Toronto – They’re back. They’re hot. And they are not your grandfather’s guided tours.
Escorted tours have changed – and travel agents who aren’t selling what once were known as “motorcoach tours” are missing out on sales and profits, said top executives speaking at Travel Market Place in Toronto. To convert lost opportunities into dollars, agents need to modernize their language and throw away their misperceptions.
“The coach is just the way you get from one place to another. If you cruise, when you go to Rome, you are 80 miles away (at the port). You get on a coach to actually go to Rome,” said Jeff Element, Canada president for The Travel Corporation. “It’s a mode of transportation.”
Cruise passengers spend a lot of time on a coach, just as tour passengers often spend a lot of time on other modes of transportation, said a panel of Canadian tour executives at a standing-room-only session. And what travel agents need to emphasize is that “when you travel with us, you’re not on the coach, you’re in a destination. It’s a guided vacation. The coach just gets you from one destination to another.”
Words matter, said Collette Canada president Doug Patterson, and today’s breed of tour operator requires a new vocabulary that avoids the word “bus.”
“Do you call it a boat or a ship when you are selling a cruise?” he asked, president of Collette Canada. “So why does everyone say ‘bus?’ A bus is yellow and takes our children to school; a coach is high-tech. It has reclining seats, audio-visual equipment and WiFi. We have charging stations for iPhones and tablets.”
One agent in the room says he always describes the transportation involved as “Merecedes Benz luxury coaches with extra legroom.” Indeed, said Element, agents should talk up the fact that today’s “bus” is instead “a business-class experience.”
Indeed, clients can raise objections to every travel segment, said Stephanie Bishop, managing director for Globus Family of Brands in Canada. But a guided tour today “is the most effective way for (customers) to get the most value for their vacation in the limited time they have to go.”
When people are on vacation, they want everything to be organized for them, she said. “You don’t want to deal with all the back-end logistics. Customers say they want a champagne experience for the price of a beer – and what we provide is high value. We give travel agents the world to sell. We give you all the knowledge you need to sell.”
When agents sell guided travel, their clients get the experience of the operators, the local connections, the access they can’t get on their own, security and knowledge, the executives said.
And just because a customer usually books a cruise, don’t assume that’s all he or she wants to do. Bishop said even the regular cruisers among Globus customers tend to cruise only every other year; in the in-between years they look for a land vacation.
One travel agent in the audience who has just started to sell guided vacations said his clients have been pleasantly surprised; they like the customization, the local experiences, and having the time to appreciate the destinations they visit in depth.
There were “some fun surprises,” he said, and “real flexibility. When people really liked something, they were able to stay longer, and when the group wasn’t that interested, they went.”
All three executives said their companies have 98% repeat rates. “Sell your customer with any of us once, and you have an annuity,” Patterson said.