An article from “Made in Lithuania” magazine, Vol. 22, No4, 2006, p.p. 76-79
By Thomas H. Gibson
It was 1991, right after independence, when private enterprise was a novelty in Lithuania. Several service sector specialists lead by Danute Karvelyte and Arunas Sarka established a private tour company called Lithuanian Tours Ltd. The goal of the company was to introduce foreigners to the newly reborn independent Lithuanian State and to provide comprehensive travel services throughout the country. Right from the beginning the new company was determined to provide the highest possible standard of services both for inbound and outbound travellers.
The company’s slogan “Service with a smile and competence” reflected the second principle of Lithuanian Tours – warm, friendly, attention to details attitude when dealing with clients, business partners, and with each other in the company. The first 15 years confirmed the company’s decision to combine the best possible service with a smile. Due to the friendly care, personalized service, attention to the needs of every single client we have secured partners who have dealt with Lithuanian Tours since the very beginning – ones like Kalinka Tours, Area Travel, Olympia Reisen or Regent Holidays, who were among the very first and to this day continue to use Lithuanian Tours services.
Our very first clients were 2 visitors from Britain, who were accommodated in Vilnius at the Zaliasis Tiltas Hotel; that hotel also served as headquarters of the new company. One can only imagine now what the conditions were like when these clients stayed there then. The company in 1991 was working with only 4 hotels in Vilnius, and all at that time were run by state owned enterprises.
In the beginning the company provided services in Lithuania only, but increased growth in leisure travel brought about the need to expand our services throughout the Baltic Region, including Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Kaliningrad and St Petersburg in Russia. We had a short and mutually beneficial Cooperation with the Latvian company “Latvia Tours” and the Estonian company “Raeturist”. As sales increased in Latvia and Estonia, we decided to contract suppliers directly in order to provide better control of our travel programs and more favourable rates for our clients.
It didn’t take long to get international recognition and exposure: Lithuanian Tours was the first Lithuanian tour operator to represent Lithuania at the World Travel Market in London in 1994. Among the many other awards that should be mentioned are the Vilnius Hospitality Award and the Vilnius Mayor’s St. Christopher Prize that were presented to Danute Karvelyte in 1999. Lithuanian Tours was also recognized as the Best Inbound Tour Operator in Lithuania by the Lithuanian State Department of Tourism in 2004. Many hotels, suppliers, as well as clients have recognized Lithuanian Tours as their best partner. Today the company is a member of many of the most respected travel trade associations – ASTA, ICCA, RDA, and the Lithuanian Tourism Association, of which Kestutis Ambrozaitis, General Manager of Lithuanian Tours, was President from 2003 to 2006.
Early in the company’s history, Lithuanian Tours was chosen by American Express to represent them in Lithuania and the company served the clients of this large and well known organization until the year 2000. That year was a landmark in Lithuanian Tours' history when the company President, Ms. Danute Karvelyte, turned management of the company over to a younger generation. At the same time it was decided to concentrate on inbound travel only.
Kestutis Ambrozaitis, well known for his outstanding contribution to the development of Vilnius City tourism department, was appointed to the position of General Manager. Since then the company has more than tripled in size and in volume of business.
2001 was highlighted by the establishment of a sister company in Tallinn, Estonia, Estlit Tours Ltd, headed by the young and energetic Hele Lahtvee who has dramatically increased Estonian sales and provides unsurpassed service for all of Lithuanian Tours clients. Estlit Tours has grown into one of the most successful tour operators in Estonia.
The next step was taken in 2005 when a new brand “Elit Events Baltic” was registered to mark Lithuanian Tours entry into servicing the rapidly growing Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions sector. Currently, conference and incentive market sales enjoys the biggest growth in the company.
The company today is one of Lithuanian’s leading tour operators. For several years in a row the company has been among the top five largest Lithuanian tour operators for both inbound and outbound sales and one of the top two inbound companies.
Lithuanian Tours provides superior inbound travel services for all the major tourism sectors - business, leisure travel, groups, individuals, conferences, and incentives. Traditionally the largest markets for the Baltic States are the UK, Germany, USA, and Finland, but since 2003 the Italian market has grown dramatically and since 2005 has become the recognized sales leader. Another fast growing market is France. The French tour operators used to tell us that their people often choose same destinations as the Italian people but, as a rule, three years later, so now we are facing a steadily growing French interest in Lithuania.
Lithuanian Tours total is estimated to exceed 3 million Euro in 2006 and comprises of 35% individual travel, 45% tourist groups and 20% conferences and incentives. All-in-all Lithuanian Tours has provided services for almost 150000 tourists during its 15 years of existence.
There are two keys to the company’s success: teamwork and intensive marketing. Hardly there is another Lithuanian tour operator that is recognized for respectful and considerate relationship that exists between team members, staff, suppliers, and clients. Yet each member of the team is a highly professional, motivated capable person, fully responsible of his or her sector.
Working as a tour operator is not just sitting at a computer and compiling programs for clients. The professionalism of all our employees is achieved by having a personal understanding of each region's tourism resources, products, and potential. Eglė Jakubenaitė, one of the best product managers in Lithuania, regularly escorts production and sales staff to stay at the hotels and restaurants that they sell, test incentive programs that they offer. Together they constantly look for interesting new things to see and do for their partners. Due to their involvement in all aspects of the company activities, strong motivation and satisfaction not many employees leave the company, but if it happens, they tend to take senior positions in the hotel sector maintaining their good relations with the mother company.
It’s not easy to control all the suppliers needed to support our tour programs; the company has about 1500 suppliers all over the Baltic States. Nonetheless, contracting the best suppliers, negotiating the best rates have been made possible thanks to professional shrewdness, extensive knowledge and analysis of the market of Arūnas Šarka, Executive Director.
Another key to Lithuanian Tours success is intensive and accurate marketing. Annually the company participates in 7-8 tourism trade fairs and 5-6 workshops, makes numerous sales visits, and also arranges familiarisation tours for tour operators, agents, and journalists to that they could get better familiarise themselves with the products we offer. Intensive communication with the market as well as good local market knowledge assure many new contacts and growing sales. A lot of market information and new contacts we obtain through our representatives in key markets. One of the best is Pawel Jeglinski who is in charge of our Italian market. Although a foreigner in the country he has gained reputation among Italian tour operators as the most reliable partner and the best expert on Lithuania and the Baltics, and the full range of products offered by Lithuanian Tours. His professionalism and effective communication have been always praised by our Italian partners.
Times are not easy for travel trade operators these days - more and more people book services directly on the internet eliminating tour operators and agencies. Only the most qualified professionals can offer added value to their clients and, thus, generate sales even in this challenging business environment.
Being in the forefront of the industry, search for ways to expand our horizons, readiness to deliver more than it is asked for, and real enjoyment in what we do make the basis of Lithuanian Tours’ continued growth. The company has developed a solid reputation built on beneficial relations with all its partners, suppliers, clients, as well as other Lithuanian tour operators, whom we see as our colleagues. This has created the image of a knowledgeable, stable and reliable company that looks to the future with realistic optimism.