Founded in 1960 by Harold Juedes, Fox World Travel in Oshkosh has transformed itself through the years to keep up with technology and changes within the travel industry. The efforts have paid off with Fox World Travel growing its sales volume 95 percent during the past five years, says Chip Juedes, Harold’s grandson and the company’s current CEO. He talked to Insight Editor MaryBeth Matzek about what’s behind that success and why calling Fox World Travel “just a travel agency” is a misnomer.
Insight: Fox World Travel has seen significant growth during the past five years. How are you able to do that when so many people book their own travel plans online?
Chip Juedes: We have a saying, “What does the customer want?” that drives everything we do. Fox World Travel has three main areas of focus: meetings and incentives, vacation travel and business travel. All three areas are affected by technology, and by recognizing that — plus putting that focus on customer service — we’ve been able to grow sales volume 95 percent in the past five years. We are not just a travel company, we are a technology company, too. We have 267 associates, and 30 work in technology.
Technology is used throughout our interactions with customers. For example, we can create an app to send text messages to let travelers going through Atlanta know that there is a delay there and how it will affect them. We can also send push notifications to remind travelers that due to the relationship Fox World Travel has with a particular airline, they can board the plane with the first group of passengers.
Technology plays a role in safety, too. For example, we had customers staying at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas the night of the shooting (Oct. 1, 2017). We were able to directly contact each one to make sure they were safe. We then notified their employer. The ability to do that kind of communication brings peace of mind.
Business travel is a vital part of Fox World Travel’s overall business. How do you help organizations with their travel plans?
We’ve been helping businesses with their traveling needs for decades. Most of the names you see along 41 are our customers. My grandfather even signed a few of those customers that are still with us today. We manage the travel for businesses because that’s what we do — our clients’ specialty is something else, so it makes sense from a financial and productivity standpoint to take that on and let them focus on what they do best — their business. We have solid industry relationships that allow us to provide a quality product at a good price.
In the past few years, we have been able to grow coast to coast by focusing on the customer experience and treating them right. Some big-name companies we work with include Stein Mart, Shutterfly, American Dental Association in Illinois, MISO Energy in Indiana and HEB, a large grocery chain in Texas.
Business travel is definitely the lion’s share of where our growth is. You want to be a good steward of the company’s finances, which we feel like we do. We can also help businesses create a business travel policy and make sure it is being enforced.
Do you just arrange a plane ticket and hotel room for a business client or is there more involved?
Planning business travel is complex. Let’s say you have 20 people from 20 different locations coming together for a meeting. You need to book flights, get the hotel rooms (and knowing how to ask for and get the free Wi-Fi and breakfast) and transportation. That can be a lot of work. We manage that for businesses, so they can focus on the substance of the meeting or event. We can also make sure they have the right equipment in a hotel meeting room, so they can just walk in and have their meeting.
If it’s an incentive trip, you need to manage different outings and activities, beyond just the plane tickets, hotel stay and transportation.
I also want to point out there is some cross-pollination between our different business areas. For example, we are seeing growth in the B-leisure market, which is when business travelers add days either at the beginning or end of their meeting or convention, so they can explore the area. It’s a popular option with millennials.
Vacation travel is still key to your business — how do you stay relevant?
When it comes to vacation travel, we can book your trip to Alaska today, but you may not be going until next summer. We developed touchpoints from booking to until they return from their trip, so we stay in communication with that customer. Our agent may send an update on some possible cruise excursions, information about what to bring and then follow up afterward to see how the trip went. It’s a personal touch. Whether a customer is spending $2,000 or $20,000 on a trip, that trip is important to them and we want to make it the best possible experience for them.
The other thing we offer is personal experience. Our agents can provide a lot of insight from their own experiences that can help you have the best possible trip.
You’ve hired a lot of workers in recent years. Is it challenging to find employees who know a lot about travel?
We hire people with excellent customer service skills and then teach them about travel. We have a Business Travel Institute where we teach people about travel. The premise behind it is, we can’t grow unless we have enough trained staff to help us maintain our excellent customer service.
While our business has grown, we continue to make sure we are always treating the customer right. We are very customer-focused; we are doing the right things to keep them a customer for life.