|Ryan Hansen and Peter Evans. Hansen calls years of working together with Evans ‘a mentor-type relationship.’|
After 37 years spent building one of the largest luxury travel agencies in the U.S. Southwest, the question to come is, “What’s next?” For Peter Evans, founder of Bon Voyage Travel in Tucson, the door is wide open for his next step, but not before he leaves his brainchild in the very able hands of employee and friend, Ryan Hansen.
The Early Years
Evans began Bon Voyage Travel in 1975 at 22 years old. “I started exploring more and more about travel and I looked into the possibility of buying a travel agency in Tucson,” Evans tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “I saw that it was just as easy to open one as it was to buy one, so a college buddy and I decided to go for it and we opened a travel agency on a shoestring.” Not long after, Evans’ friend decided to move on leaving the entire operation to Evans. It was 1976 and the population of Tucson was approximately 150,000.
Today Tucson is home to about 1 million people, and Bon Voyage Travel has grown along with the city. At the market’s peak, there were about 120-140 different travel agencies in southern Arizona, according to Evans. “Over time, similar to the rest of the country, there were fewer and fewer brick and mortar locations in local markets,” he says. “We had been dominant when there were all of those other locations, and we’ve maintained our dominance.”
The company’s initial focus rested heavily on corporate travel. Around 2000, Evans sold the corporate side to World Travel based out of Atlanta, and Bon Voyage went on to become a 100 percent leisure agency. Now, what started as one office has grown to five, with approximately 100 employees pulling in over $40 million annually in sales.
The company’s clientele is predominantly made up of baby boomers with discretionary income that have the money to take a premium or luxury-type trip. “I would say our clientele in the local market is premium and above,” says Evans.
All of that said, without flexibility and adjustment to the times, one cannot remain dominant for so long, which is why Evans is looking to shift the company’s focus to the technology side of marketing, which is a direction he feels is critical to the selling of luxury travel.
“We have learned that our competition is no longer with other local agencies,” he says. “Over time we started seeing that our competition was with the online travel agencies, so I made the decision to start competing in this arena.”
|Peter Evans, outside his home in Jackson Hole, WY.|
To take on this task, Evans brought in Amy Foy, who he deems a “one-man band” when it came to building Bon Voyage Travel’s website and microsites. “She’d build the websites and generate the traffic and we started getting leads and converting those leads into sales,” he says. The first year they began selling online, they featured just two luxury cruise lines, Silversea and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. With just those two lines, Bon Voyage Travel sold $1.5 million of product. The second year they added a few more lines and sold $4 million. Now, in their third year, they are anticipating sales close to $8 million of cruise product. “We are taking it slow, but we’ve had success,” says Evans. “We have a staff of about five or six people that are writing content, building some more sites, and a reservation staff exclusive to the online portion.”
In the online market, Bon Voyage Travel has exclusively stuck with marketing the luxury brands. This includes brands like Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea, Crystal Cruises and Seabourn.
Evans has put his faith in his consortium when it comes to developing this online portion of his business. After affiliations with a handful of consortia, the company landed on Signature Travel Network. “We couldn’t imagine being any happier or going anywhere else,” says Evans. “What works so well with Signature is that they are great at executing. They say they are going to do something, and it gets done. Plus, we really think that they are leaders with the technology side of marketing. They are paving the way with online marketing and helping us learn in the process.” As a Signature Travel Network agency, Bon Voyage Travel has utilized their help with the transition to the online marketplace. The company has had special meetings and sought out expert opinions and advice. Michelle Morgan, Alex Sharpe and Ignacio Maza are all highly praised by Evans as being invaluable in trying to help position Bon Voyage in this new role.
Passing the Torch
In recent years, Evans, a true entrepreneur, has been taking a few steps back from the managerial role at Bon Voyage Travel to focus on some of his other business ventures. “This has been within the last two to three years,” he says. “I’m involved daily, but not in the management. I fly at 30,000 feet and conduct, orchestrate and consult when I’m needed.” Evans spends his summers in Jackson Hole, WY, and communicates from home via phone and e-mail whenever it is necessary. When he is in Tucson, he visits the office every day, almost all day, but he is very much in the process of handing over his responsibilities and putting plans in motion to make sure that Bon Voyage Travel is around for the next 37 years.
Planning for the years ahead, Evans is looking to leave his company in the hands of Hansen. “None of my children were interested in being in the business,” says Evans. “They became very independent and as a result of that had no interest in taking over the travel business. I found, after searching, someone who will become the owner of Bon Voyage, and that is Ryan.”
Hansen has been onboard since the middle of October 2011 and, like so many luxury travel advisors, fell into the role. “I worked in intercollegiate athletics for the last 19 years at University of Arizona,” Hansen says. Part of his position included functioning as the travel administrator for the team, which led him to work with Evans as his client. “For the last 15 years, I’ve been interviewing for the job,” Hansen says. “Peter and I have had a great relationship. It was almost a mentor-type relationship.”
Last summer, Evans approached Hansen with the new direction he was looking to give the company and wondered if Hansen was up to the challenge. “I shared with him that I was ready for a move and was ready to run my own show. It was a perfect storm,” says Hansen.
On a day-to-day basis, Hansen is running operations, but both he and Evans are partnered together on all visionary tactics. Hansen is in the office every day and his goal is to try and strengthen relationships with vendors and clients. “I’m trying to make sure that our staff has all their needs met,” he says. “If I can make their day better, whether it’s helping solve a client issue, close a sale, or with a technology issue, that’s my focus.”
“For all intent and purposes, Ryan has been running the company on his own since the first of June,” says Evans.
A Global Marketplace
Hansen has taken Evans’ vision of establishing Bon Voyage Travel as an opportunity to sell in the online market and has run with it. “I’m hopeful to bring to the table new marketing ideas that will be appealing to the 2012 consumer. I’m looking for new media opportunities to bring the global marketplace to Bon Voyage Travel, not just in the online space,” says Hansen. “A lot of our success has been based on the traditional online search. We put ourselves in position by the use of Google ad words to be able to come up in a search.” Hansen, like Evans, tips his hat to Foy, who he calls a guru in that type of online lead generation. “We have someone whom we meet with daily who has an understanding of the travel industry and the marketplace, and she constantly works to have our website come up in a search with a competitive offer.”
This type of online marketing will only help grow the business of Bon Voyage Travel, especially within the upcoming generation of retirees. “There is going to be this baby boomer group of people that are finishing their careers in the very near future, and they are going to be ready to enjoy what they’ve worked so hard for,” says Hansen. “Just from a sheer population standpoint, the number of people going to retire will have the dollars and the time. There is going to be a big spike just from a marketplace perspective.”
|Ryan Hansen, chief operating officer, with Amy Foy, director of Online Business.|
As for Evans, the sun has yet to set officially on his time with Bon Voyage. “Ryan isn’t getting rid of me anytime soon,” says Evans. “I’m really excited about growing. I now see an opportunity to grow the travel business again with technology both locally and with our national websites.” Evans claims himself as the “idea guy,” rather than the executer. He will take his free time to now focus on a couple of his other business ventures, such as The Arizona Shuttle, which will move approximately 250,000 people this year from smaller communities to the airports in Flagstaff, Prescott, Tucson and Sedona. He also operates a former guest ranch, the Lazy K Bar Guest Ranch in Tucson, which he rents out for special events.
Still, while Evans looks to his other projects, his heart remains firmly with Bon Voyage as he relinquishes authority. “I would hope that our story can inspire other retailers that have been asking the question, ‘What can I do now?,’ ” Evans tells us. “Ryan is a great example of a young guy who has a passion for this business. There are still people out there that have creative ways of transitioning things so that you can be rewarded for what you’ve built and your business can continue to grow and thrive. That is what I would hope people will take away from this.”