With the recent hiring of Graham Bendelow (left), the long-time vice president of contracting for AmericanTours International (ATI), one of the largest receptive tour operators in the United States, Destination America—it is the tour operation for the Americas of The Travel Corporation (TTC)—indicates that the receptive tour operator (RTO) business is making a major shift in direction.
“Destination America is showing us, by the hiring of Bendelow, that contracting is not all about just securing hotel rooms,” said Jake Steinman, founder and CEO of the NAJ Group, and a recognized authority on the RTO segment of the tour and travel industry, adding “it shows a shift into an experiential stage, as travel consumers are seeking new and unusual products that allow them to see and sense the people and flavors of a destination. They want up-close interaction with local people—something that just doesn’t happen in an escorted group tour on a bus.”
“Hotels have totally commoditized the process of a room purchase. They’re now moving on to the next step by giving guests access to attractions through automated ticket sales for tours and entertainment products, explained Steinman. “This development is good news, really, for smaller destinations. The owners and operators of their smaller, independent hotels will have an opportunity to be ambassadors for their destination. Chain hotels, driven and directed by revenue managers who likely never see a hotel guest in person, don’t have the capacity, direction or reason to do this.”
Steinman said that it will be interesting to see how Destination America moves forward now that it has embraced their shift in policy which, along with the hiring of Bendelow, has resulted in a restructuring of Destination America’s executive team: TTC has split one of its previous executive positions into two in hiring Bendelow. Christopher Ghaye (right), who had been president, now serves as chief product development officer.
The expansion of forces is part of “a significant transformation of the company,” said Richard Launder, who is both president and CEO of Destination America, and director of The Travel Corporation USA (the American branch of the U.K.-based travel conglomerate). Both Bendelow and Ghaye report to Lauder.
Ghaye has been with TTC for 15 years, in charge of both developing new product and contracting with suppliers. With the joining of Bendelow, Lauder said, Ghaye will be freed up to focus entirely on product development, while Bendelow will take care of contracting.
As Lauder put it: “Though Ghaye used to handle both functions for Destination America, the two jobs require very different kinds of skills. “Product development is not just creating itineraries. It’s about finding special and unique experiences, going out and finding things. It requires a very curious mind.”
“In today’s experience-oriented tour market, product development specialists are challenged to go far beyond the requirements of earlier times. “It’s far more immersive now. With the increased desire in clients to interact with locals, product development includes finding interesting people and situations to share with travelers.”
Sherry Bruce-Wood says