It was a simple family vacation that inspired Bruce Dickinson and his wife, Pam, to get involved in the tourism industry 21 years ago.
“We live in Sioux Falls, on the eastern side of South Dakota,” Bruce Dickinson said. “We decided to go west with our family and visit the Deadwood area. I saw buses from Canada and Chicago and all over the country in Deadwood and the Black Hills, but nobody had a sustainable program from the eastern side of the state.
“We said, ‘We can do that,’ so we partnered with a hotel and casino out there, and we did a lot of trips when gaming was new in Deadwood. Then, from there, the guests started asking us to take them somewhere else.”
For a few years, Dickinson balanced the growing tour business with his day job, teaching business and hospitality at a local college. Eventually, he left the academic world to focus on the couple’s growing company, Dickinson Travel.
Today, the Dickinsons serve customers from Sioux Falls and the surrounding area, taking them on trips that range from two-night jaunts to two-week explorations.
“There are some folks in the industry that do the same thing every year, year after year,” Bruce Dickinson said. “We do have some trips that we rotate in every two to three years. But we’re always looking for new experiences for our guests. It’s more work to develop a new trip, but people who travel with us appreciate new experiences.”
Recent tours have taken groups from South Dakota all the way to Savannah, Georgia; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and St. Louis. This summer, the Dickinsons will take a full coach on a trip to the Canadian Rockies, with stops in Calgary, Lake Louise and Banff.
The Dickinsons pride themselves on the amount of research they invest in developing trips.
“I conceptualize, research, plan and execute all of our tours,” Bruce Dickinson said. “One thing we’ve always done when we choose a new destination is to research it very thoroughly. We plot out a potential itinerary with potential vendors, and identify attractions and hotels in each town. Then we go and try to experience the trip as our guests will experience it. We basically scout out the trip prior to taking our guests on it. It gives us a better vantage point, and a lot of times, we’ll make changes to the itinerary because of it.”
That attention to detail and commitment to innovation has earned the Dickinsons a loyal following. They personally escort each tour and plan to operate about 20 departures this year. That schedule keeps the husband-and-wife team as busy as they want to be.
“We’re trying to balance it all,” Bruce Dickinson said. “Rather than let the business control us, we’re trying to control it and manage our trips. We don’t want to do too many, because we so thoroughly enjoy it.
“We’re not greedy and we’re not needy. Instead of trying to increase our numbers year after year, having a good time with people is going to be more sustainable for us. So we have no interest in growing — we’re just taking care of the guests we have.”
Sales Tip from Bruce
“Treat people as you want to be treated, and value people’s time. If you’re dealing with people in their twilight years, their time is really precious, so take it seriously. There’s nothing better than a well-planned, well-executed bus tour; but there’s nothing worse than one that isn’t planned well.”