Andrew Chmura took his experience as a successful collegiate and professional tennis player and applied his insider knowledge to creating unique luxury travel experiences for tennis enthusiasts who were looking for more than just standard tour offerings. Andrew has competed on the satellite circuit, played for the University of Notre Dame, held the No. 1 ranking in New England as a junior, and is a USPTR accredited teaching professional. He loves to share his passion and travels around the world to assemble the finest tennis conditions for his clients and to make his experience profitable for them.
Chmura created Topnotch Tennis Tours in 2000 before merging with Grand Slam Tennis Tours, initially founded in 1988 by Dave Kenney. In 2004, Grand Slam Tennis Tours merged with Topnotch Tennis Tours, and the entity has recently evolved to share management with a professional tennis agency: Topnotch Management. This merger has given Grand Slam Tennis Tours the ability to craft custom tennis-specific tours unrivaled within the tourism industry.
How do the experiences you offer at Grand Slam Tennis Tours give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of the regions where you travel?
It begins with the tournaments themselves. They all offer unique flavors and cultures, and each atmosphere is absolutely a product of the place. The polite tradition of Wimbledon, the rowdy, fun-loving Aussie Open crowds, the show and dazzle of a night session at the US Open. Every stadium around the world presents a microcosm of the local culture and personality, and we try to emphasize this throughout the rest of the tour. We enjoy local food and offer excursions that connect people with the history and culture of the place; we give our guests the chance to fully embrace the locale, and nearly all of them do.
How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?
Initially, I had just finished my tennis career at Notre Dame and on the pro circuit, so I would use my connections and take my friends and we all just tried to have a good time and break even for the trip. Our needs were basic: food, housing and tickets, and somehow I was the one responsible for everything. Fast forward some years and now we’re moving thousands of guests a year, commanding room blocks at great hotels, and booking custom excursions all over the world. It’s been a great ride, and we’re not done. Our goal is to offer premium tennis experiences to every event all over the world, and each year we expand our capabilities closer to that goal. Last year we went to Rio for the first time, and next year we’re looking to expand to Tokyo in the fall. Of course, I still try to have a good time, and sometimes I invite my friends.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
We mention our tennis playing experiences as a line-item inclusion on the “What’s Included” section, but I can’t stress how important our tennis sessions are and how much guests enjoy them. Operationally, we work hard to organize court time at all tournaments, always on the local surfaces – on Wimbledon we play on grass at the Roehampton Club, in Paris we’re on clay at the Tennis Club de Paris, and in Australia we play at the famed Kooyong, site of the original Australian Open. It’s an understatement to say that our guests are tennis fans, they, like everyone in our office, probably sway more towards obsessive. And after watching tennis for a few days all you really want to do is get out on the court and play. It’s part of the experience; part of what connects our guests to what the watch the pros do on court. The court is also a place where we communicate our expertise: myself and my staff have strong tennis backgrounds and we’ve devoted our lives to the game. I feel that being able to share this with guests, to give them tips and advice, to be a leader on the court as much as we are on the rest of the tour, is important to establishing our authenticity.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider joining you on a tour to an international tennis event?
I’d like them to understand that I can’t actually predict the exact date and time when Serena or Roger Federer will play. This might be the most common question we field. Part of me wishes I could, but part of me loves that I can’t. For me, that’s the beauty of the sport – the uncertainty of who advances, the surprising runs, the play conditions, time of day, mood of the crowd. It’s the perfect collision of all of these aspects that creates a great tennis experience.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
Social media has been fun for the tennis industry and our guests increasingly use it to shape their tournament experiences. At Wimbledon this year I was at Centre Court watching Andy Murray and I distinctly remember the growing murmur through the crowd as people learned on their phones that Novak Djokovic had lost. Five years ago it would have been a quieter murmur, and ten years ago nearly nothing at all. The next day I got a Snapchat from a guest giving me a heads up on a tight match on an outside court. Two minutes later I was there. Tennis is a game with strong respect for tradition but it’s also highly sensitive to technological changes, on and off the court. The social connectivity of our guests is an exciting trend, and it’s one that supports the overall tourism experience.
What sets Grand Slam Tennis Tours apart from other, similar, organizations?
Until recently I would have pointed towards the personal interaction and relationships we have with guests, but last year we partnered up with Topnotch Management, a boutique player agency, which lets us create incredible synergy between the professional game and the tourism experiences we provide for our guests. There are many advantages and it’s a relationship that gives in both directions, but the most apparent and obvious is to bring current pro players face to face with our clients. Want to play and learn with the 5 times US Open champions Bryan Brothers? We can arrange that and even include a video analysis during a dinner with them! Want to sit down for a BBQ at our Wimbledon guesthouse and pass a burger to world #22 Steve Johnson? No other tennis tourism company can craft experiences like this.
What is one insider tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
I always recommend people get to the outside courts, especially during the first week of a Grand Slam. Each of the Slams has a special main stadium and of course it’s great to take it in and enjoy the atmosphere, but it’s the random outside court where you get treated to a scorcher of a 5-set match between the veteran and the underdog. It’s where you can get close enough to see the felt explode off the ball and hear the whistle of the topspin. The outside courts are where players launch their careers, and where you get to witness torches passed from one generation to the next. In a general travel sense, this is something like getting off the beaten path.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
A strategy that I employ, and that I encourage in my staff as well, is to engage with people and to do so sincerely. Whether it’s guests, people we work with, or strangers you meet at a tournament, our business grows person by person. I would stress that this isn’t simple chatting people up with a sales pitch. But it’s more about getting a haircut every year for the past 8 years from a guy named James in Wimbledon Park so that when one of my guests needs a haircut I’ve got this relationship in place. We live in an increasingly small world and the very best asset my business has is the relationships we develop.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
I’m a good listener and I try my best to respond to what I hear. If a guest mentions that they would really love to see a specific west-end show, whether they say it to me or to their friend, there’s nothing easier than making a call and booking them tickets to the show. It feels great to do, first of all, and secondly, I know they’ll travel with us again. Opportunities to please are readily available, on the largest and smallest scales, and to find them you just have to listen.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
Seeing Roger Federer in person has brought tears to more than a handful of our guests. When Federer lost to Nadal in the 2009 Aussie Open final, he cried and we all followed suit. And a few months later when Federer beat Roddick in the 5th set at Wimbledon, it might have been the only time guests ever cried in sympathy with Andy Roddick.
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