Group travel of yesteryear was pretty stereotypical. Today’s group travel is far from that. In fact, companies that provide unique offerings are excelling. Groups Today magazine sat down with Jim Reddekopp, president of Earth Bound Tours and Entrepreneurs in Travel, and immediate past chairman and CEO of NTA, to talk about how he has been able to provide and sell unique experiences to his travelers.
Tell the readers a little about yourself and Earth Bound Tours.
EBT is an entrepreneurial travel company that specializes in unique group travel experiences. Our main focus is agriculture to energy, designing tour product that specializes in those areas—from farm to table, to energy and investment. We produce what the market wants. Let's say you have a group of investors that wants to visit alternative energy research facilities. We design and coordinate with local business leaders to arrange a visit and have an incredible lunch at an award-winning restaurant. We also do multiple-day programs that focus just on agriculture and ag science, from animal husbandry to soybean seed operation in the destination.
How have travelers responded to your agricultural/culinary/voluntourism trips?
I think people are looking for something different in the way they travel. All three of these types of tourism are new and very hot in the marketplace right now. There are still so many kinds of tourism being developed. Family travel seems to be on the rise, but really people are looking for authentic experiences that touch their souls not just bus them around.
What is the key to successful tours like yours?
The Art of Hospitality! The Japanese have mastered the art of hospitality. If you have never been to Japan, you would understand. I will try to tell you what kind of hospitality you receive upon arrival and for the entire stay. It starts with a bow. When did anyone ever bow to you? In Japan it happens at every corner. It happens when you enter a business, a restaurant, a hotel. If the cab driver is able, he bows when you get in the cab and definitely after receiving his fare. My father always told me that the lower you bowed the more respect you gave. It's funny, last week when Japanese visitors come to our Vanilla Kitchen I found myself bowing as I welcomed them. My children noticed this and asked, “Dad, why are you bowing, or just nodding a little?” I said, “Because it’s their way of showing respect and a way for me to connect with them.”
Then there was a time in Tokyo at the Capitol Hotel when I asked the bartender to make me a martini. I have never seen a martini made like that anywhere in the world. It was an elaborate demonstration of high flying liquid and hands shaking, then a twist of a lemon slightly over the edge of the rim of the glass. I was amazed at the artistry, concentration, and focus. The bartender smiled as I smiled when he delivered my cocktail. And then he handed me the bill for my $45 martini. Was it worth it? Maybe once.
Perhaps the greatest form shown in this type of hospitality is a Japanese Tea Service. From the folding of the napkin, the rotation of the teacup, every facet of the service is analyzed and perfected. That is the Art of Hospitality. Analyzed and perfected, over and over again. Put that into practice in your everyday life and you too will master the art of hospitality.
What is the most valuable lesson you've learned in your career so far?
Stay humble, listen well, and see the gifts in others to lift them up to lead. Then get out of they way and watch it happen. Very exciting!
Jim has had the opportunity to work in every facet of the travel industry. He has shared his expertise at the 2012 Group Travel Supplier Summit about the Boomer Niche Market: How it's Changing and How Suppliers Can Attract Them.