SASS Global Travel, or SGT, acquired Puerto Rico-based Rincon Surf School in August 2012, and has been steadily building the program for a little under a year. The travel company, which is geared towards action sports enthusiasts who are down to travel to access the best pow or waves, has had a presence in Rincon since the early days of SASS Global Travel.
“It started small — just a handful of clients down for surf guiding in 2010 and 2011,” says SGT’s Managing Director Travis Moore. “We just always loved the place and how easy it was to access great surf from the east coast without a passport. In the Summer of 2011, our guiding staff met the original owners, completely by chance, skiing in Bariloche, Argentina. Turns out they had a second home down there. They invited us to check out the surf school in Puerto Rico when we returned, and that kicked off nearly a year's worth of due diligence and negotiation.”
The result has been the extension of SGT’s South American snowboard program, which has helped supplement the company’s revenue and create a fun outlet for surfers looking for guided tours and coaches. We caught up with Moore to hear the specifics on the acquisition, the changes SGT is undergoing as a result of adding the Puerto Rican program to its line up, and his take on the current state of the travel industry.
Why did the addition of Rincon surf school make sense for SASS Global Travel at this point?
It's all about seasonal balance. If you look at our business in Argentina and how many clients we have down there, it's easy to think that we're raking in cash. Even though it's a premium product with some of the best coaches and guides in the world, it only runs for six weeks. The money we make had to fund a year-round business with year-round employees — and we knew from past experience that running a business on six weeks of income is pretty tough. Rincon Surf School offered us the chance to balance our season and generate positive revenue during the Fall and Winter; before the Argentina sales season really takes off.
Did buying a business in Puerto Rico change the way SGT is structured? Who does what?
It changed a few things, but not a lot. We operate the two businesses separately — so SGT's structure didn't change at all, and Rincon Surf School is a Puerto Rican company. Obviously we cross over, since some of our staff for both companies live here in Puerto Rico now. We're a much smaller company than most people realize, the year-round management team is made up of three principals; Travis Moore (Managing Director), brother and partner Lucas Moore (Program Director), along with David Burg (General Manager and Director of Finance). Whit Arnold recently became our new Surf School Director, and of course we have an amazing team of pro guides and coaches in Argentina that make our program down there possible. We'd also be lost without our posse of interns to make coffee for us.
How does this acquisition strengthen SGT? Rincon?
Wow, it's been amazing in too many ways to count. We were talking just the other day about how die-hard Argentina clients and fans used to be the only way we could afford to eat in December. The early registrations were so critical for Argentina, because it was the only income we had. Rincon Surf School takes some of the pressure off SGT during the northern hemisphere Winter (along with adding plenty of operational stress in Puerto Rico, of course), and allows us to operate year-round — which seemed pretty elusive before.
What are your plans for both of the companies moving forward? Plans to expand on Rincon?
We've got a few more tricks up our sleeve, and its really tempting to get into new projects down here — there's lots of opportunity. Even though we don't directly provide lodging at our location in Rincon, we'll be working more with outside lodging partners to develop that side of the business. We were actually featured alongside a new lodging partner as part of the Travel Channel's Hotel Impossible this year. We'll be launching a new website next year along those lines, but its still in the development stages. As for SGT, we're just focusing on delivering the best possible client experience in Argentina at the moment. We have multiple options for possible expansion with both surf and snow, and some new developments recently, but that's off in the distance ; you will see some other signature trips in the near future. Timing is crucial and right now we are focused on SGT Argentina and Puerto Rico.
Did the original founders stay on board to continue overseeing the surf schools as part of the acquisition, or will SGT staff step in?
It's 100% operated by us and a top-notch surf coaching staff. After a really short transition period last year with the previous owner (only a few weeks), we jumped right in. Some of the senior coaching staff stayed on board, which really helped us out. The website was in shambles and the building was in rough shape. Lots of sweat equity and online technical work went into making the surf school a viable business again. One of the major accomplishments was taking the school to Number 0ne on TRip Advisor for Activities in Rincon Puerto Rico. Thanks to the SGT and Rincon Surf school management team and the staff’s hard work, Testimonials came flying in, taking us from dead last to number one. We're stoked on the challenge here, and we'll grow it even more once the high season rolls around again. Working on new programs for You can check out this program at www.rinconsurfschool.com
Here’s a quick look at the scene in Puerto Rico, including an amazing sustainable treehouse that’s available as accommodations to SGT travelers:
Does SGT have plans to acquire any companies within the skateboarding market, or otherwise?
Not at this time. We learned awhile ago that you have to be really genuine when it comes to action sports; it took us a long time to gain any sort of respect in the surf travel business, and we still have a long way to go. There's a great skate scene in Puerto Rico that a lot of our clients and staff take advantage of, but its just not part of our core business right now. We're sticking with snow and surf for the foreseeable future.
What do you think is the overall state of travel these days, and what opportunities do you see that exist to help grow the industry and your business?
The travel industry is so diverse that it’s tough to tell sometimes. We're not your Grandma's travel agency that books cruises and European wine tours, so we don't really see that side of it. But, what is definitely growing is people's desire for experience-based adventures. The chief marketing officer for Tough Mudder (Alex Patterson) put it really well in a recent article, saying that "experience is the new luxury good." We push people hard, and especially in Argentina — every client accomplishes something they never thought possible. We aim for the same thing with each of our surf school clients that walk through the door, and with everything we offer. I think there's huge opportunity in the travel industry, but you have to find your niche and be the best at providing the experience your clients want; even if they don't know what they want.
Anything else you want to share with people in the industry?
Yes! We're offering a killer pro-deal for industry professionals that want to come and experience the Argentina backcountry as part of our program this year. It's not a published price and it varies by session, so just send over an email to firstname.lastname@example.org along with verifiable industry affiliation and we'll get you a quote for you and up to one guest. It's not just a token discount either… this is the real deal. Check out the Program at www.sassglobaltravel.com/argentina