Tours and activities partnerships like the one between Atlas Obscura and Chase seem like a win-win. Card companies acquire knowledge about trends in the sector, and what travelers are demanding. Meanwhile, tour operators get access to loyal consumers willing to shell out for the trip of a lifetime.
As tours and activities become more in demand around the world, some credit cards are looking to be more than just the payment method you use to book a tour — card companies want to offer or lead the tours themselves.
Card providers like American Express, Citi, MasterCard, and Visa have offered exclusive discounts to flights, hotels, and tourist attractions for years and VIP access to events like concerts. But many cards still largely leave cardholders on their own when it comes to customized and tailored tours during their trips.
Now at least one company is starting to move more directly into in tours and activities. Chase has recently turned to travel publisher Atlas Obscura to create tours and experiences for its Chase Sapphire cardholders.
Atlas Obscura will offer 20 experiences, including multi-day tours to Mexico City, Colombia, and the Galápagos Islands, two tentpole events, and other experiences to Chase Sapphire cardholders during the next year. Cardholders gained pre-sale access to all trips on October 1, and the rest of Atlas Obscura’s audience can book the trips starting November 1.
Chase worked with Atlas Obscura on choosing which tours and experiences would be offered to cardholders, said Rose Annis, Atlas Obscura’s director of sales strategy and marketing. “For example, the development and approval process of the custom event in New York (New York Through Time) has been different than the international trips, and those trips will differ from our pre-existing events,” she said.
Atlas Obscura will handle all bookings and the tours and experiences will be co-branded as Atlas Obscura and Chase Sapphire products.
Atlas Obscura began running multi-day tours to far-flung destinations such as Iran and Romania in 2016, initially leaning on other tour operators for logistics and eventually managing and leading most of its tours internally. The company currently offers about 50 tours to destinations five continents (minus Australia and Antarctica) that are based on the more than 15,000 places and foods featured in Atlas Obscura stories and books. The company plans to double the number of trips offered in 2019.
Chase couldn’t be reached for comment before publication.
Credit Card Branded Experiences
Annis said the partnership is a great fit because Chase is looking to offer cardholders an off-the-beaten-path look at destinations that Atlas Obscura is known for. “All of Atlas Obscura’s experiences are designed to enable exploration and to nourish our audience’s sense of curiosity,” she said. ” For us, it’s not about letting someone into a velvet-roped area, or giving them an extra discount at a bar (though those are always nice perks), but about getting them involved with something wondrous, smart, and surprising.”
Atlas Obscura essentially negotiated a “first-look deal” with Chase on all of its standard event programming, and Chase also has the option to select which Atlas Obscura events it may want to sponsor, said Annis. Atlas Obscura’s trips are typically about dozen participants and sell out quickly.
“For these, our team had full ownership of the programming, but we worked together with Chase to develop the branded content and social messaging associated with the experiences,” she said. “We maintained a similar process for the trips. Chase received a sneak peek of our 2019 departures to claim for their cardmembers, but the itineraries are locked in and curated by our talented trips team.”
Chase is one of the early movers in credit cards working with a tour operator to offer tours directly to cardholders. MasterCard launched its Priceless Cities program in 2011, but most of the tours and experiences are not multi-day tours like Atlas Obscura will offer to Chase Sapphire cardholders. It will be interesting to see if Chase and other cards eventually launch their own in-house tours and activities rather than relying on outside tour operators, or if they’ll leave the expertise to operators with decades of experience.
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Photo credit: Chase Sapphire is offering its cardholders exclusive access to Atlas Obscura tours across the globe. Jim Peaco / National Park Service