Travel professionals meet at the National Tour Association's trade show—Travel Exchange—to build or renew friendships and to gain industry insights. Mostly, though, they go for the business.
Every professional can identify strategies for success in one-on-one appointments, and when Courier reached out to NTA tour operators, they generously shared information and advice.
Buyers, how can sellers get on your radar?
“Look at my website and think of ways we could include you in an itinerary. Determine what types of products we sell and come up with something similar.”
“Offer sample itineraries and include lists of special visits and unique access they can provide.”
“Tell us what is available year-round that we can easily incorporate into itineraries."
How much lead time do you need?
“For multiday tours and larger groups, we plan six months to 1.5 years in advance. For smaller groups and higher-end FIT, we might plan from a few days to a few months in advance.”
“We can incorporate an activity into an existing program if we receive the information three months prior to departure.”
“So many theaters don’t give enough lead time. For example, they’ll release their next season’s performance schedule just two months before the first curtain."
What are you looking for to help set your tours apart?
"We choose our suppliers based on a number of criteria, and what tips the decision in their favor is their ability to deliver unique experiences or special access.”
“We want experiences that only groups can get: behind-the-scenes tours, talks by local experts, and meet-and-greets with celebrities.”
“Unique sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the local cuisine.”
“Most destinations focus only on senior group travel, but determine what is available for younger, more mobile, markets.”
What else helps to seal the deal?
“Website upkeep is important for DMOs. I might find great-sounding restaurants or attractions on a website only to learn that they have closed or are too small for a motorcoach group.”
“Be sure to reply to inquiry emails within 48 hours. It actually makes a big difference.”
“It would be wonderful if DMOs held workshops to help their supplier partners understand the difference between meetings/conferences and the tour/travel market—and what group tours need.”
How DMOs and suppliers lose operators’ business:
- Being slow to respond
- Adding costs after the operator advertises a trip
- Treating guests like they’re just another group
- Selecting poor local guides
- Not understanding the basic needs and mission of the group
And how they gain it:
- Create an itinerary that has a manageable pace
- Reconfirm all arrangements
- Provide great local guides and experts
- Create unique visits: curator-led tours, private openings, meetings with local experts, dinners in a private home, etc.
- Know your providers and experiences to insure they deliver what is promised
DMO and tour supplier members also offer strategies for successful appointments.
From a DMO: The first step is offering a sample itinerary that gives buyers a place to start. Then we discuss specific ideas for their programs, depending on the makeup of the group and their budget.
From a hotelier: It is very boring for operators to hear about your pool and business center. That’s not what tour groups are interested in, so find out what they are interested in and sell to that.
From an attraction: Talk about specific dates and provide operators with the rates during your appointment, so you both have all the info you need. But don’t talk business only. Get to know the person and build a relationship.
Courier thanks the following travel professionals whose comments appear above:
- Shari Feldman (Philadelphia Museum of Art)
- Fraser Neave (Wells Gray Tours)
- Michele Michalewicz (Western Leisure)
- Elaine Moulder (Brilliant Edventures)
- Theresa Nemetz (Milwaukee Food & City Tours)
- Betsay Painter (Lowcountry Hotels of Charleston)
- Chase Poffenberger (Academic Travel Abroad)
- Mindy Shea (Visit Savannah)
- Phil Sheldon (Hanns Ebensten Travel)
- Taunya Wolfe-Finn (Wolfe Adventures & Tours)
Top photo by Normand Huberdeau