Mark Hoffmann uses high-end customer service to build Sports Leisure Vacation’s brand

Clayton Whitehead, Vice President and Mark Hoffmann, Owner/Founder of Sports Leisure Vacations.

“I have the most amazing job on the planet!” said Mark Hoffmann, owner/founder of Sports Leisure Vacations. Hoffmann, a self-proclaimed baseball guy, began the Sacramento, California-based company over 40 years ago to take people to area baseball games. At the urging of customers, his business grew over the years to become a tour operator planning moderate, upscale tours for generations of loyal customers.

Q. What sets Sports Leisure Vacations apart from other tour operators?

A. We have a completely different concept. We put together vacations for our travel club, which currently has 8,000 active members. Over the course of our business, we have issued 53,000 travel cards! Many of our travelers have been with us for generations. We spoil our clients. We provide an at-home pick up service. Clients going on bus tours enjoy reserved seating and refreshments on the bus. Every tour has a dedicated tour director who is local to the travelers and understands the destination.

We are also good stewards of our clients’ funds. For example, sometimes the big fancy five-star lodging is not what you need for an overnight. We’ve educated our travelers that some places are “pass through” places where a three-star property is the right fit. We save the fancy place for extended stays. Our loyal customers have come to trust us and are willing to pay for the little things that make us different.

Learning about the creatures of the ocean on a Marine Discovery Cruise in Newport, Oregon.

Q. How has group travel changed since you began planning?

A. The millennials changed travel forever. Their mindset is that if travel is such a life-changing experience, why wait until you are 75 to do it! While Sports Leisure Vacations is not seeing millennials on their tours yet, they have influenced how their parents and grandparents think about travel.  Millennials taught other generational travelers to pull the curtain all the way back. “Stop, stand and stare” mentality has died. Travelers are asking for more. Planners need to incorporate experiences like a living history character to give the tour, a sampling of some of the foods from the time period or destination — something that can be experiential.  

Q. Tell me about a type of tour you enjoy sharing with your clients.

Group on the balcony at Carnegie Hall, NY.

A. People like fun! We do a lot of “Mystery Tours.” When I find a place that I know clients would love, but not necessarily consider paying to go, it becomes a mystery tour. A standing joke among the participants each tour is to say, “We are going to Hawaii.” It was the most fun when we really took a group mystery tour to Hawaii. Planning a mystery trip, you have to do your homework. We look for the things that aren’t going to work before taking customers there in an effort to head it off. Often our mystery tours are so successful they become a known tour that we continue to book. This sometimes gets us ahead to knowing new suppliers – you can’t do this business alone – you need connections.

Q. What advice would you give someone who wants to begin a career as a travel adviser?

A. Join an association. Associations can do so much for your business. There is so much learning among colleagues through association membership that can make our business better. Find an association to fit the needs of your company. I joined National Tour Association (NTA) in 1989 and have since became active in the leadership of the organization in effort to move the needle of the industry forward. I have made many memorable contacts over the years.

Mark Hoffmann
Sports Leisure Vacations
(916) 361-2051