By John Poimiroo
WorldPass Travel Group of El Dorado Hills virtually swept this year’s Walt Disney Resorts Symposium Awards, being honored 10 times, including receiving Disney’s prestigious “Partner” Award for lifetime achievement.
The Disney Symposium is an event at which the world renown entertainment park operator rewards its highest 30 producing travel planners. WorldPass President Bruce Bitnoff said, “Every one of the select businesses invited to the Symposium are there because they are one of Disney’s top volume producers. So, they expect to leave with at least one award. Three is considered to be unusual, and 10, well I’ve never seen it in the 20 years they have been honoring companies.”
WorldPass, which specializes in planning youth and group travel, became the first company to receive four Symposium Category Awards for the success of their Adventures America (celebrations), GET Travel (sports), MusicAmerica (performance) and USA Student Travel (education) trips.
The El Dorado Hills company also won Top Producer Awards for their Adventures America (Grad Night), GET Sports (sports) and USA Student Travel (youth tickets) programs and was awarded a Premier Award recognizing World Pass Travel Group as second among the top five companies in overall revenue produced for the Walt Disney Parks, worldwide.
Special honorary recognition was given to World Pass Travel executives William Hoh, Ripley Hunter and Bruce Bitnoff for their strategic planning contributions related to the re-engineering of Disneyland’s Grad Nite product.
Of those honored, WorldPass was the only company which produced business in all Disney parks, including Disneyland, Disney World, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Shanghai Disney Resort and Tokyo Disney Resort.
“We were overwhelmed,” WorldPass CEO Rip Hunter said. “It was embarrassing and amazing all at the same time.”
Bitnoff added before jesting, “Now we’re gonna have to find more wall space to hang these plaques. For the moment, they’re spread throughout our offices.”
Bitnoff said they expected to win an honor, but as award after award was announced, the combination was unbelievable.
The company got its start in 1976 and became the company it is today when Bitnoff’s USA Student Travel and Hunter’s GET Travel merged in 2005.
“We specialized in different segments: sports and music at GET Travel and education and celebration at USA Student Travel. By merging, we combined the diversity and specialization of four brands and the high volume buying power all into one,” said Hunter.
Today, WorldPass employs 45 travel planning specialists, is approximately a $25 million venture and is one of the largest group tour planners in America. Its operations vary from transporting elementary grade to Sacramento on field trips, to organizing East Coast Historic Tours for middle schools and arranging performance tours and sports teams events to High School and colleges. Its clientele varies from age 6 to college alumni. The University of California at Berkeley Alumni Association is one such group that uses WorldPass for its Athletic event travel planning.
The WorldPass team in El Dorado Hills provides start to finish itinerary planning, pricing, reservations, coordination, billing and service, including providing tour guides who specialize in coordinating youth and group tours.
“We have a 95 percent repeat rate,” said Bitnoff who noted, “if you don’t deliver, your reputation is ruined.” Hunter added, “Considering that every student may have siblings or classmates who may be on future trips and if even one parent has a concern with our service, then the entire group relationship could be compromised. So, we go out of our way to make all our guest satisfied and our group organizers look like heroes.” Hunter credits its annual volume of 80,000 travelers with their company’s great staff and service record and of course their incredibly strong industry relationships with partners in travel like Disney.
Ask Bitnoff and Hunter where they’ve sent tours recently and they’ll spin off a non-stop list of exciting programs … like two high school bands to Ireland for the St. Patrick’s Day parade; Boy Scout groups to National Parks; groups to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, Orlando, Anaheim, Hong Kong, Italy; an archery team from South Africa and a rugby team from New Zealand to tournaments in the U.S.; even a group going to the 2013 president’s Inauguration.
They even sent just enough groups to the Disney Parks last year, to win 10 of Disney’s Symposium Awards.