The outlet outlook
With 60 stores offering sales up to 65 percent off, the center, located off I-5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, is the perfect stop for groups. First things first: Visitors can find the best bargains by opting in to the center’s app, where they can receive instant notifications via text message about sales and events.
For groups booked 48 hours in advance, a meet-and-greet is available with a representative who will step onto the coach and provide an overview of the stores and some insights on the season’s hot items. Each group member will receive a VIP tote bag with welcome packets and select store and restaurant discounts. There’s also plenty of on-site, complimentary parking for motorcoaches.
Outlets of Tejon | Arvin, California
Outlets of Tejon also has an incentive program for tour operators and drivers, who can earn a $15 gift card to the outlets for bringing groups of any size. When an operator books five trips, he or she and the driver earn an additional $50 gift card.
Shoppers can find stores like Coach, Columbia, Gap, Old Navy and Pottery Barn and can grab a pretzel at Auntie Anne’s or lunch at Don Perico’s. The Kate Spade outlet opened last summer, and Bath and Body Works will soon open for the holidays. There will also be a Hampton Inn opening this fall just north of the center.
Outlets of Tejon is a part of the collection of shopping destinations and attractions under the umbrella of NTA member SHOP*DINE*PLAY*USA.
With 44 locations in 22 states and in Ontario and Québec, Tanger Outlets has all the familiar brands plus shops that are exclusive to the location. Shoppers can find stores like J. Crew and Michael Kors at most of the outlets, but in Savannah, Georgia, they can shop BoldSoul Boutique, and at Lilac Shade at the Phoenix/Glendale location.
“We speak groups,” says Tanger Outlets’ General Manager Angela Harness. “We offer advance online reservations, and when your group arrives, we have coupon books and center maps ready. We offer plenty of coach parking as well.”
When groups make reservations, their check-ins are expedited, and select outlet centers offer meal vouchers.
“We are flexible and we can put together special shopping packages just for your group. Have a quilting group that loves Vera Bradley? Let us know. We will see about getting special discounts and offers,” Harness says.
Tanger recently launched its Partner Perks Program, which offers paid incentives for FIT and group visits. Each FIT guest that checks in receives $5, and each client gets a shopping tote and book of savings. Incentives for group visits include a $100 gift card for three groups of 30 or more, a $200 gift card for five groups of 30 or more and a $500 gift card for 10 groups of 30 or more.
“Groups are looking for experiences that create memories. At Tanger Outlets, creating memories is our specialty,” Harness says.
The local scene
Asheville, North Carolina
There are shops at nearly every turn in Asheville, and many help further the city’s artsy feel by offering something local, unique or hard-to-find.
“Asheville’s creative spirit influences every facet of the destination, and that includes its diverse shopping scene,” says Explore Asheville’s Sales Manager Beth McKinney. “Whether you’re looking for antiques, vintage clothing, craft galleries, specialty-food shops, bookstores or your favorite national retailer, the mix of independent and name-brand offerings provides something for everyone.”
McKinney adds that groups have a variety of shopping experiences to choose from, including the eclectic boutiques downtown and in West Asheville, stopping at some of the colorful studios of the River Arts District or exploring Historic Biltmore Village, just outside the gates of Biltmore Estate.
Visitors can find glass-blowing shops and bookstores downtown at places like Lexington Glassworks and Malaprops. Grove Arcade, a historical shopping plaza known for its unique architecture, offers dining options and regional crafts. Lexington Avenue is the go-to street for boutique and vintage shops.
McKinney says West Asheville is known for its hip vibe, independent shops, music venues and ever-growing food scene. The River Arts District houses more than 200 artists and their working studios, where shoppers can see works in paint, pencil, pottery, metal and fiber.
If groups are looking for name brands, the Asheville Outlets have familiar retailers and offer groups of 15 or more a coupon book. Extra incentives for tour operators also are available.
“One of the greatest draws to our city as a destination is that Oregon has zero sales tax,” says Travel Portland’s Tourism Manager Ashley Kingman. “I also believe Portland has done a great job of laying out the shopping districts to complement the neighborhoods, many of which reflect the style of the people living there.
“Downtown, you’ll find your national brands and shopping malls. Nob Hill and the Pearl District offer boutique shops with local handmade goods, while the Alberta and Hawthorne districts have a more bohemian and artsy shopping feel to them,” she says.
Kingman adds that many of the local makers and designers live in these neighborhoods or down the street from where their business is located. Portland is a walkable a city, and Kingman suggests operators allow plenty of free time for groups to walk the city blocks and discover that unique, handmade Portland souvenir or vintage find.
“A stop at Powell’s City of Books is an absolute must-do. With over 1 million new, used, rare and out-of-print titles, it’s the largest new and used bookstore in the world,” she says.
On the weekends from March through Christmas Eve, visitors can see Portland’s Saturday Market, located on the waterfront and nationally recognized as the largest continuously operated open-air arts and crafts market in the country. They also can make a stop at MadeHere PDX to browse products and gifts designed and created in Portland.
Kingman says Travel Portland provides group VIP coupon books with exclusive offers at many of the nearby shopping malls, a welcome gift and a meet-and-greet.
“The visitors love this and I believe the tour operator gets to shine in a moment like this,” she says.
From gift shops to one-stop shops
The Carolina Opry Theater | Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
“Our gift shop is always changing. You never know what treasures you might find from season to season,” says Margaret Wallace, the Opry’s group sales director. “We always have a rotating selection of nautical items, from driftwood wind chimes to sea glass jewelry to mermaid reading glasses. We also have all of those classic memorable souvenirs, like logo tee shirts, caps, magnets and anniversary items.”
Around the holidays, the gift shop has a vast selection of novelty ornaments and Christmas collectibles. They feature a different nativity scene each year, and many visitors return to add to their personal collections.
“Here’s the best part: Our valued groups receive a 15 percent discount and, because the gift shop is not our main product (that’s entertainment!), our items are actually much more affordable than a standard gift shop already,” Wallace says.
Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium | Springfield, Missouri
In addition to its aquarium, this attraction is under the same roof of the original Bass Pro Shops.
“One of the most popular itineraries here is to start in our Wildlife Galleries Museum, then shop in Bass Pro Shops, then continue the Wonders of Wildlife experience through our award-winning aquarium,” says Group Sales Manager Chris Dodson.
Visitors have over a mile of immersive experiences to take in, including the Wildlife Galleries and the wondrous displays of aquatic animals. Dodson says it takes about three-and-a-half hours to tour the galleries and the aquarium, and with the chance to shop, it’s an all-day stop for visitors.
Groups can also dine at one of the restaurants inside the aquarium or Bass Pro Shops.
Top photo: Wildfang is a women's fashion boutique located in Portland, Oregon.
Photo by travelportland.com