The ABCs of Selling Golf Travelby Judy Jacobs /
There are an estimated 25 million golfers in the U.S., and many of them are willing to travel far and wide to pursue their sport. For enterprising travel agents, these facts alone make golf travel a niche worth considering.
“A lot of people have a bucket list to play the top courses in the world, and it will take eight to 10 years to do so,” said Mark Barnes, vice president of marketing for the tour operator Perry Golf in Wilmington, N.C.
Not for men only
Golf travelers tend to be in the 40- to 70-year age group. And they aren’t all men. Plenty of women and couples are interested in the sport. They’re also likely to travel in groups with friends.
“My optimum number for a group is 16. When it gets too big, we need bigger buses and more tee times, and everybody’s waiting all of the time,” said Eleanor Nelson, owner of The Travel House, a Virtuoso affiliate in Barrington, Ill.
Arranging international travel
Agents can be a valuable resource for golfers who want to travel, especially to international destinations.
“What you have to remember is that you’re not selling the game of golf but rather the experience,” Nelson said.
And while golfers often want to play certain well-known courses, many will need guidance when traveling overseas. “When they go to Europe they’re not sure which of the courses they should play based on their knowledge and their ability,” said Nelson.
British Isles most popular
If there’s a must-do destination for golfers, it’s Scotland, where the sport originated. Ireland is a top choice for many as well. Quaint small towns and castles make golf travel in Scotland and Ireland particularly appealing.
“Everybody likes to go to Scotland and play the old courses like Muirfield and The Old Course and Royal Dornoch. And they have wonderful places to stay,” said Betsy Donley of Camelback Odyssey Travel, a Virtuoso agency in Phoenix.
Keep in mind that all the courses must be walked. Donley recommended hiring a driver who can call ahead and arrange for caddies.
Asia Pacific on the rise
The Asia Pacific region is increasingly popular as a golf travel destination, according to Paula Mullins-Worster, owner of First Tee Travel & Promotions in Carlsbad, Calif. Her business is about 55% FITs and 45% groups.
Mullins-Worster recommends Thailand for its “five-star resorts at three-star prices.” Vietnam is another up-and-coming destination.
Mullins-Worster typically leads six golf groups each year. She’s currently organizing an all-women’s golf group tour to Thailand for January 2014 as well as two trips to Australia. She’s spent considerable time in the latter destination, making connections at its top 100 golf courses.
Breaking in to golf travel
Although it’s possible for agents to put together golf vacations themselves, Donley said it makes more sense to use a golf wholesaler. Wholesalers have contacts at the courses and can answer client questions.
It’s also important to understand the game of golf – or work with someone who does.
Agents may want to pick up a golf-oriented magazine or watch a bit of tournament play on TV. This will help you understand the golf culture, language and sheer devotion for the sport.
Donley suggested that the best way to get into golf travel “is to start playing golf yourself. It’s not too hard to go to a golf course for a weekend and take a clinic.”
Spread the word
In terms of tapping your target market, it helps to live in an area where golf is popular.
“The best thing is to have a friend who is an avid golfer and have him start talking about the fact that he has a friend who can organize golf trips,” said Donley.
You may not take up the game yourself, but if you can cater to golf-loving clients, you’ll very well have business for years to come.