Any company that’s been around for close to 90 years would know a thing or two about success. To CIE Tours, a leading specialist in tours to Ireland and the U.K., success comes as a result of careful planning, authentic experiences, and the long-lasting relationships it has built with travel agents, suppliers and, of course, its customers. In this week’s edition of Take Five, we sit down with Elizabeth Crabill, CEO, to discuss CIE’s strong Celtic roots, and how its history continues to play a role in its future.
1. CIE is known for being an Irish tour leader. Do you see the company cornering other areas in the market, or is being niche the main focus?
CIE Tours is the largest Irish-owned travel company in North America. We send more North American tour travellers to Ireland and Scotland than any other company. With more than 40 dedicated travel professionals on the ground in Ireland attending to every operational and service detail that our clients and field experts need (not to mention offices in Edinburgh and London), we will continue to be the leader in our home destinations. No other company offers the same rich, diverse tourism program in Ireland and the U.K.
Our passion for sharing that beautiful part of the world has fuelled us for 88 years, and that will never change. While Ireland and the U.K. are at the core of what we do, our past guests and travel agent partners have told us that they want more ways to experience CIE Tours – and they even told us where they want us to take them! Thus, the Irish hospitality that is at the heart of every CIE Tours experience – captured through warm, rich storytelling by local experts and through local immersion – is now available to our guests in select new destinations including Iceland and Italy, and in new ways like river cruising. We will always remain true to our Celtic roots, but we’re proud to offer a curated portfolio of select new destinations, answering the call of our loyal guests to travel further afield with CIE Tours.
2. The company has been around for close to 90 years – tell us how it’s grown/evolved over the years. And what has been the secret to your success?
With almost 90 years in the business, there’s no mystery around how CIE Tours became the experts on Britain and Ireland – there’s no substitute for experience! Our success is tied to the authentic, real connections we bridge for our guests with the destinations they’re visiting. We hone every detail, and pair travellers with vibrant local ambassadors who are passionate about learning, sharing and storytelling. So often we hear from guests about the incredible impact their guide and driver had on their travels, and the bonds formed that last well beyond the trip’s conclusion. Those meaningful relationships are the secret to our success, and they can’t be faked or forced. Irish hospitality shines through, time and again, and wins the hearts of our guests.
3. How much of a role do travel agents play in the company’s success? And how do you plan on working with them in 2020?
Travel agents are our lifeblood! Our business is overwhelmingly driven by the support of the travel advisor community. Travel agents advocate for CIE Tours, they educate their clients about our company heritage and unique offerings, and they will continue to be our core focus. We tailor our business and our travel programs with both advisors and guests in mind.
First, we work with all travel agent consortiums and offer an educational program that allows travel advisors to become certified experts in our destinations, as well as offer a dedicated online travel agent portal that provides digital collateral easily at their fingertips.
Second, our Inclusive Advantage brand promise assures your travelers won’t be “up-sold” mid-vacation. This means our travel agent partners earn commission on the entirety of their clients’ travels, not just an entry-level package.
Finally, we’re always growing and evolving to support our travel agents. For example, we just debuted a new website and travel agent portal, and the reimagination of that platform was driven by research with the travel advisor community, who told us exactly what they need to succeed. We’ll continue to enhance our digital storefront going forward, making sure it meets the evolving needs of our important partners.
4. What new tours/destinations are you offering in 2020-2021?
We never stop finding new experiences in our home destinations! We’ve launched 12 compelling new land tours for 2020 that we are very excited about. A lot of research and organization went into making them unique, culturally-immersive experiences for our travellers, heavily focused on our core destinations of Ireland and the U.K. These include new tours like Castles & Manors of Ireland, Ireland by Road and Rail, London Daytripper and Taste of England.
Post-trip, our guests often tell us that they plan to someday return to Ireland and the U.K. with us (they’re sold on the CIE Tours experience from the start), but in the meantime they are interested in exploring somewhere different in between those journeys. That inspired us to expand last year into Iceland and Italy, and the success of those tours has led us to launch additional tour itineraries in 2020 including Iceland & Ireland Adventure, Northern Lights Quest of Iceland, and Taste of Italy with Sorrento. We’re now taking it a step further to pair the U.K. with Paris, on our new Best of London and Paris tour.
And, travel advisors may be surprised to learn that we’re setting sail in 2020 with a brand-new River Cruise Collection! We’re thrilled to give our guests an opportunity to explore the Danube and Rhine River aboard Europe’s youngest fleet.
All of these tours are on our website: www.cietours.com. These new itineraries mean great business opportunities for our travel agent partners, whose clients may know and love CIE Tours for Ireland and the U.K. and can now enjoy the hallmarks of a CIE Tours experience in other parts of Europe, too.
5. Can you sum up the CIE tour experience? What can clients expect when booking a CIE tour?
At the heart of every CIE Tours vacation is a highly seasoned local guide ready to share authentic experiences and stories that you can’t gleam from a guidebook. Irish hospitality hinges on sharing, storytelling and human connection, and our guests return home with newfound friends and stories of their own to pass along. Time and again our guests tell us that the people behind CIE Tours are integral to the magic of the travel experience.
Our Inclusive Advantage promise is also worth mentioning again, as it is a big differentiator in our travel experience and in commissions! Every CIE Tours guided vacation includes ground transportation, accommodations, daily sightseeing admissions, full breakfasts, entertainment, most dinners and so much more. This means no upselling by tour guides or “nickel & diming” for optional extras guests would otherwise have to pay for once the tour is underway. Everything is taken care of and transparent at the time of booking, and our expert tour directors spend their time guiding, not selling. That means more money in travelers’ pockets – up to $550 per couple, per week – and also a stronger commission for travel agents.