A 2017 survey conducted and released by Spanish-language television network Univision captured several distinctives of the U.S. Hispanic travel market. The survey’s findings revealed that Hispanic travelers are 31 percent more likely to take multiple vacations per year than non-Hispanics. Additionally, they are more likely to take longer vacations (five-plus nights), travel internationally, and participate in multigenerational vacations than their non-Hispanic counterparts.
One Faith Travel Association member engaged in the Hispanic travel market is Sarah Qey Tours, based in Houston, Texas. Under the leadership of Sarah Qeyros, the company has grown exponentially since its 2012 start, due in large part to its focus on the Hispanic market.
“When I started this business, I recognized the many changes occurring in the travel industry, with many different services offered. I decided to focus on group travel in the Hispanic market,” says Qeyros.
An early emphasis for Qeyros’ outreach to the Hispanic market was offering Spanish-language tours and services. Growing up in Brazil, Qeyros spoke Portuguese but learned Spanish, English, and French as well. Her own fluency in multiple languages led her to offer multilingual services.
“All of our employees are bilingual in Spanish and English so that they are equipped to serve our customers in either language,” says Qeyros. “Hispanic travelers like to book with agencies that speak their language.”
While her staff members had the language part down, most did not have experience in the travel industry. So, she provided professional training for all of them through courses, webinars, workshops, and conferences to get them up to speed.
While language is a consideration when it comes to her customers, it is less important of a factor when Qeyros looks for destinations and supplier partners. “Only around 30 percent of my supplier partners are bilingual,” notes Qeyros, who adds that she places a higher priority on the supplier’s ability to provide what she and her Hispanic travelers may need.
Qeyros’ journey in the industry began with her love of travel and her immigration to Miami in 1994, where she eventually opened a travel agency—even though it didn’t start as one. It began instead as a consulting business, but as time went on, Qeyros found herself consulting less regarding investments and and more frequently offering advice about vacations and travel.
Eight years later she moved to Houston and spent some time in the field of higher education. Unfortunately, her new career prevented her from traveling as much as she wanted, so she made a U-turn back into the travel industry, opening her tour operator business in 2012.
Her company soon became a family affair, with her son and sister involved, as well as other relatives. This presented its own unique set of challenges.
“At the beginning it was very difficult, with so many disagreements,” says Qeyros. “But once we aligned our duties and departments, we began growing together and getting stronger. Our employees and outside sales representatives are very happy to see how well we do work together.”
In the company’s earliest stages, Qeyros offered small group tours for Spanish speakers to various locations around the world. One group requested a tour to the Holy Land, and from there she decided to specialize in faith journeys for Spanish-speakers. Soon other organizations, schools, and churches were seeking tours to the Holy Land and other faith destinations, and Sarah Qey Tours became a go-to tour operator for faith groups in the Houston area.
“I believe that our company is successful because our customers trust us. We are present in the community, with a physical office customers can visit Monday through Friday.”
In addition to its original Houston location, the company also now has offices in Israel, Brazil, and Mexico. Qeyros’ customers hail from many different states in the U.S., as well as Canada, South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. She estimates that 60 percent of her clientele is Hispanic.
Not only does Qeyros have a diverse customer base, her company’s list of destinations has diversified as well. While the Holy Land is still the most popular faith-based destination, her company also now offers trips to Greece, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, and Jordan. In the next couple of years, Qeyros says her company will begin offering trips to Brazil and Armenia/Georgia as well, with itineraries that focus on both the religious and cultural aspects of the two areas.
Personally, she says that Ouro Preto (a town in eastern Brazil) and the Irish sites associated with Saint Patrick are two areas she would like to visit. Of places she’s already been, Qeyros puts Israel, Cairo, and Rome at the top of her personal list.
During the current pandemic, Sarah Qey Tours is focusing more on American destinations and itineraries.
“I think this will be a great opportunity to sell U.S. vacation packages to the Hispanic public,” says Qeyros, who adds that most of these itineraries will be more centered on historical and cultural stops.
Plus, her company’s FTA membership will continue to be a valuable resource.
“FTA gives support to those who are planning religious tours by providing ideas and itineraries,” explains Qeyros. “It’s important for operators to be part of FTA in the eyes of pastors and group leaders.”
Top photo: A Hispanic group visiting the Palace of Versailles as part of a tour that combined Paris and Israel.
Photos by Sarah Qey Tours