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Travel Interview: Magical Mystery Tours

I absolutely love surprises. The good kind; the fun kind. The “I just found a five dollar bill in my jeans” kind or the “Hey! We’re going to The Keys this weekend!” kind.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered a company that marries travel (another one of my, more obvious, obsessions) with surprises. Yes! I know, it is a match made in heaven! Magical Mystery Tours offers vacation planning with a twist. Think travel agent meets Bob Barker on the “Price in Right.” But, instead of hearing “It’s a neeeeew car!” as a curtain opens, you read “Denver, Colorado” or “Costa Rica” as you open a sealed envelope moments before you depart. That is a surprise I would love.

Are you curious to know more about Magical Mystery Tours? Yea, thought so.

Magical Mystery Tour Red Envelope

Denise Chaykun, President of Magical Mystery Tours, answered the questions for this interview. I hope the Q & A session will shed a little light on this up an coming travel company.

1. Start from the beginning; tell us the story behind the idea and company. Who and/or what inspired you to create Magical Mystery Tours (MMT)?

“We never exactly set out to start a travel company.  Both Stephanie (my cofounder) and I love to travel and discussed great deals and dream destinations all the time.  At some point in 2009 I was chatting with a friend who was really busy and needed a vacation, but was lamenting over the fact that he didn’t have time to plan it.  On a whim, I offered to plan it for him, though as we got into the planning, I started to joke that I wasn’t going to tell him where he was going–he actually went for it!  Stephanie and I planned that first mystery trip together and it was a hit!  When others started to inquire about doing mystery trips, we figured we might be on to something.  After lots of research, paperwork, and learning about the travel industry, we ended up with Magical Mystery Tours where it is today!”

2. What demographic do many of your customers fall under?

“We have a few main groups of mystery travelers.  Couples are definitely are largest demographic (including honeymooners!) of mystery travelers, though we also have a lot of solo travelers, girls’ trips, and families.”

3. Your site lists minimum costs for weekend trips, which include airfare. However, what are customers’ options for “staycations” or road trips?

The vast majority of our trips do include airfare, though we’re happy to work with folks looking to do something closer to home.  For customers willing to drive a few hours or take a train, we can usually cut the starting cost for a mystery trip by a few hundred dollars.

4. Has MMT had any repeat customers? If so, why do you think they’ve come back?

“Yes!  As Magical Mystery Tours goes into our fourth year, we’re thrilled to be working with some of the same folks that took some of our first trips.  We have a mix of people who just really enjoy the mystery trip experience and want to go on additional trips without having to do the planning on their own.  And we’ve also been pleasantly surprised by folks who enjoyed their mystery trips, and really enjoyed the freedom of having someone else do the planning.  Some of these folks have specific destinations that they want to see, and we’re happy to plan those non-mystery trips, too.”

5. Toot your own horn. What are you the most proud of when it comes to MMT’s successes?

“Knowing that we’ve helped people take vacations that otherwise never would have happened is such a great feeling.  We love planning trips for everyone, though having a customer tell us that they just have no idea where to start and to trust us with a 25th anniversary trip or a trip to celebrate retirement or other huge life event is really special.  We love getting to play a part in people’s big events!

I’m also really proud of our team of travel planners.  Collectively, we’ve covered an awful lot of ground in our own travels and are really committed to finding whatever it is that’s the right destination for each traveler we work with.  It would be much easier if we were just planning a bunch of trips to Vegas or Paris or Disneyworld, but we look at each traveler with a set of fresh eyes and really try to use our background to figure out what they’d love—and often that’s a destination that they may not have on their radars or might not have ever even heard of before!”

Magical Mystery Tour Honeymoon Packet

6. Bad news is tough, but helpful too. What customer feedback struck a chord and became the catalyst for change within MMT?

“We invite all travelers to take a survey when they get back home, and that really helps us with fine tuning and to be sure we’re on the right track.  We’ve also learned that the anticipation of a mystery trip isn’t for everyone, so if we start working with a traveler who seems very apprehensive or seems to have a very specific trip in mind, we offer to scale back on the mystery and come up with a few options for them to chose from, or maybe to work with them on the destination, but keep the destination a surprise from the rest of their travel party.  It’s all about building amazing vacations that our clients love—if they don’t want a full mystery, we’re happy to work with them and find something that they’re a little more comfortable with.”

7. Safety is a very big factor for many travelers. Given the political climate of some regions in the world, what safety and refund policies do you have in place for your travelers?

“You’re hitting on some of our worst nightmares here!  For starters, we never send mystery trips to locations that are high risk.  Of course, the political climate can always change once a trip’s been booked, though we really try to stay away from areas that are high-risk.  On more than one occasion, weather has posed some safety concerns, and we’ve been able to work with the travel providers to regroup and rebook clients to another location that provides a safe and fun vacation.”

8. What advice or tips can you give readers who want to travel while keeping the balance between their full-time careers and growing families?

“This could be a post in and of itself!  When you’re planning a trip, you really need to know what you’re comfortable with and what balance you need to be able to relax and make the most of your vacation.  Do you need to stick to a certain budget?  Do you burn out if you’re on the move for 10 hours straight checking off every tourist attraction on your list?  Do you have health or food concerns that you have to manage while you’re away?  Before you even start planning, you should really think through what you (and the rest of your travel party!) want to get out of your vacation.  If you honestly want to relax, you probably don’t want to plan an excursion through 5 different European countries, though at the same time, if you want to explore a new culture, maybe an all inclusive resort in the Caribbean the place for you.  Thinking through what’s fun for you matters for all travelers regardless of other work commitments, family status, or other concerns.   Knowing this will shape your decisions on how long you’ll be away, your budget, your choice of activities, everything!”

9. OK, now it is your turn to tell us what your dream vacation would like! What three travel parameters would you give MMT if booking your own magical mystery tour?” 

“For one, I’d definitely want to go somewhere new!  Even though there’s lots of destinations I’d love to revisit, there’s something special about discovering a new destination.  Secondly, I’d want a place where there’s both an opportunity for both checking out local culture and still an opportunity to relax.  For instance, I just got back from Tokyo.  It was an amazing experience, but I think I needed a vacation to recover from that trip!  I find places like Tokyo and NYC overwhleming, so I’d want a bit of balance—not an all-inclusive resort that you never have to leave, though not a HUGE city, either.  Third, I really appreciate staying right in the middle of things—somewhere where you can just walk outside and start exploring.  Despite all my traveling, I’m pretty awful with directions, so I really appreciate not having to study a map (and likely get lost) each time I go out!”