Local firm truly a family affair
Published 11:00 am Thursday, January 21, 2016
By BETH ALSTON
AMERICUS — With the Duncans, it really is a family affair.
Founded by Bobbie and Terry Duncan, the Center for Educational Adventure (CFEA) is a provider of trips which can be personalized for their clients. The Duncans, along with their son Terance Duncan Jr., through CFEA, are operators for Road Scholar, an international agency celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
The local, privately-held company, CFEA, is one of some 250 such businesses across the country that provide travel services through a strategic partnership with Road Scholar. The Duncans’ daughter is also associated with the family business, heading up the Tennessee office of CFEA.
The local company was a natural off-shoot for Bobbie Duncan, having worked as director Elderhostel at Georgia Southwestern State University for many years. Beginning in 1984, Elderhostel had only one program in Americus, according to Bobbie, but continued to grow until her retirement in 2008, after which Elderhostel no longer existed at GSW.
“I love my work,” Bobbie said. “That’s why I’m still doing this. I liked it so much (at GSW), I just wanted it to grow and grow.”
Terance joined the family business in 2011. He said that CFEA, operating with five full-time employees and 18 group leaders, covers a large portion of the southeastern United States.
Of the group leaders, Terance said, “They do anywhere from 25 to 30 weeks down to a couple of weeks, and live all over the Southeast.”
In 2014, CFEA ran 103 programs, bringing about 3,000 people into Georgia and the Southeast. Their customers are from all over the United States, Canada and Europe, South America and Australia.
“Most of the people we have are not from the South,” Terance said. “They’re from California, New York, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and they want to come down to the South and visit these places that are common to us: Atlanta, St. Simons, Charleston. A lot of them have never been to many of these places.”
CFEA currently works in six states, Terance said, in 12 different cities/locations and are adding several more states and cities for 2016. They’re starting programs in Mobile, Ala., for instance, and Greenville, S.C., and Asheville, N.C., and Norfolk, Va., and the Outer Banks.
They’re also putting together motorcoach programs which would include Chattanooga, Nashville and Memphis, Tenn.
CFEA will also roll out a program focusing around the Savannah Film Festival.
The average customer for CFEA is retired, although others use the business as well. Bobbie mentioned a grandfather who booked an Atlanta New Year’s program with his 20-year-old grandson.
“Most are retired because they’re looking to travel but they don’t want to just go somewhere and sit in a hotel and wonder where they’re going,” Bobbie said. “These people are real intelligent … folks, well-traveled. A lot of them have been all over the world. They want to come and learn something. So we provide field trips and presentations, entertainment. We take them to events in the city like the Sound of Charleston, or in Atlanta, to the symphony, whatever is going on … we do something every day and night.”
Terry said there are a lot of “behind the scenes things” that the average person would never see.
“In Charleston, for example,” he said, “we take them behind the scenes in the kitchen and the chef will welcome them, show them what he does and how he prepares dishes and let them sit there and eat it.”
Terry also mentioned Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. They have a program that allows behind the scenes tours of the historic theater that reveals places the general public never gets to see.
Bobbie says they also offer an entirely different area of what people want to do, offering trips for inter-generationals, too, such as Atlanta (a night at the zoo), Fernandina, Fla., St. Simons Island, Chattanooga (a night at the aquarium) for children ages 9-12, and some younger.
CFEA, through Road Scholar, does a huge mail-out every year to get the word out about what they offer.
Terance said people know the brand Road Scholar.
“No one knows CFEA,” he said. “We’re behind the scenes. We work for Road Scholar out of Boston.”
Bobbie stresses, “We own our own business. We are a subcontractor for [Road Scholar].
“People who are well-traveled might see CFEA programs in the catalog and have traveled with us before and want to again because of our high-quality Road Scholar trips,” Terance said.
People mainly know the Road Scholar/Elderhostel brand, which pays for the majority of the advertising, the catalogs, mail-outs, e-mail, while CFEA is behind the scenes putting it all together.
“We operate the programs, manage them from start to finish,” Bobbie said. “We manage all the vendors.:
When he came into the business in 2011, Terance said he had no idea how complex the so many moving parts are involved in this business.
“A lot of people don’t understand what we do,” he said. “What we do is a niche travel market. We’re basically the vendor putting it together for Road Scholar. We’re not a travel agent.”
Terance is obviously very proud to be a part of the business that his mother built.
“I couldn’t believe what Mom had built and the complexity of activity to get to this level,” he said. “I don’t know if it could be replicated. I’m not sure many people could create these programs, which has essentially created business for Road Scholar and created business for us, too. That’s something she’s been very good at, constantly creating new programs.”
For example, Charleston, S.C. is a huge draw.
“We started there in 2011, and had two different programs we created for Road Scholar: a culinary and a signature program.” Terance said.
Plantations, homes and gardens are on this program.
“We ran eight of them and we had 247 that year,” he continued.
In 2015, CFEA had 30 programs running in Charleston, total of eight different types of trips, and a total of almost 900 people.
“That shows you the growth,” he said.
The Duncans own travel experiences lend them the know-how needed to create programs to attract travelers.
“A lot of them (programs), I will just around and think up,” Bobbie said.
“For example, last year, people don’t just want to go to Charleston. If they’re going to fly from California, they’ll want to see Charleston and Savannah. … We put together a Tale of Two Cities; The Trilogy: Charleston to Savannah to Jekyll Island. You think of what you’d like to do if you went somewhere. She also came up with Atlanta to Asheville. Memphis to Nashville to New Orleans. All kinds of trips.
“It has made us the second largest provider in the United States for Road Scholar, out of 250,” she said.
Terance said, “Some people don’t want to travel with a group but some do. You meet a lot of neat people and you get great pricing and that’s one of the values of Road Scholar. Our average group is from 30 to 40.”
Terry commented that they’re working on being number one while Bobbie remains modest, and says, “No, we’re happy just doing what we are and doing a good job of what we’re doing.”
“That’s the key,” Terance said. “We’re graded with a microscope by Road Scholar. They have a huge staff that go over the customer evaluations.
“Our group leaders are really the key to the success of these programs. We have unbelievable group leaders. Some who’ve been doing it 20 to 25 years,” he said.
“This a family business now, Bobbie said. “All but one of my children works in this business. We want to keep a strong business so that it can be handed down. We want to do good work. So many people ask us what we do and we tell them they can’t really understand it.”
CFEA makes its revenue from the people who sign up for the programs. They pay the fees directly to Road Scholar in Boston and CFEA is paid by Road Scholar. Bobbie said they have to price out trips and send a budget for every single program to Road Scholar.
Terance said Road Scholar is a partner vendor but occasionally they will have an outside vendor come in and want to do a cruise ship to Charleston that coordinates with one of the Charleston programs . CFEA will price out a package for organizing transportation, the different venues they will visit, restaurants, etc.
“We have sold some packages to groups like that in the past,” Terance said, “but 99.5 percent of our work is done for Road Scholar.”
“What most people enjoy the most when they go on the programs (and we do too when we go), is once you pay your fee, you can leave your purse at home,” Terry said. “Everything is paid for. There’s no tipping. … Basically everything’s included — rooms, transportation, instructors, most meals, tours. It’s all planned. You don’t have to go to Charleston or wherever and then try to figure out where you want to go.”
“Because we do so much business in these places, Charleston, Savannah, Atlanta for example, the hotels and motels give us a great rate. You wouldn’t be able to get those rates,” Bobbie said.
“That’s the value of Road Scholar,” Terance said.