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Travel For Free!

Leading The Way To Free Travel

"Have coffee in Dublin at 11 and walk in Stephen's Green and you'll be in heaven." You've replayed the words of that old song over and over in your head for years. In fact, all your life, you've dreamt of seeing the Emerald Isle, of spending long evenings in Irish pubs, sipping Guinness and engaging in lively conversation. The only thing that has kept you from making your dreams come true is money. After all the monthly bills are paid, you never seem to have enough left over to afford a trip to Dublin. But money need no longer be an obstacle. You can arrange to see Ireland free -- maybe even make a bit of money in the bargain. Cruise lines, airlines, tour companies, and hotels will gladly accommodate you free of charge -even put cash in your pocket to boot -- if you promise to bring them a certain amount of business in return.

You don't have to be an experienced tour leader. You don't need any experience as a salesman. The only job requirements are enthusiasm and a desire to see the world. The possibilities are endless. You could lead a tour of Ireland's green, green countryside and ancient ruins. You could lead an art tour of northern Italy. A garden tour of Britain. A river cruise in New Guinea. An archeological expedition to Easter Island. A family train tour of France. A hiking trip in the Alps. A castles and wine cruise of Germany. A tour of rural Japan, visiting teahouses and farmhouses. A cycling adventure in Scotland. A luxury yacht charter in the Greek Isles. And as the leader of the tour, you travel for free.

Making a business of biking Peter Costello did it. He had been working restoring antique furniture in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a steady living, but what Peter really enjoyed was riding his bicycle and traveling. If only someone would pay me to ride my bike and travel around the world, he thought. Because he could find no one willing to do so, he decided to arrange it for himself. After a vacation to Scotland, his future was determined. He would lead bicycle tours through the green and rolling Scottish hills. Peter asked a former executive of a bicycle touring company in Vermont to act as consultant. Scotland was the perfect place to begin the business, not only because Peter (whose family was from Scotland) knew the country, but also because the market was wide open. In fact, no one else in the business was offering bicycle tours in Scotland.

Peter knew bicycling, and he knew Scotland. But he didn't know anything about starting a business or leading a tour. As Peter explains, "I took a crash course in Business 101." "The touring is the easy part," he says. "All of my tours begin and end in Edinburgh. We take off down the road, supported by a van, exploring beautiful countryside. We travel about 40 miles a day, and then spend the nights in comfortable, homey bed and breakfasts. That's easy."The hard part is the marketing." Peter handles all of the marketing himself from an office in Baltimore. He advertises in major bicycling publications and tries to generate business through travel agents. Peter has been quite successful. His amateur operation, Peter Costello Ltd., P.O. Box 23490, Baltimore, MD 21203; (410) 685-6918) has grown into a full-fledged business. He employs two other tour leaders and leads 17 tours a year. Peter attributes his success to two things: first, he was able to find a niche in the market; and second, he keeps his tours competitively priced.

Keeping it low key Peter's tour operation has grown into a big business. He is making enough money to support himself and two employees. To get to this point, Peter has devoted himself completely to the company. It has become his livelihood and his favorite pastime. But it doesn't have to be that way. You can travel for free as a tour leader -- and still maintain your regular job and home life. It doesn't take a lot of time or energy to arrange one tour a year, for example. But it still works in much the same way. As Peter explained, the most difficult part is the advertising and marketing. How do you convince four or five other people to pay you to act as their tour guide? We'll tell you, step by step.

How it works The first step is to decide where you want to go. This should be the easiest task of all. After all, this is the reason for arranging the tour in the first place -- to allow you to live out your life's dream of seeing another part of the world. Once you know where you want to go, do extensive research on the area. Call the tourist board and the embassy for that country and request all the brochures and literature they have available on hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, transportation, sightseeing, and local customs. Spend a day or two at the library, poring over travel guides and reference books. The best general reference guides available include Fielding's, Fodor's, and Frommer's (which include the Dollarwise series on budget travel). Also read Lonely Planet's guides and the series known as Let's Go. If your library doesn't stock these books, you can order them (as well as a catalog of worldwide travel guidebooks) from Forsyth Travel Library, 9154 W. 57th St., P.O. Box 2975, Shawnee Mission, KS 66201, or the Traveler's Bookstore, 22 W. 52nd St., New York, NY 10019. Also study local maps. Remember, everyone you bring with you will look to you for guidance.

Once you've become familiar with your destination, pick something unique about it and plan your tour around that theme. It is easier to sell a tour of the stately homes of Britain's aristocracy than it is to sell a tour of Britain, period. Look for a niche in the market, something that no one else is doing (or doing well). Next, plan your itinerary. Choose the hotels where you would like to stay, and then contact them to explain what you want to do. Ask for special group rates and request that you stay free as the tour leader.

Do the same with the airline you wish to fly. Find out what restrictions are attached to the cheapest tickets available. Usually you have to purchase special fare tickets a certain number of days in advance. Other restrictions involve the length of your stay and the days of departure and return. Make sure you know about all of this up front. And again, request that you fly free. Plan some sightseeing and evening entertainment, but keep some time open. Your group will want time to itself. Make all of the plans -- but don't make any reservations. At least, not yet. Wait until you've gathered your group together and agreed on a departure date. Next, set a price. This will be the first question you are asked when you approach someone about joining you on your grand adventure. Figure in all of your costs (airfare, hotels, ground transportation, sightseeing, taxes, departure fees, and any meals that you plan to include in the package). Take this total and mark it up as much as you think the market will bear. The lower your costs, the greater your profits. You want to make at least enough to cover all of your expenses, including the entire cost of your trip. Any money you make beyond that is an added bonus.

Finding the people This brings us to the most difficult part of the project: finding the tour participants. The easiest way to do this is to tell everyone you know -- everyone you work with, everyone you run into at the supermarket, everyone you meet on the subway, everyone you play bridge with on Thursday nights -- that you are planning to lead a seven-day, all-inclusive tour of Germany's Bavarian castles (for example). Tantalize them with tales of Mad King Ludwig, who built the country's most beautiful castle, Neuschwanstein, the turreted, white creation that Walt Disney used as a model for Disneyland. Tell them about Linderhof Castle, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where the mad king had the dining room built directly above the kitchen and then installed a dining table that could be lowered into the kitchen, set by the cooks, and then lifted back up to the dining room. Thus, King Ludwig could be waited on at dinner without ever having to be bothered by the servants. Once you've got them interested, remind them that group travel is always cheaper than going it alone; they'll save several hundred dollars at least. Remind them also that group travel is much more hassle-free than independent travel. Tell them that you'll arrange everything. You'll make all the reservations. You'll check on all the train schedules. You'll offer suggestions for good restaurants. All they have to do is enjoy the experience.

The other way to find tour participants is to advertise for them in travel magazines and
newsletters. It doesn't cost much to place a small classified ad. Publications to try include: International Living, Agora Inc., 824 E. Baltimore St., Baltimore, MD 21202; International Travel News, 2120 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818; Transitions Abroad, Box 344, Amherst, MA 01004; Travel and Leisure, American Express Publishing, 1120 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036; Travel-Holiday, Travel Publications Inc., 28 W. 23rd St., New York, NY 10010; Conde Nast Traveler, Conde Nast Publications, 350 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10017; National Geographic Traveler, National Geographic Society, 17th and M streets N.W., Washington, DC 20036; the International Herald Tribune, Box 309, 63 Long Acre, London WC2E 9JH, England; or the Travel Section of The New York Times, 229 W. 43rd St., New York, NY 10036. You can also place ads in your local newspapers. Make the ad simple. Tell where you're going, when you plan to depart, how long you'll be staying, what the trip includes, how much it costs, and how to contact you for more information.

Another easy way to advertise is to put up notes on bulletin boards at community centers, colleges, and libraries in your area. Include the same information you used in your classified ads. This may be just as effective, and it will cost you nothing. Once responses begin coming in, create a log of everyone who has expressed an interest (either as the result of an ad or the result of a chance conversation at a bus stop). Contact each person by phone or by mail and make a record of the correspondence. If you don't hear back within a couple of weeks, send another letter or make another telephone call. When someone does make a reservation, ask him if he can suggest anyone else who might be interested. You'll find that word-of-mouth referrals will be your best source of new clients.

Booking the trip Once you have your group together and you have determined an itinerary and a departure date, the next step is making the reservations. You can do this in two ways: on your own or with the help of a travel agent. If you go it alone, all of the profit is yours. If the tour costs you $2,000 per person and you charge $3,000 per person, you'll make $1,000 off each tour participant. If you have five people traveling with you, that's $5,000. Assume that you're able to arrange for your airfare and accommodations free of charge (as the tour leader), and you're way ahead. You'll spend several hundred dollars at your destination on your personal expenses; the rest of the $5,000 will be clear profit. Plus, of course, you're getting the trip free. Not a bad deal at all. The disadvantage to all of this is that you alone are responsible for everything. If you don't know what you're doing -- if you've never dealt with airlines and hotel managers and bus drivers and taxi cab drivers and translators before -- you might be in for a rude awakening. Your dream trip overseas might turn into one huge headache. It is possible to go it alone. But it may not be practical. So consider affiliating yourself with a travel agency. True, the agency will take its cut of the profits -- but in exchange, it will share with you its wealth of experience. It will tell you whether it's better to land in Beijing, tour China, and exit through Hong Kong or to land in Hong Kong, visit China, and return to Hong Kong for the flight home. It can tell you which Rhine River cruises are a delight and which are taking water. It can help you choose hotels. It can tell you about special health requirements at your destination. It can offer tips on the climate and how to dress. It can tell you whether it's better to take a bus at your destination or to hail a taxi. When looking for a travel agency to deal with, your first question should be, "What commission do you pay to outside agents?" (That is what you will be considered.) If the agency won't pay you a commission (and a sizeable commission at that) for the business you bring in, find another agency.

The second most important question involves free tickets. Who gets them? You or the agency? Travel agents receive free airline tickets and vouchers for free hotel stays all the time in exchange for the volume of business they bring the airlines and the hotels. But make sure that these tickets are also available to outside agents. Ask about other outside agents working for the agency. How many of these agents organize tours? What kinds of tours do they organize? And inquire about support for outside agents. Will you be given a manual? Reservation forms? Guidebooks? Will the agency maintain records for you? And shop around. Don't settle for less than you think you should be getting. If you don't come out of the deal with at least a free trip, something's not right.

Book with a tour company -- another alternative If you're intimidated at the thought of making all the arrangements on your own, but you don't like the idea of having to share your profits with a travel agency, you have a third alternative. Decide on the tour you want to lead, and then book it through a tour company that offers free trips to individuals who reserve a certain number of spaces on their package trips. Globus-Gateway, 95-25 Queens Blvd., Rego Park, NY 11374, for example, offers a free trip for
anyone who books 16 people on any of its tours to Europe and one-half off a trip for anyone who books eight people on a trip to Europe. Saga Holidays, 120 Boylston St., Boston, MA 02166, offers one free trip for 20 bookings. Destinations include Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, and South America. Travel Plans International, P.O. Box 3875, Oak Brook, IL 60521, offers one free trip for 20 bookings on a safari to Africa. Toucan Adventure Tours, 1142 Manhattan Ave., CP #416, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266, offers one free trip for 12 bookings on a tour to Mexico. Newmans Tours, Suite 305, 10351 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025, offers discounted trips for 10 bookings on trips to New Zealand. The following companies also give complimentary trips to anyone who signs on five or six other people to travel with them: * Ambassadors World, 5601 Roanne Way, Suite 314, P.O. Box 9751, Greensboro, NC 27429 * Bryan World Tours, P.O. Box 4156, Topeka, KS 66604 * Friendship Tours Inc., P.O. Box 2526, Shawnee Mission, KS 66201 * Travel Careers and Tours, P.O. Box 91102, International Airport, Los Angeles, CA 90009 In addition, almost all major cruise lines
offer free tickets to anyone who can sign on 15 paying passengers.

Most major tour companies around the world will offer terms very similar to these. Unlike the American companies, most are unwilling to publicly advertise their terms. They want to meet you or discuss the situation first, but the net result will invariably be along the lines discussed here. These are practically world-wide industry standard compensation rates, and not usually negotiable.

Trip tips You and five strangers are sitting in the airport lounge. They answered your ads in travel magazines, and now they are counting on you to take them on a memorable tour of the castles of Bavaria. How can you make sure that all the tour participants feel like they're getting their money's worth -- and still have a good time yourself? Well, you will have to work a bit. After all, these people have paid you money. Following are a few tips to make sure all goes smoothly.

1. Take charge. The old saying that too many cooks spoil the soup applies here. As the leader, you should make all the arrangements and all the decisions -- within limits, of course. Ask for input from the group, but don't waste time debating every move.
2. Be flexible. Itineraries are made to be broken. Don't be more concerned about following your original schedule than you are about enjoying the trip. Take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
3. Make sure that no one feels left out or overlooked. Ask if everyone is comfortable in his room. If his luggage arrived safely. If there is anything special he would like to do or see. Don't ever let anyone eat alone during an unscheduled meal (unless he prefers to do so, of course).
4. Make time for yourself. Promise your group your undivided attention from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., for example, but make everyone know that he's on his own after that (except for one planned night out).

For more information For more on traveling as a tour leader, read Travel for Fun and Profit by Larry King, available from Dreams Unlimited Inc., P.O. Box 20667, Seattle, Washington 98102; (206)322-4304. The cost is $12.95.

Leading a tour with a twist We've a unique suggestion for anyone who loves boating, loves to travel, and is ready for a change in lifestyle. It requires a little more commitment and investment than organizing a single tour a year, but the payoff is potentially much greater as well. If you follow up on our idea, you could earn a comfortable living -- and spend your days floating down the riverways of Burgundy, France. The idea is to lead guided tours of the French countryside -- in your own passenger barge. As we mentioned already, this is not something to be undertaken lightly. And it is not something to be undertaken by a total novice. You should have a bit of experience in the boating industry. But don't let these words of caution discourage you. This could be the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to live out your dreams. Dennis Sherman did it. He had been crewing on boats, primarily as cook, for years. Mainly interested in barging, his knowledge of the industry served him well when it came time to take the plunge and purchase his own passenger barge."The barging industry is small and close-knit," he explains. "If you want to get into it, your best source of information, especially about boats for sale, is word-of-mouth." Dennis' first piece of advice is that you shouldn't try to buy a working barge and convert it into a pleasure craft. Too timely and costly, he says. Neither should you try to build a barge from scratch -- that is, not unless you have nearly unlimited capital to invest.

The remaining option is to purchase a barge already operating as a pleasure craft. Without contacts in the industry, it's paramount to begin by contacting a barge agent. Dennis recommends Joe Parfaitt, Chantier du Nivernais, 89000 Mailly-La- Ville, France; tel. (33-86) 40-44-77. Parfaitt has his own shipyard. In addition to barge sales, he handles conversions When you've found a boat you're interested in buying, the next step is arranging the purchase. Find an independent lawyer who is experienced with Americans doing business overseas. Dennis consulted Catherine Kessedjian, 27 rue des Plantes, 75014 Paris, France; tel. (33-1) 45-40-86-27. Experienced with handling the details of setting up a corporation in France, according to Dennis, dealing with Catherine "is like one-stop shopping," because she is capable in all areas. Dennis set up a French corporation to handle the barge operation and an American company to handle the marketing. This enabled him, with the barge operating under a French corporation, to arrange financing in France. Dennis chose France as his location, because that's where the barge that he wanted to buy was operating. But there are other reasons to choose France. The country is striving to attract new small business, and therefore, any new venture in France is eligible for tax-free status for the first three years and considerable tax breaks the next two years.

The capital investment
How much does a venture such as this cost? Dennis estimates $250,000, including purchase of the barge, any improvements, first-year operating expenses, and professional fees. True, that's hardly free. But think of the return. And after the initial investment is made, if your barge company is successful, you'll not only be able to travel the French countryside for free for the rest of your life, but you'll also have a comfortable annual income. And the equity in the barge. Dennis' barge, called the Papillon, travels the Burgundy region of France. Spring and early summer, it cruises in the Nivernais; in June, the barge moves to the tree-lined waters of the Burgundy Canal; in late summer, it cruises the River Seine and the Canal du Centre, through the heart of the vineyards of Santenay; in the fall, the barge heads back to the Nivernais. It makes one-week cruises for a 33-week season.

 

About the Author

Adam Starchild is an international business consultant and entrepreneur, with a variety of clients and activities in the tourism field..

 

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