Interview with Kathleen Doheny of Kensington Tours

Kensington Tours (www.kensingtontours.com) is a worldwide tour operator specializing in custom-designed group tours for a more personal and rewarding experience. Their phenomenal growth stems from adroit use of electronic communications. For hoteliers who do not know them well, or who have never heard of them, here is an opportunity to learn more about how you can participate in their success.

With private vehicles and experienced local guides at a ratio of one for every two travelers, Kensington delivers a flexible and memorable adventure with unmatched value for the upscale traveler. I had the opportunity to sit down with their VP of Marketing, Kathleen Doheny, and ask her a few questions about what makes Kensington Tours so extraordinary.

How long have you been with Kensington Tours?
Since October 2007, when the company was very small and there were five of us in a tiny office. I was originally hired to start up Kensington Cares, the company’s charitable initiative. Since then, I have also taken on marketing as a responsibility.

What is your current role?
I’m the Vice President of Marketing, which includes oversight of our online and offline marketing initiatives as well as advertising, PR, CRM, collateral production, coop marketing initiatives.

Tell us a little bit about Kensington Tours?
Kensington Tours is the inspiration of explorer and Royal Geographic Society Fellow Jeff Willner. A veteran of global expeditions to over 70 countries, he has crisscrossed the continents to experience the extraordinary. Jeff started Kensington to provide the globally curious with a better alternative to ubiquitous but limiting ‘packaged tours’ also known as ‘group tours’.

Jeff is a graduate of Wharton, has worked for McKinsey & Company and is a former CEO of a software company. He was determined to put his business and tech-savvy together to make private guided travel more accessible and more affordable to those who wanted to discover the world their own way.

How do you differentiate Kensington from other tour operators?
Most of today’s tour operators are experts in group departures, which includes preset itineraries, pre-chosen hotels and a less flexible pace. Kensington Tours is proficient at designing tailor-made tours, customized to each client’s particular tastes, pace, budget and travel style. Kensington’s team is made up of experience destination experts who have lived and worked in the destination they represent. You’ll never talk to a call center at Kensington. In addition, providing unbeatable value for your travel dollar is the hallmark of Kensington Tours. It’s a commitment we take seriously. We benchmark our tours against luxury operators – on average our custom tours are 20-30% less. But don’t take our word for it; the editors of National Geographic Adventure Magazine have said, “Luxury without the high price tag is the guiding principle on Kensington’s tours.”

What are the advantages of private guided tours?
Lingering longer to watch the lion cubs play, skipping the last Italian duomo to explore an out of the way artisan studio only your guide knows about, or choosing value-wise hotels for the first half of your trip so you can indulge yourself on the homestretch.  These are the sorts of freedoms and flexibilities only possible on a custom tour. Whether you are travelling as a couple, with your family or a group of friends, a private tour ensures you have an itinerary to match your travel style, your passions, your pace and your pocketbook. The result is an experience that is more personal, more rewarding and frankly, a lot more fun.

What is a typical Kensington guest profile?
Kensington is currently focused on the North American market. Our clients tend to range from value-conscious premium level clients to those looking for the best amenities, the top properties and everything luxury level. Honeymooners, families exploring the world (including more and more multi-generational families), couples travelling alone or with friends – these are just a taste of what our typical consumer looks like. Clients are looking for control and flexibility with no group restraints. They want a genuine cultural experience, the ability to dig deeper into the culture and connect more through a knowledgeable local guide.

How many hotel properties does Kensington work with?
We have thousands of hotels at our fingers tips, readily accessible via very sophisticated proprietary software to make sure we can meet the expectations of the many different needs of our clients. That being said, our experts certainly have favorite properties that they recommend for a variety of reasons – luxury, value, location, hidden gem, favorite boutique property, great circuit value, family amenities, the list goes on. As one of the leading FIT tour operators, we work closely with many properties and property groups.

What are you looking for in your hotel selection?
Properties with distinction, and that doesn’t just mean luxury! We have a wide range of client needs like value, location, luxury, family amenities, hidden gem allure. Crucial to Kensington is a property that recognizes the value of a great FIT partner, and where appropriate, a collection of properties that offer great ‘circuit’ pricing and options, as well as properties eager for innovative coop marketing opportunities by harnessing our impressive database of premium and luxury level travelers. We look for properties that want to build a long term-partnership and demonstrate this credo by treating our clients right, even when the inevitable hiccups happen. Our destination experts are loyal to properties they know they can trust 100%, and reward these properties with volume.

How can a hotel that meets these criteria reach you?
Our product development team (product@kensingtontours.com) is the best place to start. They work closely with our destination experts to negotiate rates and contracts for the properties that are a good fit for Kensington. Depending on the destination, we work both direct and through DMC partners.

What is your outlook for Kensington’s growth over the next two years?
We have grown exponentially over the past five years and expect this growth to continue. Savvy travelers today are looking more and more for great alternatives to group travel. Kensington is the answer they’ve been looking for. We were just named to the Travel + Leisure World’s Best list for 2011, and our clients and partners in the travel industry continue to bring us both word-of-mouth references as well as repeat business.

(Published on eHotelier.com on September 6, 2011)

Larry MogelonskyInterview with Kathleen Doheny of Kensington Tours