The most successful business ideas often come from fulfilling an unmet need in the marketplace. That was exactly the case for Julie and Barry Karp, founders of ShoreTrips, an independent provider of shore excursions in a variety of well-known cruise ship ports.
Since its inception in the late 1990s, ShoreTrips has given the cruise lines quite a bit of stiff competition for their passengers' shore excursion dollars. And it all started with Barry's first job -- in the travel agency his parents owned. The more he helped clients booking cruises through his agency, the more he noticed those who prearranged their shore tours had a much better time on their cruises than those who just "winged" it.
Even more importantly, Barry also decided the cruise lines didn't always provide the kind of quality he wanted for his customers' shore excursions. "My wife Julie and I travel a lot with some of those trips on cruises. We often see cruise line shore excursions where large groups of passengers from multiple ships are all bussed to the same destinations. The experience is not personalized at all, people are herded along with everything running on a very strict schedule."
Barry wanted to change all that. He envisioned a company that offered quality shore experiences at reasonable prices with a level of personalization that far surpasses what the average cruise line can offer.
"It's not like our trips are necessarily cheaper. In fact, for the lower cost excursions, generally our trips will run a bit more than the cruise lines. But the difference is that our excursions accommodate smaller groups of people and are more personalized. Most importantly, we very rarely use large tour buses, preferring instead operators with smaller vehicles, like luxury sedans or mini-buses." This adds levels of convenience, time savings and personalization that just cannot be achieved with hundreds of people on the same tour.
Once they realised they had a viable business concept Barry and his wife sold their travel agency to Carlson and embarked on ShoreTrips as a full-time endeavor.
ShoreTrips - "It's a tough Business" Step number one in starting their new business? They packed their suitcases and took off for the Caribbean. But not just for pleasure; they spent several months meeting with various tourism officials and tour operators.
"We didn't want to hire just any tour operator; we only wanted what we personally felt were the best experiences we could get. We conducted extensive interviews with many tour operators to narrow down our choices. Then we personally checked their vehicles, tour-related equipment and assessed their personalities and ability to communicate. We only selected those who could provide a really great tour experience for our customers."
On average, Barry and Julie spent a week or two in each port to fill in their menu of shore trip options. After their work in the Caribbean, they focused on Alaska and Europe.
The couple spent many months visiting several points on the globe. "Anywhere with a rate of American tourism of at least 3% is where we want to be," says Barry. "The Baltic nations were our latest region of entry. There is an explosive growth of American tourism there and we wanted to get a quality program in place as quickly as possible. The same is true with Greece and the Mediterranean where we offer some of the most unique excursions. We go beyond the standard museums and historic attractions. We offer really unique golf and SCUBA packages as well. For almost any activity in any given region, if it is possible to do it then we probably have a shore trip to provide it."
"Variety is the spice of life," according to Barry. "We want to offer something for everyone -- with lots of options not normally available from the cruise lines -- so Julie and I split our efforts and focus on our own individual special interests. I'm more adventurous, so I interview the tour operators offering SCUBA, ice climbing and soaring types of excursions. Julie focuses more on culture and the arts and usually sees the more conventional sightseeing vendors. But what we both look for are the operators who offer something unique for our customers; something they won't get through the cruise lines. So we focus on things like high quality SCUBA trips geared toward smaller groups, but still using larger, well-maintained and comfortable boats."
Continue Article >> ShoreTrips -- an Independent Shore Excursion Provider (Part 2)