Business

Meet a Friend Before You Visit

Turks & Caicos Reservations service helps you plan the perfect trip.

By Kathy Borsuk ~ Photos By Claire Parrish

If you were planning a vacation to an unfamiliar destination (like the Turks & Caicos Islands), wouldn’t it be great to be able to “phone a friend” who lived there? Your buddy could give you the unbiased “insider scoop” on everything you need to know to fine-tune your perfect holiday.

It’s now possible at Turks & Caicos Reservations (TCR) (www.turksandcaicosreservations.tc). Through its five on-island agents, you can meet a friend before you visit—either by calling a toll-free number (1-877-774-5486 or 44 08 082343071 in the UK, 9 AM to 9 PM daily), through live chat, via email, or by reading blogs (www.turksandcaicosreservations.tc/blog/) and watching videos (www.youtube.com/turkscaicosrez) with all the real-life information you’re looking for. On top of that, TCR offers the best rates available at dozens of TCI resorts, hotels and villas, along with exclusive discounts, free nights and a Rewards Program (www.turksandcaicosreservations.tc/rewards) with complimentary extras ranging from car rentals and scuba dives to massages and photo sessions.

Val Kalliecharan at Turks & Caicos Reservations service

Val Kalliecharan at Turks & Caicos Reservations service

Turks & Caicos Reservations is the brainchild of Val Kalliecharan and his wife Susan, who came to TCI in September 2007 and immediately recognized the opportunity to introduce a centralized, high-end service to aid visitors in planning a vacation here. Val explains, “We realized how unique TCI is as a destination, with few brand-name hotels and less recognition than other Caribbean islands. We felt that such a service would be great for both customers and the resort properties, which, being smaller and independent, are not always able to have full-time dedicated staff on hand to handle reservations in a professional and timely way.”
With years of experience and expertise managing reservations for multi-branded hotel properties in Canada, Val and Susan were convinced that the TCI was the perfect place to launch a high quality reservations service that would also counsel potential visitors with the kind of detailed and up-to-the-minute information previously found only on subjective travel blogs. After looking at several local companies, the pair approached Wired Island, a well-established web services/marketing company that had been committed to TCI for the past 14 years and had many synergies with Val’s background and skills.
“Massaging the idea” involved a year of research and feasibility studies, mystery-shopping of hotels’ existing reservation services and lots of brainstorming. It took another year to turn the concept into reality without compromising quality. Val explains, “It was very important to have robust software and infrastructure that could handle the extensive data base and its constantly changing information.” Hiring and training the right staff was vital, as well. Not only do agents have to be pleasant and outgoing, with an extensive knowledge of the Islands and all the intricate details of each property’s unique selling propositions, amenities, room mix, bedding, rates and ever-changing promotions, they must also be on-call at odd hours, computer-savvy and more than willing to go the extra distance to build personal relationships “one guest at a time.”
For that is TCR’s key to success, says Val. “We love our jobs! We love talking about the Turks & Caicos—this great place we all call home. We know that everyone’s vacation is special and we want to help people plan their perfect trip here.” This means that a typical phone call or chat session can be quite lengthy and detailed, with questions ranging from which resort is closest to good snorkeling to recommendations for a romantic meal on the beach to where to take your kids on a rainy day!
TCR’s website, www.turksandcaicosreservations.tc, is not only fun and easy to use, but mirrors the agents’ engaging combination of professionalism and friendliness. Besides offering extensively searchable options for resort, hotel and villa stays by date and location, the site includes photos and fun facts about each agent (including their idea of a perfect day in TCI and their most unusual question!), an Island Blog highlighting specific properties, restaurants and the latest activities, insider recommendations, commonly asked questions and links to a variety of quality sources for more information. An especially popular new addition are short-but-informative video clips that give a live-and-direct viewpoint of some of TCI’s secrets. (The latest shows Val on his favorite part of Grace Bay Beach, explaining what makes it so special.) Agent training is structured and ongoing, and includes recording all calls in case of discrepancy, standard protocol in North America.
Besides all being TCI residents (and/or natives), TCR’s agent team goes on regular “field trips” so they are speaking from experience when making recommendations. This can include sleeping in a resort’s bed, sampling brunch at a new restaurant, getting a massage at a local spa and going out on a sportfishing charter. It makes their popular blogs especially “true to life” and builds personal relationships with local businesses’ employees, further enhancing the service agents can pass along to TCR customers. (They even send clients a “welcome home” email when their vacation is over.)
Although the fledgling business faced an array of challenges during its early development (hurricanes, economic downturn, government turmoil), one thing that wasn’t hard, Val says, was to encourage involvement by local hotels and businesses. “The benefits are so obvious! By selling TCI so well, we’re luring customers from other destinations, thereby increasing bookings. Through our links, advertising and e-newsletter we offer great market exposure without any direct cost to hotels. We also improve the service that tourists get by keeping the business local.” As the service grows over time, TCR-compiled statistics will offer valuable insight into consumer preferences and booking patterns.
TCR works with local properties to offer the best rates and promotions, along with exclusive offers that actually save their clients money when they book through TCR. Occasional site-wide sales (well promoted via massive e-mail blasts) benefit the entire destination, while the Turks & Caicos Rewards program gives TCR customers something extra for each booked stay. This means that those who choose to book their vacations with TCR benefit from the same rates and promotions they’d get by booking direct with resorts, pay no additional booking fees and get FREE rewards including tours, car rental, scuba diving, spa treatments or even a photo session on the beach.
Since the site’s official launch in January 2009, TCR agents have booked thousands of trips to the TCI, answered tens of thousands of questions, and, through personal contact, enhanced countless others’ TCI vacation experience. TCR is also booking more trips to the Family Islands, to satisfy visitors who want to explore beyond Provo’s sun, sand and sea. Val explains, “A lot of folks are really intimidated about planning a trip to North or Middle Caicos, Grand Turk or Salt Cay. Our goal is to make it fun, easy and satisfying. We tell them exactly how to get there, arrange for car rental, tours, meals and lodging, and fill them in on the best spots to see from Wade’s Green to Conch World.” He adds, “People who visit for longer than a week love that they get a one-stop shop that allows them to book a few nights in Provo before/after their trek through the out-islands. It is very important to us to truly represent the entire destination.”
TCR’s goal is to become the country’s leading official central reservations service, both in term of bookings and information offered. With this in mind, they are working to partner with leading TCI websites, including the Tourist Board and Hotel & Tourism Association. We at Times Publications were so impressed that we jumped on the bandwagon, and, as of this spring, visitors to our web site, www.timespub.tc, will be able to utilize TCR’s full array of information and reservation services.
As TCR expands, they will be able to pass along savings to hotels and offer increased opportunities to other tourism-related services so that restaurants, dive shops, tour operators and stores can improve their business with the added exposure. But, Val emphasizes, building one country-wide reservation channel distills into building one customer relationship at a time.
And, no, as one caller queried, you can’t take a train to North Caicos!



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Ganesh Kallie
Mar 25, 2011 12:48

Excellant article !!!!

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Brian Heagney of The Humpback Dive Shack on Grand Turk took this photo of a humpback whale this Winter season. His business specializes in eco-friendly, low impact whale watching/swimming (January to April), scuba diving, Stingray tours and snorkeling around the warm waters of Grand Turk and Salt Cay. For more information, visit.
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