AAA tries on a new look in Tacoma

Staff writerJanuary 4, 2014 

Lighting, monitors showing high definition scenes from around the world and new work stations set a modern tone at the remodeled AAA Travel Store in Tacoma.


Going somewhere?

AAA wants you to start in Tacoma. The agency wants your trip to start as soon as you walk in the door of its newly remodeled store on South Union Street.

Over the past decade or so, travel clients have migrated to the Internet, to Expedia, Priceline, Kayak and any number of other online ticketing sources.

Asks James Adams, creative director at the Seattle design studio 5ive Creative, “How do you reward the people who come in? You make it fun for them. Here, you’re immersed in travel.”

Adams’ studio designed the remodel of Tacoma’s AAA travel store. It was his goal, he said, to make the place a destination in itself.

Walk in the door and you’ll hear music — not pop, not familiar, but perhaps something from Nepal or New Guinea. You’ll see some large-screen, HD TV monitors depicting happy people enjoying themselves in faraway places.

“We reinvented the retail model for travel planning,” Jennifer Cook, AAA spokeswoman, said Friday. Cook said the company has invested more than a million dollars on the new concept.

Clients will find the same products and services they had previously found at the AAA center, but the presentation has entered a retail century informed by Crate & Barrel, Banana Republic and perhaps even Umpqua Bank.

You can still book a cruise, buy insurance, find a map, get a passport photo, secure a hotel reservation or apply for an international driver’s license, but you can now do it in style. You can still buy earplugs and eye shades and get a custom TripTik detailing your drive to Albuquerque, and you can still trade dollars for euros, but you’ll also be able to sit at one of nine computer “pods” with your travel agent, or take your complimentary coffee to the members lounge, or visit with a travel expert in one of five private rooms named for popular destinations including Hawaii and South America.

“It’s a new retail model,” said Cook. “This is going to be the future of retail travel.”

She said AAA will be monitoring client reaction and sales figures, and the new model could well be used at AAA stores when the time comes to remodel. This is the association’s first example of the change nationwide.

“Once we evaluate it, we plan to roll it out to other areas,” Cook said. “We call it ‘an engaging travel experience.’ You’re going to see it, hear it and smell it with the coffee.”

“We want to be fun and energizing from the get-go,” said Tacoma manager Molly Gruse.

Customers, said agent Renee McDonald, “get really excited, or they’re in shock, with a deer-in-the-headlights look. One customer said it reminded her of Disneyland.”

Customer Kathy Buchholz came in Friday from Gig Harbor.

“I don’t know what to make of it,” she said. “I don’t know whether it’s a store or a travel agency.”

Actually, from now on, it’s both.

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535

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