Agents, you should be booking CIE Tours International because, as the company’s new CEO Elizabeth Crabill says, “with an average score of 98 percent satisfaction, the travel agent cannot go wrong with their client and their client is going to be very happy to come back and book future travel with them.” In part, this success is owed to the fact that the veteran tour operator is an Irish-owned company (by CIE Group) and therefore has several boots on the ground scouting out the best hotels and locales to feature. Yet, Crabill is quick to recognize the work of travel agents, who she says, “are our customers. [Agents] have been the core of making us successful, we’re very dedicated to the travel agent community.”
Crabill recently joined the CIE Tours family as CEO and member of its Board of Directors, and already has her sights set on expanding the company. “We’re coming off of a decade of growth and we plan another few decades of growth.” Recommend reached out to Crabill to chat about her new appointment and future plans with CIE Tours.
Melissa Bryant (MB): What does your new position as CEO of CIE Tours entail?
Elizabeth Crabill (EC): In general, what I’m doing with CIE Tours is kind of picking up a company that has been quite successful. It’s grown double in size over the last eight years…in a humbler fashion. A lot of people in the company who have been here for a very long time and have great depth of knowledge have rolled up their sleeves and helped make the company grow kind of using the tools at hand.
Now, what we want to do is plot out the next stages of growth where we can invest in the company, in the people and in new products and ways to deliver them to our customers—so, travel agent tools, technologies, systems that help us to code and display products and merchandises much more quickly and in a more meaningful way for customers.
MB: How will you translate your past experience in the travel industry into your new position?
EC: I’m really happy because part of my background includes helping tour operators or travel companies that are in a somewhat traditional space figure out how to transition into a future-facing organization oftentimes through digital tools and digital marketing channels.
MB: What type of new products, online tools and expanded customer support services do you plan to develop in the coming months/year?
EC: We actually just launched a brand-new travel agent training program that will be live in September. [We’ve also launched] Travel Chats, which allows travel agents to write to their clients with a package that we can e-mail to them. It’s based online and where they can get all of the materials together. Then we can help them put together an event and provide the content and the expertise about traveling so they can invite the consumers and host the event, get all the credit, and basically host an event in a box, but a digital box. That also is launching in September and it’s going to be a series of about 28 events going on across the country.
MB: What are a few of the selling points travel agents should keep top of mind when selling CIE Tours?
EC: Well, I think first and foremost one of the selling points is the incredible amount of value that CIE Tours’ has in its tours and vacations. We are practically a fully inclusive product, but we will give all of the value and the activities within the tours already pre-packaged, and for a really good value. Compared to most other tour operators who operate in the region, there’s usually a core trip or a core tour that the customer buys, but along the way not everything is included, so they’re constantly having to make decisions about adding different tours or paying for different things.
We prefer the CIE Tours method, which is everything is included. Guests don’t have to worry about getting sales pitches and they don’t have to worry about making different decisions every day. For the travel agent, the best part of it is, everything is included along the way; the travel agent is getting commission on everything that is included, as opposed to getting commission on the core trip and not on other add-ons that are sold.
MB: How does CIE Tours differentiate its products from its competitors?
EC: We have an incredibly sophisticated satisfaction tracking system run by a team of two people that do nothing all year except work incredibly hard to review every single comment card. Our team, plus all of our contractors, review every single comment card and will follow up either with the client, or with the supplier, or with the attraction on anything that is remotely not excellent to find out what they can do to make it better. [The issue] will immediately be corrected.
One of the things that I think is important, especially for the travel agent community to know is that CIE Tours has an average rating of 98 percent. But when we say that, it’s not a fuzzy number, it’s something that we’ve documented extensively. We have years and years of data and a deep understanding of what people want and what they respond well to in Ireland, in Britain, and this region is something we know better than anybody.
MB: What has been some of the more recent feedback from customers?
EC: Many of the past guests will comment on the guides. The drivers and guides, those are the underpinning of every single tour. That’s the relationship that guests feel as soon as they get to their landing point and they’re picked up for their tour—that’s when the relationship begins. So the best and most gushing comments far and above are always about the CIE staff. Our guides have 20, 30, 40 years of experience. They’ve been doing this for a very long time and they are actively adding to their knowledge or actively seeking out new pieces of information and new experiences. They constantly add, a little bit of extra here, a little bit of extra there to really enhances guests’ experience—it is the guides that make memories for our travelers.
MB: What is CIE Tours’ target audience and how is that reflected in the style of itineraries you offer?
EC: We mostly get couples. However, Ireland is a great destination for families, so we get a lot of family travel as well. Our travelers tend to be 55 plus, but that’s also for our core coach tour product. However, we have expanded into ranges of more individual travel products. Last year we launched a very vibrant luxury collection, which consists of chauffeur drives, and that tends to get a younger demographic and a higher-spend individual because you’re picking and choosing the finest hotels, experiences, castles, and putting them together in a customized itinerary with a private driver. That’s taking off like wild fire and we’re developing more and more of that product and those itineraries. It’s not just about the trip type, it’s also about the way that they can interact with us and the tools that we use to let them get to know Ireland.
MB: What is CIE Tours’ most popular itinerary for 2016? What new itinerary do you think will be “hot” in 2017?
EC: Actually it’s been very interesting because traditionally our company does Ireland tours, that’s what we’re known for, but a few years ago the company focused really, really intently on offering the same quality of tours in Scotland and Britain. So I would say a year and a half ago our top tour was a Taste of Ireland, and now, our top-selling tour is a Taste of Ireland and Scotland.
We’re constantly looking for fun, novel itineraries to offer in addition to our core best sellers. One of the things that we have been developing is around “Game of Thrones” and “Star Wars.” We like to put those in our customized itineraries, but we’re also constantly adjusting our core coach tour product to add bells and whistles, different stops, and new local flavors. We get a lot of inquires because of those.
MB: In your own words, why should agents consider CIE Tours’ when booking Ireland, Britain, Eastern Europe or Italy?
EC: First of all it’s the fully inclusive nature of our core product, so fully inclusive means fully commissionable. Second of all, that quality score is going to make them look fantastic. You know with an average score of 98 percent satisfaction, the travel agent cannot go wrong with their client and their client is going to be very happy to come back and book future travel with them, because they will know that they got one of the best products ever. We’re a company that’s going on 85 years in the business with no acquisitions or changes of ownership. We have been a company that has grown steadily through hard work, through products that are interesting and fun, and through providing that reliability of service.
Travel agents can contact the national sales rep in their area for information on webinars, Travel Chats and FAMs. For more information, visit cietours.com. Stay tuned in the next couple of weeks to find out what sparked Elizabeth’s passion to enter the travel industry and other lesser-know facts about the exec, in her interview for the Coffee Time With Industry Vets Q&A series.