Don’t Leave Money on the Table, A Golf Expert Says

by Judy Jacobs

With the economy on the upswing, more and more golfers are taking golf vacations again.

Travel agents have typically sold only the hotel component of these trips and missed out on commissions from also booking the golf, according to Alan Hale, president of Fairways Golf Vacations and GolfThere.com, providers of custom golf vacations.

Travel Market Report spoke with Hale about how travel agents can take advantage of this lucrative market.

Can you describe the typical golf client?
Hale: The stereotype is fairly accurate. It’s an upper-middle income to high-income middle-aged golf traveler. The difference between a golfer and a cruiser or somebody who goes on a traditional tour is that golf defines who they are. When you go on a golf trip you’re usually with friends or a spouse who golfs, and the trip revolves around the golf. They’re going to golf.

What are these clients looking for?
Hale: They don’t want to go to a mediocre or poor quality golf course when they’re going on a golf trip. They want to play expensive golf courses that are usually associated with expensive resorts. Our average transaction is about $3,800. That can be a couple staying at a very nice resort or four guys staying at a lesser place. And [that amount] includes hotel and golf. Agents get commission on the golf, as well as the resort.

How can agents take full advantage of this market?
Hale: Traditionally travel agents tend to only get the hotel booking and the client books the golf, but that’s a mistake, because the agent can get commission on the golf as well. We only sell high quality golf courses, and in season they can run $150, $250 or $300 per round per person.

Golfers will play several rounds of golf so the golf can be more expensive than the hotel. The hotel might be $400 per night, but if they’re playing golf and it’s $250 per person and they’re playing several rounds it would be even more than the hotel. Agents are leaving money on the table by not booking the golf.

How should agents qualify golf clients?
Hale: If you’ve got customers who hit the demographic of 45 to 50-plus and have done a premium cruise to Europe, there’s a high probability that they are country club golfers. If a client is calling to ask you to book a premium hotel in a Sunbelt destination, they may also be a golfer.

Ask these clients, “Do you happen to be a golfer?” If they say yes, then tell them that you can book their golf for them.

What can agents offer golfers they can’t get on their own?
Hale:  We can book golf up to a year in advance, but individuals can usually only book tee times about 30 days ahead of time. If a customer is using a golf course website, the best tee times may already be gone. Our [company’s] website lists all the golf courses but no prices for the consumer.

What are the top golf vacation destinations?
Hale: Palm Springs, Scottsdale, Las Vegas, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama, Myrtle Beach, the Gulf Coast and all of Florida. West Coast golfers will go to Hawaii.

San Antonio is becoming a big golf destination because it’s a meeting and convention destination, so there are a lot of courses there now. Tucson has started to make some noise. It’s been in the shadow of Phoenix and Scottsdale but has better direct air service now. Internationally, it’s Scotland, Ireland and England.

What is the greatest growth area for golf?
Hale: We have had the greatest increase in women’s groups. Don’t overlook women.

Do agents make any mistakes selling golf vacations?
Hale: Trying to fake it. If you’re not a golfer, say, “I’m not a golfer, but I can book tee times. Tell me a tee time you want to get, and I can book it.”

By not knowing the destinations where golfers may go, you’re missing an opportunity. If someone’s booking an FIT trip to Ireland or Scotland, they’re probably a golfer.

Can you cite any trends in golf vacations?
Hale: We’re starting to see corporations come back and the return of the top five sales guys going on a sales incentive trip with the top execs of the company. Check with your corporate clients and tell them that you can help them with their golf.

Also, as the economy improves trips that golfers have postponed are now on. We are starting to see people wanting to do their first trip to England, Scotland or Ireland.

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