For Shawn Ashton Sports Travel Is In His Wheelhouse

Open Jaw Exclusive – Finding Their Niche
by Martha Chapman

Shawn Ashton

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 rd party 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 agents perform.

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 agency’s business.

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 football!”

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