Taste and Try Before They Buy

by Steve Gillick

In Ottawa, Canada, the historic Bytown Museum sits beside the Chateau Laurier Hotel, where the Rideau Canal meets the Ottawa River. Visitors are encouraged to touch the stones on the outside of the 1827 structure in order to feel the difference between the smooth, uniform bricks used to build their homes and the jagged, irregular field stones that were used in days gone by. When they do so, eyes light up and “wow” expressions start to appear on faces. They will, most likely, remember this moment and tell others about the experience.

Experiential travel, where travellers observe, participate, and engage with the destination, is often referred to as “terroir tourism,” a term borrowed from the wine industry that emphasizes feeling, understanding and celebrating the land, people, culture, geography, history, and climate. In the context of that old expression “taste and try, before you buy,” selling techniques have creatively adapted to having clients experience a destination before they leave the travel consultant's office. 

Here are six ways to cater to the six travel senses of your clients:

1. Touching the destination
Show off a souvenir from a past trip. It could be something tacky (a red velour pillow from Niagara Falls), something a bit more upscale (dragon-shaped pewter chop-stick holders from Malaysia), or something substantial (a cuckoo clock from Germany). Display it in your office, which is, after all, the area where you sell destinations and products as well as market your services and your personality. Tell the story about how you acquired the souvenir in a market or shop and then pass it over to your clients. Years ago, when I expressed an interest in a Kenya safari, I mentioned to the tour operator that I collected masks and wood carvings. At our next meeting he brought along a small Makonde family tree sculpture and handed it to me. He told me he bought it at Jimmy's in Mombasa, and let's just say that I took the trip, bought my own carvings, and 25 years later I still display them in my living room. Your souvenirs (and stories) will connect a client to a destination.

2. Visual serendipity
Commercial brochures and videos are often used to portray a general sense of the destination, but your own photos and videos are so much more meaningful in personalizing the destination experience. Have a small album of photos or an online slide show to pique your clients' interest. One South African specialist has a wall of African Masks in his office to stimulate the imagination of clients. An adventure specialist has her own photos of people and landscapes on her walls. Visual Serendipity refers to the unexpected beauty that clients will discover on their journeys.  You can start them on the adventure while sitting in your office.

3. The sonic landscape
Destinations comprise the sounds of business, traffic, festivals, social interaction, markets, nature, silence and more. Videos with audio can capture sounds that bring the destination closer to your clients.  Sometimes I use a discreet palm-size audio recorder to capture special sounds: Monks chanting in a Buddhist monastery, school children singing songs in Sri Lanka, a pond full of barking frogs in China.   You can incorporate the sound into a slide show or just play it when the occasion arises. 

4a. Quaffing tuak
Tuak (twak) is a local rice wine made by the Iban tribe of Borneo.  Malbec is a wonderful wine grown in both France and Argentina.  Raki, with its trademark anise taste, is the national drink of Turkey.  Hatsukame is an amazing dry sake from Japan.  Moose Drool is a delicious brown ale from Montana.  If you sell a destination that is famous for its libations, consider keeping some in the backroom and at the appropriate time, give your clients a small taste of the destination.  Hand them the bottle (seeing, touching), give them a short lesson on 'tasting' (that includes sniffing the 'nose' of the drink) and then have them indulge.  Maple Syrup is a great ambassador for sales to Quebec or the North Eastern States.

4b. Tasting umami
Umami is a Japanese term that refers to the savoriness of food.  You can easily keep small 'tastes' of a destination handy or purchase them in advance of scheduled meetings.  You can also purchase unique treats at the destination itself: In Cusco, Peru, we bought Coca candies and used them in a presentation a month later.  Everyone laughed at the thought of getting 'high' from the coca, but in reality the candy is innocuous and is a common remedy for altitude sickness.  It was an unusual treat to hand out, but it resulted getting the audience interested and engaged with the destination. 

5. Making scents
Take the expression 'wake up and smell the coffee" to heart.  The sense of smell is one of the strongest memory stimulators so why not play with it during the sale:  Lavender for Provence, chocolate for Switzerland, cumin or other spices to represent Middle Eastern delicacies, cilantro for Thai food, vanilla for Indonesia and more.

6. Having fun with the sale
The 6th travel sense is the sense of humour.  It enhances personal interaction and encourages relationship-building, a key part of any sale. Humour can be appreciated through photos from the destination (funny signs are always attention-getters), a relevant cartoon you saw in the newspaper that morning, a personal travel anecdote or even the results of your research on Google, e.g. the strangest questions asked on a cruise ("what do you do with those buffet ice sculptures after they melt?"). 

The art of selling destinations takes on a whole new dimension when infused with experiential techniques that allow the client to subliminally place themselves on their holiday before they even leave your office.

Steve Gillick is the Active Ingredient at Talking Travel, www.talkingtravel.ca, a consultancy in Toronto, Canada that specializes in writing and speaking about destinations, niche markets and travel trends. Contact Steve at: steve@talkingtravel.ca.

Moyan Brenn

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