In their search for leisure travel sales opportunities, travel agents should look toward business associations, like chambers of commerce, who frequently organize tours that enhance membership and serve as fundraisers.
Bob Winter, co-owner of Lake Country Travel in Pewaukee, WI, has found that leveraging his contacts with the Pewaukee and Hartland Chambers of Commerce have helped him build his leisure business.
Ninety people just returned from a nine-day trip to Ireland, where they visited Blarney Castle and Woolen Mills, the Cliffs of Moher and the House of Waterford Crystal, and took "The Quiet Man" walking tour of Cong. (Lake Country’s tour included roundtrip airfare from Chicago, luxury coach sightseeing and most meals.) The coup de grace was a private meeting with Galway’s Mayor.
Travelers on the trip included the general public, as well as a handful of chamber members. The bulk of the marketing for the tour was through local articles the chamber published, informational meetings held with the chamber, and word of mouth.
“It’s so expensive to advertise,” Winter said. “This is our free advertising and we’re building trust in the community. It also pre-qualifies the travelers by having them come to the informational meetings.”
National competitors for local business
The trip to Ireland this year follows two years when the Pewaukee and Hartland chambers worked with a large national operator to organize two previous trips to China, said Pewaukee Chamber president Nancy Waters. The trips are quasi-fundraisers for the chambers as well as a chance to socialize.
“We had 27 people travel in 2014, and then 64 in 2015. Our travelers said, ‘We like traveling with you. Come up with another destination,’ ” Waters said. But the chamber was overtaxed with work. For the China trips, the chambers found themselves doing much of the pre-trip work, including helping travelers file for visas and putting on the pre-trip meetings.
So they asked Lake Country, a chamber member, if it would like to take on the business.
Winter appreciated the outreach, because national tour operators are pinching in on local sales opportunities. “You have these national companies coming into local markets,” Winter said, citing school districts, as well as chambers, as being targeted by larger tour operators. “Lots of them are going with companies from out of state. So we saw this as an opportunity. Working with the chamber, we had a chance to show them what we can do and make the trip even better with customized attention.”
Winter described the trips as “cultural exchanges, structured trips, with custom cultural aspects.” For example, Lake Country added a side trip to working farms and local businesses, since many potential customers have worked or lived on farms, or are familiar with them.
“These are not brochure vacations. We don’t just fulfill the basics, we look to see what else we can offer,” Winter said. “It’s about the memories built.”
Like getting the mayor of Galway to meet privately with the group. “One of our outside agents who traveled along with them works closely with Irish Fest in Pewaukee, and that relationship helped us arrange the visit with the Mayor,” Winter said.
One thing Waters and the chambers greatly appreciated was the pre-trip meetings that Lake Country held to prepare the travelers for what they would be experiencing, and to gather any special needs or questions their travelers had. They used slide presentations to go over every detail, weather, currency, what to expect at each destination—and it was also “a great opportunity for them to meet their fellow travelers and get to know us, the chamber.”
Waters and Hartland Chamber director?Lynn Minturn traveled with the group.
“Lake Country really pays attention to the details,” Waters said. “I remember that someone said they needed a walk-in shower for their hotel room. They went the extra mile to get that for the client.”
The meetings also allowed Winter to sell travel insurance by getting to know the travelers individually. “The meetings build the trust factor,” Winter said.
Spreading the chamber wealth
Winter always tried to host the pre-trip meetings at a chamber member, like a restaurant or country club. “I’d estimate we’ve been able to drive thousands of dollars to these chamber members for the food and beverage purchased while they’re at the meetings,” he said.
Lake Country does work with other affinity groups, including the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians and local schools for their Washington, DC, trips.
Aside from the funds raised through the trips, the chambers also receive other benefits, Waters noted. “We expose the community to the chamber and to chamber businesses. I even get some volunteers from meeting these folks. It’s the most visible aspect of what we are doing.”
The chambers’ 2017 trip will be to Iceland April 27-May 7, and Winter has a team heading over to “meet with local partners and create those experiences.” The cost is $3,395 double occupancy.