With over two decades of professional experience in sales and marketing in the travel and transportation industry, Robert Graff serves as Vice President of Marketing and Sales for Bindlestiff Tours, a Day and Multi-Day Tours Small Group Tour operator with operations in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Alaska.
Robert sat down with Tourpreneur Host Shane Whaley, and shares more with us about how Bindlestiff Tours create truly immersive experiences on their multi-day tours.
We also talk about the major differences selling multi-day tours online, how the booking window is different and the challenge of selling multi-day tours online because of the higher price point.
I also ask Robert how he reckons the tours, activities and experiences industry has changed over the years.
Robert Graff speaks at many trade conferences and events, I have been lucky to see him on stage several times.
He is an industry professional, a travel industry veteran that I have admired from afar, so I was delighted to spend some time with Robert, though ten minutes did not do us justice. I hope he is open to coming back on the show, maybe on one of our future round tables to discuss the state of the tours and activities industry because he has so much experience and knowledge to share with us.
When we say lunch is included, let’s say if you’re up in Navajo country in Monument Valley, to us that means taking you into a Navajo Indian’s home.Robert Graff, Bindlestiff Tours
They’re going to be preparing their tacos right there on their kitchen stoves and everything and you’re going to be eating at their kitchen tables.
Robert Graff on working with Multi-Day Tour OTA TourRadar
We work very closely with TourRadar, and they’re doing a phenomenal job. It’s amazing how I never realized some of the companies that are specialists in the small group space business.
I’ve been doing this for a while for different companies, from different levels of sightseeing, and I was stunned to find companies such as TourRadar just hitting it out of the ballpark with their amazing website experiences and how they’re, well, basically they sell our tours.
More about Bindlestiff Tours
Bindlestiff Tours is an award-winning “adventure tour” provider located in Las Vegas, NV. Our products are unique and different from the “sightseeing” tours that others offer in that we offer a more experience-based adventure, where you are actually enjoying the areas we visit instead of just looking at them through a bus window.
Our tours are primarily comprised of National Parks and protected spaces, where our guests can spend time the way they want to, hiking, exploring, photographing and camping. Our tour guides are experts in the areas we visit and create adventures that include education and direction, as well as giving our customers enough space to explore on their own.
We believe that the adventure starts with you
This episode and interview of Tourpreneur@Arival is presented by Checkfront. The booking platform trusted by over 5,000 tour and activity operators around the world. You can start your own free 21-day trial over at Checkfront.com.
Join the Tourpreneur Insiders Facebook Group and grow your business by learning from other tour operators.
Links and Resources Mentioned on This Episode of Tourpreneur – the podcast for tour operators.
- Bindlestiff Tours
- Robert Graff
- Checkfront Booking Software for Tours and Activities.
Interview with Robert Graff, Vice President Sales and Marketing, Bindlestiff Tours. Full transcript.
Speaker 1: Today’s episode is brought to you by Checkfront, the booking platform trusted by over 5,000 tour and activity operators around the world. You can start your own free 21 day trial over at checkfront.com.
Speaker 2: Welcome to the TourPreneur podcast. Travel industry veteran Shane Whaley will take you on a journey with fellow tourpreneurs, sharing their tips, ideas, insights, and success stories to inspire you to make your tour business the best it can be. And now, please welcome your host, Shane.
Shane Whaley: Welcome to TourPreneur at Arival presented by Checkfront. We’re joined today by Mr. Robert Graff of Bindlestiff Tours. How are you sir?
Robert Graff: Hey, I’m doing great. How are you doing, Shane?
Shane Whaley: Fantastic. First of all, what is a bindlestiff?
Robert Graff: Oh my gosh, you know, when I joined the company, I got a bit excited. I happened to be at a meeting in DC in the travel industry and I said I’ve just started with a new company, Bindlestiff. So, it’s.. what’s a bindlestiff? I had to go look it up. Basically, remember the wary travelers that used to travel around maybe in the big depressions and everything, they had this stick and they had that little handkerchief where they had all their possessions?
Shane Whaley: Yeah.
Robert Graff: That stick and handkerchief is called a bindlestiff.
Shane Whaley: I never knew that.
Robert Graff: Yeah.
Shane Whaley: Never knew that. You offer multi-day tours, correct?
Robert Graff: Yeah, that’s our area of expertise. Small groups, that’s what we do. No more than 14 people. Multi-day tours. We do have day trips as well. Multi-day tours with guaranteed departures. That’s what makes us so unique, that you can prebook a set day on a particular tour. We do that out of Las Vegas, we do it out of San Francisco, Anchorage, Seattle, and we’re launching Salt Lake for next year.
Shane Whaley: Fantastic. When did you guys start up?
Robert Graff: We started up in Las Vegas. The company’s been around for around almost nine years, and now there’s around 35 vehicles with around close to 40 guides. It’s basically taking you into that experiential space. These are passengers that wanted more submersions into the national parks. We do two things. For example, we have a lodging program where you can stay and we have all the room allocations within the national parks. Or, the other aspect is you can go camping, where we actually have pre-secured all the camp site locations within the national parks of the Western United States, Canada, and Alaska as well. We’ll provide the tents, all the camping equipment. And you’re traveling around with experiential guides who are here to personalize your whole experience and put you in very unique settings. Like, when we say lunch is included, let’s say if you’re up in Navajo country in Monument Valley, to us that means taking you into a Navajo Indian’s home. They’re going to be preparing their tacos right there on their kitchen stoves and everything and you’re going to be eating at their kitchen tables.
Shane Whaley: Wow.
Robert Graff: It’s submerging you into these different experiences.
Shane Whaley: Wow, that sounds amazing. What’s been your favorite tour so far that you offer?
Robert Graff: Actually, my favorite tour is the one that covers the national parks. We have a tour that covers, I’d say it’s like a three day tour to the national parks. It does Bryce, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Antelope, Horseshoe Bend. Some areas that I’d seen and everything. And then, you have that whole experiential side. I remember the first time on one of our tours I was very interested to see the dynamics, how the tour guides were going to be handling. We had multigenerational travelers on our tours, because I could see the reservations and I saw there was a grandmother, a mother, and two children. I’m like oh, this is going to be really interesting. These are all different levels.
Robert Graff: I was fascinated by how the guide was going to be able to tailor make that experience for each of them. On first stop, I think we were in Bryce Canyon National Park and I remember the mother and one of the daughters went out on a hike, and when they came back the guide asked how was that hike? They said oh, that was very, very easy. Meanwhile, the grandmother wanted to sit by the lodge and the campfires. What caught me off guard is on the next national park, the guide stepped up the level of the hike and put them on a slightly more of a moderate level type tour. And, of course, the next question when they came back, how was that tour? So, you could see that they’re adjusting to the needs of the group, of what they want, and customizing those experience for them.
Shane Whaley: Fantastic. I think of all the interviews I’ve had this week and ….Arival, you have a much different challenge than most tourpreneurs, because being multi-day, obviously the ticket price is so much higher, right?
Robert Graff: Yes.
Shane Whaley: This could run into thousands.
Robert Graff: Yeah.
Shane Whaley: There’s accommodation and everything else.
Robert Graff: But you can do a national park tour for $675 out of Las Vegas, say double occupancy. But yeah, you have some itineraries that, for example our Alaska ones, that can go up to $3,000, $4,000 for 15 day itineraries.
Shane Whaley: Absolutely. My question then is, selling a $40 walking tour, buying it’s $40. You’re selling something at those prices. How much of your business is coming in where people are booking online versus calling?
Robert Graff: Well, online is a very big percentage of our business. I’d say we’re probably split 50/50. It’s very important for us to maintain these very high reviews, where the customer is doing a lot of research when they’re coming through. And then we’re relying also on the OTAs and the traditional travel tour operator distribution channels to sell our product. So, you got that happy mix between both and you got to kind of balance it out. What makes multi-days maybe a bit different, we’re heavily prebooked. You’re not just going to suddenly show up in the national parks and think there’s going to be a room available for you, or camp sites are available in peak summer. So, our booking window tends to be, I’d say definitely we start closing things down around 30 days prior. That doesn’t mean we don’t have availability earlier, but they’re more our day trip components and everything. But, it’s a lot of pre-planning, and then a lot of customization. You have a lot of virtuoso type travel agents, high end, that they say I need a private guide standing by, pick me up in San Francisco, visit these four parks, or celebrities type and they want that special tailor made tour, which we will do as long as they’ll all tie to the national park.
Shane Whaley: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I’m impressed that it’s 50/50, because I’m a huge fan of multi-day tours, but they’re a lot of money. So, I understand when people want to speak to a human being to find out more about the tour, especially if it’s a company that they have never heard of before. So, the fact that it’s 50/50, you guys are doing a great job.
Robert Graff: Slowly but surely. Our tours are in English, so one of the things that we really don’t want to do is have that full, a guide speaking multiple languages on one tour. We think it kind of destroys that uniqueness of that personalized service that you’re doing in a small group setting. And that’s the key. These people are paying more because they really don’t want to be on a large 50 passenger coach. For example, you’re not going to get me lining up at a restroom toilet waiting to go there. The customer who’s traveling is looking for that slightly higher end excursion, but they want more of that submersion type experience. Give me some unique experiences. Tailor make it to a bit more what my needs are. I think that’s the advantage of the small group travel component that we have.
Shane Whaley: Are you working with TourRadar?
Robert Graff: Yeah, we are actually. We work very closely with TourRadar, and they’re doing a phenomenal job. It’s amazing how I never realized some of the companies that are specialists in the small group space business. I’ve been doing this for a while for different companies, from different levels of sightseeing, and I was stunned to find companies such as TourRadar just hitting it out of the ballpark with their amazing website experiences and how they’re, well, basically they sell our tours.
Shane Whaley: It’s one of my favorite websites. I just love going on there and dreaming for a while and looking at some of these great holidays that they have.
Robert Graff: I am shocked. I remember listening to some of their speakers here telling me how they’ve transacted sometimes ticket prices of $46,000 on a multi-day itinerary and I’m like it’s the ultimate dream. I mean, what are we in the travel business? We sell dreams. We issue this online confirmation. You show up a month later, or two months later, and we as suppliers are going to be delivering that dream for you.
Shane Whaley: Absolutely.
Robert Graff: That’s what’s so exciting about our business space.
Shane Whaley: Absolutely. Who is your booking platform currently?
Robert Graff: We’ve got a lot of booking platforms. Well, we use Bookeo as our internal system. We use Rezdy, we use Bokun. We’re a bit on the agnostic side when it comes to systems right now. Everyone has a different aspect that it adds to what we need to deliver the product. Our goal is primarily to our OTAs and our accounts. You tell me what you need and we’ll work the internal systems to make it as easy for you to sell our products. So, if you tell me I like Rezdy, then we’re going to provide you with that Rezdy service. If you tell me you prefer this type of API connection, we’ll work on all of these different facets.
Shane Whaley: Absolutely. I wanted to ask you, because you’re very experienced in the travel industry, how do you see the online landscape now for booking tours and activities and experiences?
Robert Graff: There’s been a lot of changes. I think when you see where we’re heading right now, it gets very, very interesting. You have a lot of the major platforms who are moving very quickly in they want a percentage sometimes of your bookings. I think at the end of the day the way I look at it is that I think they realize that the future is that direct business coming in and they all want to be able to capitalize on your own direct websites. So, they’re all trying to get in there from a revenue point of view. I think we as suppliers have to balance that out. We must balance that direct consumer business that we’re coming in, and then we need to use our OTAs that provide an enhanced channel distribution, maybe in markets that we don’t want to focus as much attention online to, where we’re reliant on people who have expertise. Like, it’s really interesting to see that there’s some Korean experts, there’s some Japanese experts, there’s some globalists. So, I think you need to use all of the particular players because they can cater to that audience that they have slightly better.
Robert Graff: I think if you flash back and you look at it, we all have to become more savvy from a technology point of view. I think we need to be a bit more aware of what’s happening to our data. It’s happened in the hotel space and it’s definitely moving into the attraction space. You’ve got some very, very smart, big companies who have spent a lot of resources over time building algorithms and understanding that consumer. So, we have an obligation to know as much about our own consumer, the peaks, valleys, the days they want to travel, the booking patterns coming through. I think the biggest challenge is you more look down the road from a maybe sales or marketing perspective is you’ve got to make sure you don’t have everything maybe in one place right now, where someone knows more about your business than you do.
Shane Whaley: Right. Yeah, that’s sound advice. Where can people find your tours online?
Robert Graff: First of all, you can go to bindlestifftours.com, and that’s where you can go check out our particular products, and of course there are five star reviews on all the particular tours. Live booking capabilities. And, I’m so excited to say that starting in 2020 we will have our apps available on all our tours and destinations. So, you’ll be able to do the tour in French, in German, in Italian-
Shane Whaley: Wow.
Robert Graff: … Spanish. That’s the next generation of touring that we’re going to be doing, providing that guaranteed English experience with that personal connection, but then also having the additional language abilities that can take you a bit more in depth if there is a language barrier that you want.
Shane Whaley: Fantastic. Best of luck with it.
Robert Graff: Well, thank you so much.
Shane Whaley: Thank you for coming on the show.
Robert Graff: Oh, it’s great to be here.
Speaker 2: Thanks for listening to the TourPreneur podcast. Be sure to visit tourpreneur.com to join the conversation and access the show notes, including links to the resources mentioned on today’s episode. This is to TourPreneur.