Planner Profile Clayton Whitehead Sports Leisure Vacations Ghost Tour in by dontyouknowme


									                                      Clayton Whitehead —
Planner Profile
                                      Sports Leisure Vacations
                                                                                                Ghost Tour in Sacramento

                                               ome of our readers may already know
                                               Clayton Whitehead, or at least have met
                                               him along the trade show circuit – he’s been
                                               the lead trade show volunteer for National
                                      Tour Association, thirteen years running.
                                          “I truly enjoy it and I truly believe in charity –
                                      but, honestly, I do it because I’m literally the first                                         Horsing Around
                                                                                                                                           in Iceland
                                      person that up to 1,000 people meet at the show,”
                                      he says. “I’m their first friend and that goes such a    gotten to know each other very well. I don’t worry
                                      long way in this business.” This personal touch is       about the liability that many operators do.”
                                      Whitehead’s trademark and has made it the trade-             That loyalty is seen in their bottom line as well.
                                      mark of Sports Leisure Vacations, where he has           After an extensive study of where their revenue
                                      been leading groups since 1990.                          comes from, they found that 90% of their product
                                          At the age of 17, he began his education at          is sold to 10% of their customers. “I even had one

    “Running around
                                      University of Georgia in Athens. Pursuing a Fine         of our customers come in a while back with news-
                                      Arts degree, a job giving tours of the school was        paper clippings and say to me, ‘This is where I

 with little old ladies
                                      the perfect outlet for his love of the stage.            want to go!’ They are incredibly loyal.”
                                          As he continued on with his education, he                One thing that contributes to their success is

    isn’t everybody’s
                                      began doing city tours and, when he graduated,           knowing their customer base and communicating
                                      took to escorting outbound alumni groups while           with them often. Through post-tour surveys and a

     bag, but I’m glad
                                      earning a Masters in Architectural History. “That’s      newsletter released five times a year, they don’t just
                                      my true love,” he says fondly. “And it’s helped me       pitch their people – they have conversations. Their

             because it’s
                                      tremendously on the road. You know something             newsletter is roughly 30% editorial, with a column
                                      about art and architecture, and you’ll never run out     from both Clayton and Mark Hoffmann. The con-

          my bag – and
                                      of things to say on a tour bus.”                         tent ranges, and sometimes even includes health
                                          In 1990, after 10 years in the travel business,      topics. “People like you when they know you and

  there isn’t enough
                                      Clayton met Mark Hoffmann, President of Sports           you know them,” he says.
                                      Leisure Vacations, at NTA. During their seven-               “We don’t have the expertise to go to places

     room for us all!”
                                      minute meeting, it was clear that Clayton had a          other than, shall we say, “first-world” destinations,
                                      broad knowledge of the Southeastern Seaboard,            but we listen to our people and give them a highly
                                      and Hoffmann offered him a job on the spot. But          customized itinerary, with two to three tracks on a
                                      Clayton was still in Athens and Sports Leisure           given day. When the age range is 41-91, not every-
                                      Vacations was in Sacramento, Calif. “I told him          one in the group is going to want or be able to do
                                      that it’d be a cold day in Hell when I moved to the      the same thing.” He quips, “If one person wants to
                                      land of fruits and nuts. But lo and behold, three        check out a barn she saw on the side of the road,
                                      months later,” he trailed off with a laugh.              well, all right, I’ll have the driver take her. It’s not
                                          He’s been at the company ever since, spending        like the bus is charging by the mile.”

                                                                                               Finding His Niche
                                      about 100 days on the road. He splits the remain-
                                      der of his time equally between Sacramento and
                                      Savannah. Being back home has allowed him not            When Clayton was a teenager, he wanted to be a
                                      only to revive his love for his place of birth, but      Cruise Director. But he has found that this lifestyle
                                      also to welcome his groups to his favorite region in     suits him a little better. “Running around with little
                                      a wholly more intimate fashion – by inviting them        old ladies isn’t everybody’s bag, but I’m glad
                                      into his historic home for dessert functions. “My        because it’s my bag – and there isn’t enough room
                                      people have been with me a long time, and we’ve          for us all!”

68 I LEISURE GROUP TRAVEL June 2007                                                                                     

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