Many large companies, particularly motor coach operators, specialize in reception services (sometimes known as Visit USA operators). Among them are American Express and Greyhound. Many small companies, including travel agencies, however, are getting into this area.
Convention and visitors bureaus are excellent sources for names of companies operating in your area. The New York Convention and Visitors Bureau, for example, publishes a directory, geared for travel agents, which includes a listing of reception companies.
In addition to full service sightseeing and transportation companies, there are specialized reception services. For example, New York Fashion Works specializes in a "shopping extravaganza" in New York's garment district and department and specialty stores; Overseas International Tours hosts groups from abroad; Accent on Theatre Parties obtains blocks of tickets to theater, dance, music, and special events; Art in Action arranges for art programs as well as shopping; Behind the Scenes looks into New York lifestyles, antiques, fashion, finance, food, and interior design; Doorway to Design "opens doors to spectacular design" and arranges visits to "trade" interior design and fashion showrooms; and Harlem Spirituals is one of several companies specializing in tours of that celebrated district.
Cary Frederick, a Hoosier from Indiana who made his home in New York, knew what it was like to be an out of towner in the Big Apple the fears, confusion, expense, wonderment, and delight. So, he set up his own personalized guide service, appropriately named "Rent A New Yorker," to help visitors to the city, individually or in small groups. He draws upon his skills as a trained librarian to research and plan itineraries and to prearrange hotel accommodations, restaurants, theater and events tickets, and one sightseeing. He even stands on line at the TKTS booth to obtain Broadway theater tickets at half price for his clients.
"Everyone talks about personal service," he said. "I am like a friend in town."
As companies like Frederick's expand, due to repeat business and referrals, they generally take on associates or add staff.
The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) has been actively working to help its member travel agencies to cultivate reception services, and several hundreds have already entered the field, with several hundreds more moving in the same direction. This usually involves adding staff.
ASTA member Rex Fritschi, president of Rex Travel, Chicago, launched a reception service a decade ago, providing sightseeing programs in Chicago. His company, Chicago Welcomes, handles groups mainly from overseas, including England, France, Germany, and Switzerland.
'It's a completely different ball of wax from the travel agency," said Fritschi, "different selling, marketing approach, and different handling. The wants, needs, expectations of foreign travelers are different."
It takes several years to become established in receptive services, to develop the contacts abroad, to gain the name recognition. Help in penetrating markets is available from the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration, a section of the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C., and, often, from state and regional travel offices. Also, ASTA has a listing of receptive services as well as an international membership division. International airlines can also be valuable allies.
Skills that would be excellent assets for working in reception services are knowledge of foreign languages (although not necessarily a prerequisite), experience of living abroad, contacts with travel companies abroad, and knowledge of a locality or special interest. Good planning and organizational skills, high creativity, and maturity and patience are also very important.
Reception services also offer a means of entry into the travel business without your having to give up your current job. Many reception companies need part timers to help as escorts or guides (some areas, like New York City, require guides to be licensed) or associates to plan and coordinate trips. These companies afford much of the excitement and sense of traveling without your ever leaving town because the clients are from faraway places.
A job as a professional guide can be an excellent entree into the travel industry and can be a challenging, creative, and financially rewarding position. Guides can freelance for travel companies, developing relationships with tour operators, travel agents, reception companies, and hotels. Guiding provides an opportunity to maximize your knowledge of foreign languages, art, history, architecture, clothes, music, theater, entertainment, and virtually any special interest. Some areas may require licensing; New York City's Department of Consumer Affairs, for example, administers a test that qualifies an applicant to become a professional guide. There are several entities in New York that place guides.
Reception services is a highly entrepreneurial field. If you are considering opening your own reception service, consider what your locality has and what it does not have. Talk with the local convention and visitors bureau or chamber of commerce people.
"Foreigners have 'done' Disney World and New York and want to see what more of the U.S. has to offer," said Fritschi. 'There is great, great potential."
It is possible that your own professional area can be a starting point. For example, one company (Cityscapes) specializes in finding the right locales for meetings, film shoots, receptions, and the like.
There are so many reception services and ground handlers that one of the greatest needs for individual companies is marketing. American Sightseeing International (ASI) was formed to meet this need. It is an association of sightseeing and tour companies in more than 100 major tourist markets (40 U.S. cities, 60 countries). Gray Line is another.
Sightseeing is probably one of the more limited occupations in the travel industry. In sightseeing companies, most people in positions of prominence have come up through the ranks of a bus company. Rather than travel industry professionals, they tend to be bus industry specialists.