SAM McCLURE’S NICHE HAS TAKEN HER AROUND THE WORLD WITH HER CUSTOMERS
For sheer audacity, it’s hard to beat Sam McClure’s niche: round-the-world travel for families. A year-long, 30-country trip, with small groups of friends and relatives occasionally join ing the core family for part of the trip, isn’t some thing you’ll find in any brochure.
A self-described oil brat who was born in Belgium, McClure had her first passport at age one month and lived overseas for most of her childhood and adolescence. traveling with her family throughout Europe and the Far East. She spent part of her college years studying in London, then lived in New York City, working in advertising. She met her husband, Tim, while
traveling (of course) and moved to Austin, Texas, with him, on one condition: they keep traveling.
And travel they have, first on their own, then with kids in tow. Their children, now 16 and 17, have been to both the Arctic and Ant arctica. They’ve biked through the Loire Valley, cruised the Aegean in a sailboat and gone camel-trekking in Kenya with Masai warriors. Early on, school friends in Austin and others
from McClure’s days in New York asked her for help in planning their travel. She knew how to choose destinations and to pace itineraries to keep family vacations enriching and fun. As she was preparing to return to her old career, her husband said,”Why go back into advertising? This is what you love.” She found a mentor, Gay Gillen of Gay Gillen Travel, a Virtuoso agency, and told her she wanted to specialize in family travel.
Gillen discouraged her. “Nobody does just one thing in this business,” she told McClure. But, it was the mid-1990s and airlines were cutting the commissions that had been travel agencies’ lifeblood. The business was changing, and Mc Clure had a ready-made core group of clients in the friends for whom she’d already helped plan vacations. She started Small World Travel, affiliating first with Gay Gillen Travel and then, after it was sold, with Brownell Travel, also a Virtuoso agency.
She may have picked family travel, but the round-the-world family niche found her. McClure’s first round-the-world client had read about Mc Clure in the New York Times and called her.
McClure’s philosophy of educating children through travel resonated with the client, and so her niche was born. McClure does long-range planning with her clients, making wish lists of where family members would like to go and talking to them about what would be a good Christmas trip or a great summer trip. Her ap proach involves interviewing clients in person and having each member of the family write a little biography about his or her likes, dislikes, goals and fears.
She also gets a country wish list, which is usually too long and has to be pared down. If there are any glaring omissions, she’ll make suggestions. It’s rarely a circumnavigation of the world, simply because of the seasonality of many destinations. (Most of McClure’s clients
take much shorter vacations-the two-week va riety; while her round-the-world clients keep on traveling, too, but on shorter trips.) McClure then breaks the trip down into country-by-country itineraries. The final itinerary is 200 to 300 pages. She shares this information and photos with everyone who works with the family during its voyage around the world. Usually, McClure is still planning the trip after her clients depart (as in the case of the first client, who called her six weeks before departure).The single exception was the client who called her a year in advance.
The long lead time means that if McClure knows that the Galapagos is on a family’s bucket list, she can watch for specials or promotions for that destination. But best of all, her clients never send off a child to college wondering about the trips they didn’t take but could have McClure makes sure that doesn’t happen.
But even with the best planning, families make changes. Families find out things about themselves and what they really like and what they don’t like. Disasters happen-one family was in Tokyo when the earthquake hit Japan in March. McClure got them out, and that change had a ripple effect throughout the entire itinerary. Accidents happen; one father was injured in Antarctica and had to be evacuated by Medivac (he was insured); he caught up with the family in Tasmania.
McClure stays in touch with clients via the Internet and uses Skype. Usually the children are doing school work as they travel (one family brought along a tutor), so they’re online anyway for that alone. Other families do blogs (two are on Small World Travel’s website).
Besides relying on her own significant travels, McClure uses Virtuoso properties and some of Virtuoso’s onsite partners. But many of the companies and ground operators she uses she met at the PURE conference two years ago. McClure calls PURE, which is devoted to experiential and transformational travel, her treasure trove.