The Age of Travel Specialists

Looking for a Little More Customisation?

How about a stay in a luxury-class dream villa in Spain? Or a holiday spent with reindeer breeders in Norway? Individuality is increasingly becoming the quality benchmark by which travel is now measured. DER Touristik Group is currently expanding its already broad travel offerings to address the unconventional holiday interests of its customers.

Who still knows how to build a fire? A fire out in the wilderness to heat water or even to grill a trout you just reeled in? A fire with the right ingredient for each stage of burning: dry grass as a starter, small dead limbs as kindling and thick limbs as fuel.

“Such small things have simply been forgotten,” says Bruno Bisig, the Managing Director of Kontiki Reisen in Baden, Switzerland. Forgotten by a society whose pace is frequently set by a digitally driven, strictly scheduled grind and whose defining qualities are, above all, speed and efficiency. Just which members of this society want to spend their holidays looking for the right place to build a fire, scrounge for wood and patiently watch a few sparks become a roaring fire? It turns out that more and more people are interested in exactly this process of down-shifting, Bisig says. Kicking back, enjoying peace and quiet, and experiencing nature – this is exactly what many want on their holiday.

Bruno Bisig says this trend is reflected in the growing demand for the travel opportunities offered by Kontiki Reisen. “Kontiki is hardly the only provider,” says Andy Zgraggen, the Head of Specialists at DER Touristik Suisse AG. “We have 10 other specialists we’ve designated as ‘premium specialists’ under the umbrella of DER Touristik Suisse AG. We’ve struck a chord with customers by offering totally different opportunities that range from diving holidays with Manta Reisen to journeys to Central and South America with Dorado Latin Tours.” The expertise of Kontiki applies to destinations in Scandinavia, including Hurtigruten, Iceland, Scotland, Russia and the Baltics. The tour operator offers authentic travel experiences in these countries: encounters with locals, insights into traditions and repose amidst unspoilt nature – spent as a holiday in a log cabin, fire-building included. The brand’s focus meets a broad range of sustainability criteria. Kontiki communicates this fact to customers by using its own authentic label. Kontiki is a specialist with a clearly designed range of travel opportunities – both high quality and individualised – for demanding holiday-makers who are looking for personal experiences instead of just spending a holiday. “Such tailored holiday opportunities have a future and are very popular with customers,” Bisig says.

Bruno Bisig, Managing Director Kontiki Reisen

Bruno Bisig, Managing Director Kontiki Reisen

Kicking back, enjoying peace and quiet, and experiencing nature - this is what Kontiki Reisen offers.

Andy Zgraggen, Head of Specialists, DER Touristik Suisse AG

Andy Zgraggen, Head of Specialists, DER Touristik Suisse AG

With individuality becoming more and more important in society, people are increasingly searching for something special when they go on holiday – and want to set themselves apart from the crowd. DER Touristik Group has responded to this need and is bringing more and more specialists under its umbrella. All are premium brands that serve special target groups and offer travel opportunities in a profitable niche segment. By the end of 2017, the group had 25 such providers of the haute couture of travel. In March 2018, six other specialists were added when the French company Travel Lab SAS, which is better known as Kuoni France, was acquired. “We are proud of what we have already achieved with our portfolio of specialists, and that we were able to further expand our specialist business by acquiring the brands of Kuoni France,” says Sören Hartmann, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) DER Touristik Group and a member of the Management Board of REWE Group. “Travel in the premium segment for special target groups – this business has a future with us and will serve as a stable contributor to our business results.” The travel products are put together by each company itself, a process that lends them something of a unique quality.

CV Villas: Holidays in dream villas

Tristan Symondson’s desk is located in London. He is the Managing Director of CV Villas, which also makes him a member of the team at DER Touristik UK. CV Villas is also a travel specialist in the company group, but its range of products is completely different from what Bisig’s Kontiki has to offer in Switzerland. CV Villas provides holidays in luxury villas at selected locations, primarily in Greece, Spain and Italy. About 900 dream houses are in its portfolio. But the customers who rent them are looking for something much more than just the opportunity to spend some time in an exceptional building. “Anyone who books with CV Villas is looking for a luxury-class travel experience. This includes first-class service,” Symondson says. No matter whether the customer wants to have a piano in the villa, to be pampered by the villa’s own chef or to travel into town on a speed boat instead of a taxi, the employees of CV Villas will find a solution for even the most unusual request.

“Travel in the premium segment for special target groups – this business has a future with us and will serve as a stable contributor to our business results.” Sören Hartmann, CEO DER Touristik Group

Last year, CV Villas applied its business model, a concept that has proven itself in the UK for more than 40 years, to Scandinavia – and saw it pay off. “The response was tremendous,” Symondson said. Two factors moved the expansion forward. Scandinavians have traditionally liked to spend their holidays in vacation homes. And they frequently speak English very well. As a result, CV Villas did not have to set up any additional structures and can conduct the Scandinavian business with its existing organisation and call centre in Great Britain. There is one other benefit as well: CV Villas also uses Lime Travel, a specialist that is part of DER Touristik Nordics. Lime Travel focuses on demanding customers and offers carefully selected holiday residences, resorts and round-trip tours. This means the villas from CV Villas fit perfectly into the concept and expand the offerings in Scandinavia. “The transfer of CV Villas along with its lean structure to a new market demonstrates just how DER Touristik Group leverages synergies,” says Sören Hartmann, CEO DER Touristik Group. “We profit from the group’s strengths and take advantage of the exceptional performance of the specialist portfolio.”

How should a specialist be positioned to be successful today and in future? There’s just one answer: A flexible management must combine a special art of travel with an uncommon travel experience. The first condition for this is far-reaching local expertise, offered in particular by a provider like Kontiki. Its customers are looking for peace, quiet and natural surroundings far off the beaten tourist path and far away from the sights found in every travel guide. “Our travel directors have to know things like the particular intersection on a main street where you have to turn in order to present holiday-makers with something that will move their soul,” Bisig says.

Sören Hartmann, CEO DER Touristik Group

Sören Hartmann, CEO DER Touristik Group

CV Villas offers holidays in around 900 dream villas in selected locations, mainly in Greece, Spain or Italy.

Tristan Symondson, Managing Director CV Villas

Tristan Symondson, Managing Director CV Villas

Plunging into local culture or talking shop with reindeer breeders – such experiences can’t be organised without having intimate knowledge of a local area or a special passion for a region. Kontiki has created a database that employees use to regularly add new tips and suggestions. The result of their work is a real treasure trove of travel knowledge. “We make many things possible that our customers want,” Bisig says. “But we do have our limits. Anybody who wants to barbecue steaks on a glacier needs to find somebody else. Our goal is to create authentic travel experiences.”

Trips off the beaten path require an extensive amount of customer assistance. A company that sells tailored trips has to listen to the customer’s requests and ask the right questions. A few clicks in the internet won’t get the job done. “We are launching online booking on some properties soon, although we still expect most customers to want to speak to someone before making a decision,” Symondson says. The information about the dream houses and their photos displayed on the CV Villas website just serve to whet the customer’s appetite. They’re designed to pique a person’s interest and show what’s possible. “We get most inquiries by telephone or e-mail,” the Managing Director says. “We then contact the individual and provide the person with an initial selection of potential villas. The real challenge then begins – the matching, that is, the work to bring the customer’s wishes in line with the villas we offer.” This is a much more difficult job than renting a hotel room, he adds. 

But the exceptionally well-trained employees in the call centres rarely have to earn a customer’s trust when they respond to initial queries or explain very basic things about holidays with CV Villas. After all, two out of three customers are “repeats”. They’ve already taken at least one holiday with CV Villas and already know about the things they can look forward to enjoying. New customers frequently contact the company at the recommendation of other customers, Symondson says.

“As a business group, we put our faith in the successful niche. For us, the term ‘niche’ has an absolutely positive connotation.” Sören Hartmann, CEO DER Touristik Group

Confidence in a strong, established brand – this is also a key part of Kontiki’s sales philosophy. Manager Bisig may indeed greet many fewer repeat customers than his colleague at CV Villas (“You simply don’t head off to a less sunny North every year”). Nonetheless, the name “Kontiki” has a special ring to it in Switzerland. Anyone planning an authentic holiday in northern Europe will quickly turn to the specialists of DER Touristik Group. Customer assistance and trip processing are frequently handled over the telephone here as well. Or customers drop by Kuoni travel agencies for personal assistance.

The specialists will have good opportunities in the travel market of the future. Deep-pocketed customers want individual holiday trips, and their booking rates are affected very little by the ups and downs of the economy. “As a business group, we put our faith in the successful niche,” CEO Sören Hartmann says. “For us, the term ‘niche’ has an absolutely positive connotation. We have learned from the specialists under our umbrella that we can be successful only when the customer segment is clearly defined, when we primarily develop the products ourselves, and when we offer something unique in the marketplace.” 

DER Touristik Group is fuelling the growth of its specialists – both through possible subsequent acquisitions and through the continued development of the proven brands. Kontiki and CV Villas, for instance, see further potential ahead despite the continuous growth they have produced in recent years. To tap this potential, they must stay focused on their niche markets – or modify their business models. Just like Kontiki: The Swiss company has dropped trips to Iceland from its programme. Because so many tourists are now travelling through the small country of geysers and glaciers, Kontiki began to doubt whether it could still offer authentic travel experiences there. In such cases, teaching wilderness lovers to build a fire won’t help much.