
Last year, I think I did 20 cities around the world, around eight countries if I’m not mistaken. Most of which, I tag along my two young boys as I really believe that travel and experience are the best education. To be honest, I’m not counting anymore! Other people do much more than that. I try not to race and count on these visits, but rather collect memories and experiences. Remember, experience junkie right here!
Q: How do you think the Philippines can better promote tourism?
This has been my dream and my mother’s as well before she passed away. She was Taiwanese-Japanese and her dream was to really share the beauty of our country to the world. And she has done her part in this. I think what we lack though, especially Metro Manila, is our own identity. Foreigners are skipping Manila and just heading straight to our beaches. Most feel that their cities have much more to offer so why go around Manila and its traffic?
But I really believe otherwise. My dream is for Manila to have a safe and clean night market where our Filipino food and culture can be seen and appreciated. I believe that Baclaran has the potential for this. A historical church with a market that’s just bursting with our ‘Filipino dstory.’ If only we could clean up, make it safe, and package it well, it will do wonders!
I hope Madame Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat will take notice as I am volunteering to spearhead this idea and project!
Q: Why do you think travel is such a hit for millennials? Or how important is travelling for this generation?
It’s the wanderlust generation! More than posting on social media, I believe millennials crave for something more meaningful and take the search for ‘happiness’ more seriously. So think soul explorers that are tech-savvy! Unlike having branded bags or the latest gadgets, travel is aspirational and yet inclusive! It’s for anyone and everyone. You could do it with a tight budget or splurge on it. I’m happy this is the case. That means we are learning and appreciating more. Travel opens up our eyes and we become better human beings, and that matters the most.
Q: Any experience packages you are planning for the Philippines and beyond?
We always have a lot of Jeron Travel experiential packages in store. Romblon escapade, our usual Dumaguete water safari and Coron trips are also happening. There’s also the super fun ‘Ultimate Tita Taipei Tour’ in Taiwan. It’s finding your life’s ‘why’ while experiencing new and exhilarating sights in Taipei.