Flores & Tikal Maya Ruins (Guatemala) Travel Agency

edited February 2019 in Service

Interview Introduction by Eric Hennessey

The island town of Flores, as staging ground for the famous Tikal Maya ruins in Guatemala, sees a LOT of tourist traffic. Therefore there are also a lot of shady local tour operators (known as Coyotes) who take advantage of unwary tourists.

The Crasborn family of Crasborn Travel is an antidote to this malady, providing service with warmth, honesty, and integrity, which I experienced firsthand after reading many positive recommendations from TripAdvisor commenters.

I invited Christian to an interview to discuss the development of his family’s business, and to see where he could use support from the entrepreneurship community.

Interview

Can you tell me about your business?

We’re a family business that consists of organizing and providing trips, transport and services to the tourists who visit Flores island daily. Our mind is to provide a reliable and transparent service to our customers.



How did the business start?

Around 20 years ago Sergio Crasborn started working with a flight company from Guatemala, he was just a receptionist at the work, managing information about flights and selling tickets for flights at the airport.

The next step for starting his own business was receiving help from his old boss, after leaving the company, by being given a lot of vouchers to sell tickets outside the airport (like a street seller).

Sergio spoke little English in those years, but it was enough for the tourists to communicate with him. By selling street tickets he was winning a reasonable commission which permitted his family to survive, but he saw that there was a rising problem: the bad street sellers known as “Coyotes”, who like to scam and cheat the innocent travelers.

So Sergio found a location on Flores island and opened an official office and he added Karina de Crasborn (his wife) to the plan, so she could work at the office and he could work on the street, meeting tourists and driving them to the office for a more reliable transaction.

What strategies have you attempted to make your business grow?

Sergio had the idea to find a house to both work and live in. It was a good idea because we can work almost all the time; even if we’re closed, usually we’re inside and just by knocking on our door the tourist can receive our attention. Also this was a good idea because we can open early and close late, especially for me at my computer behind the desk, where I feel I’m in the living room of a normal house.

Around 12 years ago we started to give our card with all our information to our customers, and that seed started making us popular outside Guatemala. We started to receive some comments from travelers telling us that we’re popular on the web a couple years ago, so we decide to manage our emails to receive messages from the tourists. Next step was to open a Facebook page and use our personal phone numbers for Whatsapp for easy communication with our customers.

What has worked and what hasn’t worked?

At the beginning of Crasborn Travel agency, we operated with street sellers and sometimes with coyotes, as they said they’re trying to change. This was not a good idea at all because these guys sometimes offer the “sky and the stars” to the tourist, and leave us with the problem of an unsatisfied customer.

Sergio decide to get a minibus to move his customers to different destinations, aiming to use his own resources, but unfortunately the car broke down and was too expensive to rescue.

We’ve tried to open a Paypal account to receive payments online, but unfortunately in Guatemala this is very hard (it requires a bank account in the USA). Fortunately we found that we can receive money transactions through MoneyGram, Western Union and Xoom--all of these options charge a small commission but most of our customers don’t mind to pay 2 or 3 dollars additional to secure their trip 3 months, 2 weeks, or 5 days before their visit. I think because of our good reviews they know they’re in good hands.

We always try to meet our customers before everything starts. It is always cool to bring a personalized service and meet the tourist at the bus terminal, airport or their hotel when they arrive in Flores, for us the day or the hour doesn’t matter, we will try to meet and establish a relationship before bringing the service.

The best strategy we learned over the years is “BE HONEST” about the details of a service that we provide. The information we give in 99% of the cases is personalized information of the route, the schedule or the destination if possible. If we don’t know something, we also let them know that. We learned by the years that a happy customer is the best publicity we can have.

What are some of your goals and dreams for the future?

  1. We are aiming to find a service which lets us make online transactions without paying an excessive amount of commission--with this we can be ahead in offering services to the tourist.
  2. We want to be as quick as possible in answering messages through Facebook, Gmail and Whatsapp.
  3. We would love to have our own vehicles for providing the best price to our customers in transportation.
  4. By improving our English and our customer attention we think we can grow.
  5. We’re also offering new adventures through the jungle and animal watching--hopefully this gets popular and the tourist who has a long schedule can visit more things than just Tikal and Yaxha.

Is there any advice you’d like to offer a new business in the tourism industry?

In the tourist business (hotels/transport/agency/tours), there’s high and low seasons. You have to know to save money in the high season to resist the low season. Most of the people who start for the first time in the tourist area think that high season is all the year and that mistake makes them fail.

Is there any advice you’d like to receive from experienced business people?

Really just any tips on running a business like the one we have most successfully would be appreciated.



Tagged:

Comments

  • Thoughts:

    • Keep encouraging your clients to write something positive on your Facebook page, Tripadvisor, any other review sites you can think of, that's golden.
    • There's a lot of bad things written about travel agents (coyotes) that get on incoming shuttles to Flores, which makes many tourists automatically suspicious of anyone pitching them. I haven't heard your pitch, but to convince tourists you are one of the "good ones", I recommend acknowledging the problem, explaining why you're different, and giving them contact info and suggesting they check your reviews and find you later if they don't feel comfortable purchasing on the spot. This low-pressure approach helps build trust for on-the-spot sales as well as follow-up sales.
    • Your website isn’t quite finished—you could finish it in a day, I’d think. Otherwise tourists get confused about your legitimacy and professionalism and you could miss some sales opportunities.
    • Exchange Instagram/Facebook follows with customers, ask them to mention you in one of their photos, and like the photos from their tour. Ask permission to use some of their photos on your own social media accounts and in your promotional material.

     I don’t know the banking situation in Guatemala, but…

    • Maintaining/fixing vehicles is definitely a significant expense. Could you establish a relationship with a bank to open a line of credit which would only be used for the short term in the event of a vehicle break down, to help get through the difficult time?
    • For the Paypal problem, can you somehow open a US bank account? Incorporate a company in some state, or find a charitable partner who will open an account on your behalf?
  • For opening a bank account in another country, start with a bank that has a branch in your country that is also in the US. By establishing a working relationship with the local branch, they can assist with opening an account in the US. Some international banks in the US accommodate non-US postal address, such as HSBC.

    Yes, their rates are higher than other banks, but when compared to costs of incorporating in the US State of Delaware (another common practice for non-US companies) and the subsequent annual filing fees plus agent fees, those bank fees seem small in the end.

    You will still be required to be physically present to open each bank account (due to legislation pretty much world-wide since 2014 called KYC/AML). Also, most banks cannot share certain information across the border, even among their own financial institution However, you can personally make an email introduction between your two representatives within each country.

    From there, they can talk quietly amongst themselves for providing enough of the service that you need while honouring regulations.

    Finally, the value of using a larger single financial institution that crosses international borders, when you need to move funds, it's simply a ledger entry for them, and often funds can be available the same day.

    Again, it's not cheap, but it will be less expensive than having a corporation or even Limited Liability Company (LLC) registered in the US when you're physically elsewhere.

    -Daniel

Sign In or Register to comment.