Agency Name: Hooked Alcohol Free Travel
Location: British Columbia, Canada
Iceland on the Rocks. Greece with a Splash of Turkey. Friends in Dry Places. Hold the Sauce in Sayulita. These are just a few of the tours that Darci Murray, founder of Hooked Alcohol Free Travel, offers to her clients – and other advisors on a wholesale basis.
The tours include activities like monster truck touring, ax throwing, alcohol-free spirit tasting, and more, and are designed for people who don’t want to (or can’t) spend any of their vacation time drinking.
“We fill in the holes that are typically spent drinking,” Murray explained. “You’re going to see more and do more 100%, because all of a sudden there’s more hours in the day.”
In some ways the idea for Hooked was years in the making, in others it was a lightbulb moment that changed the course of her career.
Murray was born into the travel agency world. Her mother started Personal Travel Management in 1995 and Murray still remembers helping to file after school and arranging brochures and posters. Murray left the industry for several years, first to teach in Hong Kong, then later running her own home décor store. During her trips to Asia to pick up supplies for her store, she started taking people with her. Though essentially back in the travel industry, somewhere along her journey, she lost her way.
It was only after she stopped drinking in 2017 that she found a newfound passion for being a travel advisor, especially once the idea for Hooked was born.
“Being a non-drinker was something I was really embarrassed about,” Murray said. “It was something that I hid and didn’t want people to know.”
Until, in 2021, as part of several years of soul searching after quitting drinking, she re-connected with an old acquaintance on Facebook who ran a sober coaching business. Murray was intrigued and they arranged to meet.
“We went for coffee and in the span of the conversation we went from, we have something in common, we both don’t drink, to we should do a trip together to why don’t we do a woman’s trip and get some other ladies on board, to why are we limiting half the population, let’s open it up to men, to we can’t be the only people thinking about this, let’s open a sober travel company.”
From start to finish, the idea for Hooked went from inspiration to conception in about 20 minutes. That was in fall 2021.
“It’s like everything aligned, all of a sudden my job had purpose,” she said.
From sober travel to alcohol-free travel
A little over a year later in 2022, Hooked operated its first trip, to Iceland.
“I decided to go to Iceland because it’s such a hot destination and one of the cleanest places in the world. Clean living, it seemed to go hand-in-hand.”
The trip had three people, including Murray, her realtor, and a family member. But she documented the trip on social media and the response was immediate. Less than a year later, Murray took 14 people on Hooked’s second trip, a 14-day tour of Italy.
“My social media went crazy while we were in Iceland,” she said.
The second trip was a mix of friends and family, as well as people who’d found Hooked through Murray’s social media. The third trip, which was to Nashville, was all people she’d never met before.
“It went from my immediate circle of family and friends to a broader circle, people in my recovery circle, friends of friends, and people that just found us online.”
Over the course of the past year and a half, Murray’s messaging has changed from sober travel to alcohol-free travel, partly to overcome any negative connotations that come with the word “sober” and partly because not everyone who joins the tour leads an entirely sober lifestyle.
“Sober does have a stigma attached to it,” Murray told TMR. “I would say that my clients are 50/50, people that just don’t drink for their own reasons and people that are in the recovery world.”
Some people, in the recovery world particularly, are sensitive to being labeled sober but are fine with the label alcohol-free.
“There are other companies out there that focus on 12 steps… We are not that. We are just a like-minded group and that is enough for bonding.”
Immersive and fun
If the names of Hooked’s adventures don’t clue you in, Murray and her tours are anything but “dry” and boring.
“We’re going to expose you to things that you might never had done,” Murray said. “For instance, in Iceland. It’s cocktail hour, three to five, what are we doing? We’re doing a cold water plunge. Another day, we went to a make-your-own chocolate bar.”
In Nashville, the group took a monster truck tour downtown, went line dancing, and went to the Hatch Print factory to make their own Hatch-style posters. Murray even sourced an alcohol-free liquor store where they went for a spirit tasting.
“We’re not a retreat company. We’re not going to go and hide from the world because we don’t drink. We’re going to do the exact same thing [as other people].”
Murray calls it “inclusive” travel, and goes out of her way to choose destinations often associated with drinking, like Nashville, Mexico, or even Mediterranean countries where wine tastings would normally be on the itinerary. Places that people who don’t want to drink might be intimidated by. An upcoming trip is on Virgin Voyages, whose “tox/detox” messaging might otherwise be a turnoff to non-drinkers.
All tours are alcohol free and have a sober host (either Murray herself or advisors can arrange their own pied-piper-style tour leader).
Retail or wholesale
Hooked’s alcohol-free tours aren’t only available to individual clients.
The business is set up as a wholesaler and Murray hopes to sell more through other advisors than direct.
“I am licensed as a wholesaler… My pricing is based on selling to the agent,” she said, adding she’s still working on reaching other advisors.
“A girl that was with me in Nashville, she’s actually a travel agent in New York. She found me online and wanted to see what I was about because she has sober clientele.”
Most agencies likely have alcohol-free clients, Murray added.
“One out of 10 people is in the recovery world, and that’s not talking about the wellness side. And then there’s people that just don’t drink in general,” she said.
Murray recommends advisors use a newsletter to introduce the Hooked concept to clients.
“Here’s something fun, here’s a niche you might not have thought of. That’s the best angle. People don’t want to be thinking, I got this letter because they think I have a drinking problem.”
Choose your passion
Starting Hooked has ignited a passion for travel in Murray that she’s never felt before.
“Everything switched from, this is a really fun, affordable place to visit, to purposeful, meaningful travel. I have the opportunity as a travel advisor to help people on their self-exploration journey.”
It’s something she told TMR she sees in other advisors building businesses around their own passions.
“We have an agent in our office that does LGBTQ travel and when he speaks, he lights up a room. He’s just so passionate and alive when he speaks about what he’s doing,” she said. “
The difference is so noticeable Murray is working at her mom’s agency to start a recruitment program based on finding each person’s niche.
“… starting with green agents and the first conversation that we have is based on their passions so they’re not wasting time.”
It’s something she believes any advisor can – and should – do.
“When you light up a room with what you’re talking about, you’re guaranteed to make sales,” she said.
She added, advisors don’t have to only sell what makes them passionate, but they should use those other sales to fuel the business they want to take on.
“I take on clients that are not directly related to alcohol-free travel. I do it but it funds my passion. So this retired couple wants to go on Seabourn, okay, now I can buy some Hooked t-shirts, get some swag.”