A company doesn’t stay around more than 250 years by not changing with the times—and so Cox & Kings is “reaching out to agents more effectively through technology so we can communicate with them better and help them create quality experiences for their clients,” said Warren Chang, who was named COO in January.
“We have always had a core group of travel professionals that we worked with but with the new initiatives on the technology and other fronts that will be coming up soon we want to expand awareness and grow our agent base.”
The luxury tour operator, which started in 1758, hired the tech-savvy Chang after a long stint with an online travel company. Best known in the U.S. market for its high-end, customized tour programs, Cox & Kings, with headquarters in London and Mumbai, also has other divisions that include a hospitality company and an educational travel arm.
Chang said the majority of business comes through agents and “we like it that way. We believe they bring a lot of value to us and we do the same for them.” It has partnered with many of the top consortia to sell its tours, which emphasize the unusual and exotic; last year, for example, it added a safari in Chad and a tour of Uzbekistan.
Chang said 99% of trips are custom-tailored, starting with a pre-set package as “a starting point, a guideline.” While every tour is guided, the company works mostly with smaller groups.
The company differentiates itself from competitors in subtle ways. For instance, every country has a destination expert who lives and works there and offers expertise on itineraries. “We will also do a conference call with the destination expert, the travel agent and the client,” said Chang.
All tours are customized, so there are no set departure dates except on Select Private Journeys to some of the more popular trips, which can be booked instantly. Wherever travelers go, “we will do whatever they or the agent wants. For instance, if we are going to Machu Picchu and they want an archaeologist, we will arrange that. We recently had clients in Japan who wanted to visit Jewish sites and we arranged for an expert to travel with them. “
Chang said that through its long history the company has developed important connections. “We always know where the Dalai Lama is and can usually arrange participation in a group audience,” he said.
In the big picture, the tour operator industry is changing “because of the different way people look to travel. There is so much noise in the market that travelers seek out the unique, which is why they look for the expertise of a travel agent.”