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You may have heard that the venerable Orvis Corporation in Manchester, Vermont, is going into the fishing-trip business, head-to-head against all the other booking agents out there who peddle trips around the world. Well, that is not exactly what the famed mail-order company has in mind. What they plan to do, according to Dave Parker, the new Managing Director of Orvis Travel (*), is become a tour operator.
What’s the difference…? Parker says a tour operator, as he defines it, chooses a finite number of trips and seeks to market them, rather than trying to sell the whole world. "We have no interest in trying to sell places we haven’t visited and can’t vouch for 100 percent," he said. "The key word is ‘control.’ We want to be certain we can control the overall quality of the trips we sell."
Parker says Orvis plans to stay in control of what it sells by buying up whole blocks of time at high-quality lodges. And, they plan to move slowly. "We officially open for business August 15, and the only trip we have firmly on the books for this year is a combination game viewing and tigerfishing trip to southern Africa," Parker said, describing the journey as a "…two-country extravaganza, involving the best lodges and best guides available in Botswana and Namibia."
The 14-day Africa trip costs $6,300 from arrival in Johannesburg. It will be followed in January by a wingshooting trip to Wales. In February, Orvis has locked up two weeks at Rio Palena Lodge in Chile, and sometime later, two weeks at North Riding Point Club on Grand Bahama Island. Orvis plans to offer North Riding Point, with a "few extra amenities," at the same price you would pay if you booked direct. Also in the planning stage are trips to New Zealand, Argentina and Iceland.
Parker may be starting slowly, but he has large ambitions. He envisions hiring somewhere between 12 and 20 people. His intermediate goal is to host 10,000 guests a year. Along the way, he doesn’t rule out the possibility that Orvis would purchase one or more lodges. The marketing of all these trips will be done through the various catalogues Orvis mails each year. The volume of those mailings is something like 50 million a year, Parker says, virtually guaranteeing him a landslide of prospects.