OBeirne helps operate Spanish tour agency for travelers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Natchez &8212; A little wanderlust has taken Daniel Joseph O&8217;Beirne a long way. The Natchez native since 1998 has operated a travel and tour agency in Spain, where he and two partners cater to middle- to high-end travelers.

An Internet-based company, MagicalSPAIN.com is based in Seville, about two hours from Madrid, and operates throughout Spain and Portugal.

More than his desire to travel sparked the entrepreneur to go abroad to begin a business, he said this week during a visit with his Natchez family, including mother, Mary Jane Gaudet, and father, Danny O&8217;Beirne.

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Studying Spanish at Cathedral High School may have been an influence, he said. &8220;And it was just growing up in this historic city and getting an appreciation for old things and beautiful things.&8221;

He spent time with his grandfather, the late Tom Reed, talking about history, and his family connections both in Natchez and New Orleans resulted in exposure to fine foods.

A life-threatening freak accident prompted him to dare to do something out of the ordinary. As he traveled through Jackson on a rainy evening, he heard something hit the top of his car.

&8220;It was a bullet. It came right through the roof. I didn&8217;t know it until the next day. That&8217;s when I decided, who knows how long I&8217;m going to be here.&8221;

He went to Chile and found work, coaching businessmen in their use of English. &8220;That gave me a lot of confidence,&8221; he said.

To have more freedom to pursue a business and travel in Europe, he called on his Irish heritage &8212; both O&8217;Beirne grandparents were born in Ireland &8212; and applied for an Irish passport.

&8220;So then I had the Spanish down, I had the energy, I had a background in good food and wine. I went to Spain and started contacting other American companies and got two or three interested in collaborating,&8221; he said.

The business began as a luxury bicycling touring company. &8220;We&8217;ve kept the cycling package but started contracting that out,&8221; O&8217;Beirne said. Now the tours are custom designed vacations for those who want &8220;educational cultural adventures,&8221; he said.

Tours of medieval cities and castles may be mixed with food, wine, gardening, dancing, ballooning and many other kinds of experiences.

&8220;For example, for a New York garden association, we set them up to see incredible gardens in Spain and wildflowers in the mountains and then found the gardening experts who are good at communicating in English to speak to them,&8221; he said.

Food and wine clubs, extended families, business associates and, recently, three &8220;major, nationally known politicians from the Senate and Congress&8221; have brought groups to Spain. &8220;Those are good clients to have,&8221; O&8217;Beirne said.

Ninety percent of his clients are American, and tourism is good the year around. &8220;This would be the slow time. It starts picking up in March, and April, May and June are peak times.&8221;

Why should people want to visit Spain? &8220;The same reason they visit Italy &8212; the food and wine, the beauty and the history,&8221; he said.

Maintaining the quality of the business while it continues to grow is a challenge he and his business partners face daily.

&8220;A man I met on an airplane said to me that to create a good business, imagine you might want to sell it one day,&8221; he said.

&8220;Our goal is to give people the most unforgettable vacation they&8217;ve had and made to order for them.&8221;

An Internet business has its special challenges. &8220;You can level the playing field if you use it right, especially if it&8217;s something a little unusual,&8221; he said. One of the keys to the success of

MagicalSPAIN.com is figuring out Internet search engines.

Using search words &8220;custom tours Spain,&8221; the company is one of the first listed on the most often used search engine.

Success on search engines demands close attention to the wording on a Web site as well as understanding the logarithms used by the top search engine companies.

&8220;I&8217;ve done a lot of reading and have had some good people helping me,&8221; O&8217;Beirne said. &8220;If your Web site is not on the first page, it might as well be nailed to a tree in the Amazon.&8221;

MagicalSPAIN.com has begun to plan destination weddings, to date having organized weddings in places such as medieval castles, beaches, Mediterranean villas and one in a bull-fighting ring.

The majority of Americans find surprises in Spain. For example, the food is not spicy. &8220;Everything is cooked in olive oil. The Italians buy up to half their olive oil from Spain,&8221; he said.

Plentiful lodging in unique places is available. &8220;There is a plethora of historic buildings converted into luxury lodging,&8221; he said.

Tours arranged by Magical.SPAIN.com range from about $2,200 per person up to $12,000, not including airfare.