For Shawn Ashton Sports Travel Is In His Wheelhouse
Open Jaw Exclusive – Finding Their Niche by Martha Chapman
More and more Canadian agents are finding their
own niche when it comes to selling travel. But how small can your niche be
– and still earn you a decent living? Open Jaw has discovered 5 agents who are
following their passion… professionally.
The 4th in our niche travel series,
focuses on Shawn Ashton who handles one of the most prestigious travel accounts
in the country. You might be forgiven for thinking that tiny Bolton,
Ont. (population 26,000) could even support a travel agency, much less Shawn’s
Sportscorp which is the chosen agency of the National Hockey League.
And not just the NHL. “This year we will do over 900 sports
team groups,” President Shawn Ashton told Open Jaw. “We work with the NHL,
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment which includes the Raptors and the Marlies,
along with the 20 teams of the North American Soccer League.”
The agency has a long track record in professional sports
specialization. “My mother bought Sterling Holidays here in Bolton from her
employer and decided she wanted a niche. That was back in 1982 and when she
decided she wanted to specialize in sports team travel she really was a woman
in a man’s world,” says Ashton. “But by 1985 she had the Maple Leafs’ account.”
In 2004 Ashton and his wife in turn purchased the business
from Shawn’s mother, and have grown the business by some 600% since then.
Sportscorp is now a Uniglobe affiliate.
It should be pointed out that Sportscorp does the hotels but
doesn’t handle the group air for the Leafs or Raptors, who use charter services
for their team flights. But they handle flights for all the other teams as well
as flights for referees, doctors, scouts and management – which can be crucial
to an organization too.
“Why do they pick us? Without sounding too clichéd, it’s the
service. A lot in that world happens outside normal business hours and we’ve
always offered a 24 hr. service from us, and not from a 3
call centre. There are 5 of us who share the duty, and our clients love
to know they’ll get someone who knows who they are when they call at 11 p.m. on
a Saturday night, stuck at an airport in a storm.” Weather is a huge concern
for Sportscorp Travel and anyone who shivers to remember last winter’s endless
snowstorms in eastern North America will appreciate what a juggling act these
Ashton is careful to thank and praise his staff; 13 in all
and 6 who work exclusively with the sports teams which comprise 80% of the
And we couldn’t talk to him without asking: So… any deals on
tickets? He diplomatically responds that the teams are “pretty good to us” but
that he’s also a proud season ticket holder for the Leafs, Raptors and TFC.
Next up? Ashton hopes to soon finalize plans to open an
office in the U.S., in Oregon. “We are still on a growth pattern and
while we are well known within our circles of hockey and soccer, there’s always