Topdeck is reporting “substantial growth” in the Canadian market, especially over the past year, according to Nick Shuttleworth, director of sales – The Americas.
The company launched efforts here about six years ago, and is now considering expanding its team of two to keep up with demand.
Brand awareness was one of the biggest challenges initially when it came to capturing Canadian business, but at this point, they are past that hurdle. For Shuttleworth, the success comes down to travellers sharing their Topdeck experience, good relationships with key accounts, and a strong global marketing team to help spread the word.
And while the news is overwhelmingly positive, one hindrance remains the perception of the phrase ‘youth travel.’
“When someone tells me we’re a ‘youth travel company’, I think people automatically assume we’re a bus full of 18-year-olds going around Europe,” Shuttleworth said. “On our tours, the average age is around 26 so mostly young professionals…and we take passengers up to the age of 39 so we definitely have a more mature client.”
Appealing to this particular segment, Topdeck prides itself on value for money, another key to its growth, Shuttleworth said. “We don’t like to use the word ‘cheaper’ because we’re not a cheaper product but our price and what we include is a greater value for money.”
So in a market where youth travel and soft adventure are becoming ever-more competitive, what are the key selling points for Topdeck? Shuttleworth explains.
1. Free time available to clients: “The Canadian market is still getting used to the concept of touring; they’re quite an independent traveller so if you’re doing a Topdeck trip, every second day you get to go and do what you want to do, without thinking about organizing your accommodations, your transport, all that sort of stuff.”
“We want to encourage people to go and do their own thing. I think it’s really important to note as well that with Topdeck, although we do large group touring – the maximum we tour with is around 45 – we do encourage everyone to do exactly what they want to do…It’s all about choice.”
2. No tipping policy: “We’re probably the only tour operators in Europe that has incorporated this. If people want to tip at the end of our trips, that’s fine but there’s never the whole spiel about ‘If you’ve had a great time, please…’”
3. Food: About 70 per cent of meals are included on a Topdeck experience, and with the emergence of a foodie culture, this is becoming a more important feature. “When you say there’s lots of food included, people automatically think to that all-inclusive buffet; it’s OK but it’s not great,” Shuttleworth expanded. But at Topdeck, the company hired a full-time catering manager about three years ago for all European trips, whose sole job it is “to ensure the food is of a high standard and that it’s authentic to the destination you’re travelling to.”
“I think food is becoming more and more a huge part of travel and experiencing different cultures in countries,” Shuttleworth said. “I’d say the number one compliment we get on our trips in our passenger feedback forms is the food, how good it is – that’s been huge for us.”
4. Centralized accommodations: “The closer you can stay to the sights and sounds, the more free time you’re going to have,” he said. Normally, accommodations are within walking distance to key attractions in-destination, but if that’s not the case, they are on metro lines.
“Topdeck actually provides all of our clients with metro passes and we show them how to get from their hotel to downtown on the first day, and then on the free day, they can go and explore, and feel safe getting back to their accommodations.”
Other Topdeck - Europe selling points:
- 11- to 49-days in duration
- Typically two nights in each destination
- European accommodation choices include hotel, hostel or campsite
- The Explorer trip style focuses on a more immersive experience in one destination (vs. hopping from country to country). Groups are smaller in size, typically 15 to 20 people. This trip style also includes Topdeck sailing options in Europe.
- Trips to the Balkans are new this year for Topdeck. In addition to Europe, options are available in Africa, the Middle East and the South Pacific.