Golf vacations can rise and fall when tied to how ground transportation is handled. Many people opt for your standard car rental and this situation does work for those who believe that their own personal connection to the wheel is paramount to having an ideal time.
But, there’s a flip side. Ever hear of flat tires? Unexpected detours? Car rentals not sufficiently roomy and comfortable. The litany of horror stories can clearly escalate and when time is a major element it can certainly pay to eliminate all the “chance” situations that can cause your visit to be seriously derailed.
When a golf group hits a certain number — say four or more — there are clear benefits in hiring a driver for the full duration. This option permits someone most knowledgeable about the local roads, has inside knowledge of non-golf related elements such as food and attractions and likely has the key inside contacts to fast track things when a schedule necessitates such actions.
On a recent media visit to Branson, Missouri — I was with several other journalists and having a driver fast tracked all of the minor details that can often prove overwhelming in order to stay on time and get to where you need to be — most especially when relating to tee times. Branson has made major strides in becoming a golf destination of note — primarily through the activities tied to Big Cedar Lodge and other area courses of note.
Overseas touring companies in Ireland and Scotland have clearly made an impact when people are attempting to do as much as possible in a constrained time frame. Having someone else handling the driving logistics permits those going to fully enjoy their time, the people they are sharing it with and thereby ensuring lasting positive memories.
Born and raised in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, just an hour south of Branson, Missouri, Joe Gunnels was raised knowing what it was to work hard — doing hard work — but at the same time having a love and appreciation for the beautiful area we live. Gunnels was taught honesty and integrity and hospitality along with the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would want them to do unto you.
THE GUNNELS STORY —
At 20 years old I wasn’t thinking that I wanted to be in a career of public speaking, but I knew that I liked to talk to people and that I loved the area I live. My second year out of high school a friend of mine asked me if I would be interested in being a local tour guide. He said, “You like people and you like to talk. I think you would do a good job and would like it!” He was right. 10 years later, in 1988, I started my company.
You wake in the morning—what’s the driving passion?
To be the best tour guide and tour company operator I can be. To treat people, all people, clients, staff, all like the VIP’s they are.
What brought about your involvement in starting a transportation company on the immediate Branson area?
We really are not a shuttle service, but we do charter our Mercedes Sprinter van for what we like to call “Private Excursions or Charters”.
What separates your efforts from those of your competition?
Mainly it’s our choice of vehicle. Choosing the Mercedes Sprinter van and having it customized was a great decision and a definite part of our success. Our drivers are local tour guides with extensive backgrounds in the Branson entertainment and tourism industries, so they are excellent drivers and great hosts as well.
The identity of Branson has clearly grown over the last several years – what do you think is chiefly responsible for that widening awareness?
Hospitality! Not the word or title, but the actions of the people that live and work here. Yes, we have amazingly beautiful scenery, awesome golf courses, clear water streams and lakes, but what sets this area apart is the heart, soul and hospitality of the “locals”.
Who is your customer and how do you go about branding/marketing your efforts so those coming are aware of your existence and track record?
We do very little advertising, but we do have a good web presence. We rely heavily on Word-of-Mouth advertising, and we hire excellent drivers/guides, take excellent care of people, and we do it in an excellent vehicle at a fair price.
What percentage of your company efforts is involved with those coming to Branson for golf activities as the primary emphasis?
Currently less than 10%. But, we know that is going to increase due to the new Tiger Wood designed course, Payne’s Valley, along with all the other beautiful courses and the national and international media coverage the area is getting.
Plenty of companies tout the importance of customer service. Define the term and the approach you follow in your daily efforts.
I think of customer service as being special effort given to special situations, circumstances, problems. For instance, we have a No Refund policy if a reservation is canceled less than 48 hours before the tour date. Most of the time it isn’t because they want to cancel, but because they need to. So far, I have refunded every payment, even though by policy we don’t have to. This is just one of many ways we go above and beyond.
Your biggest pet peeve is what?
Inconsistencies in quality of service and goods at the businesses we work with on some of our tours.
The most significant short and long term challenges you are facing as a company is what?
Time! Short term, I need more time to do more marketing and sales. Long term I want to expand into other areas of the Ozarks, and that is going to take more time than I can afford at this point. So, once again the challenge is “time!”
Best advice you ever received – what was it and who from?
Wisdom from the Bible, where Jesus said we should “do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” I fail at this constantly, but I continue to work at doing better at it each new day!
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