Flores & Tikal Maya Ruins (Guatemala) Travel Agency
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.
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?
- 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.
- We want to be as quick as possible in answering messages through Facebook, Gmail and Whatsapp.
- We would love to have our own vehicles for providing the best price to our customers in transportation.
- By improving our English and our customer attention we think we can grow.
- 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.