Who doesn’t love a present? Customers may forget a $100 discount, but a gift — be it a swag bag or a limo ride to the airport — is a constant reminder of a personal relationship, and helps keep them coming back, psychologists say.
So, it’s no surprise that the travel industry, expert in both human nature and hospitality, is awash in swag. Every traveler gets a bottle of shampoo, face and body soap, a pen and paper — just ask for a shaver or toothbrush or whatever you need and they will give it to you. And travel agents, too, tend to follow the trend.
Marlys Aballi, owner of Connection to Cruise in Redlands, California, sends her clients selfie sticks.
Katina Bradley at Wish You Were Here Vacations in San Francisco gifts her cruise groups with backpacks. “I love the idea of my business name showing up on the backs of people all over the ship,” she says.
With five European trips coming up, Luxury Travel Consultant Heather Bannon plans to give out luggage scales engraved with her agency name and adapters to her customers at Unique Romance Travel and Destination Weddings in Katy, Texas.
From selfie sticks to tree ornaments
Photo albums are in vogue as a way to keep memories of the trip, and the agency, top of mind. In Westchester, New York, Owner Marla Gelbard Kornfeld at Lux Travel Experience asks her clients to send her photos, and then she makes up a Shutterfly album for them as a “a great coffee table and memory book.”
Lorraine Simpson, owner of Concierge Travel Group in Niagara, Ontario, Canada, gives a holiday tree ornament “so they remember their trip each year.”
Swag bags are fun and popular gifts, of course, both to travel agents and from them. Charlotte Graham, owner of Travels by Charlotte in Schererville, Indiana, often regifts the swag she receives at conferences and fams to her clients. “I so prefer [when suppliers give me] something for my clients, more so than for myself. It helps me stand out to my clients,” she said.
Niki Rakowitz of CARE Travel in Manhattan, Kansas, agreed, saying, “I wish suppliers would stop giving to me and show appreciation to my clients by adding a little gift (champagne, wine, chocolate, beach towel, sunscreen, hat, bag — like many of them give us agents when we do fams), and a note in all clients’ rooms booked by an agent. Then, all of us agents and suppliers look great.”
In keeping with the concept that travel memories are more valuable than things, many agents forgo the swag in favor of more personal touches.
“I don’t do trip-based swag," said Jennifer Belanger Hand, of Jennifer Hand Travel Pro in Alabaster, Alabama. "For bookings over a certain dollar threshold, I set the client up on my birthday recognition program, sending them cookies, candies, or nuts in a tin with my branding and a note wishing them a happy birthday. It keeps them thinking of me throughout the year.”
Beyond a bottle of wine or chocolate, treating good clients to a dinner out — be it pizza when they get home or a special night at a fancy restaurant in Europe during their travels — also is popular.
“I tend to give clients experiences to add to the overall experience they receive with my agency, Cultured Vacations,” said Jenn Earley in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “It can range from a romantic dinner on the beach to a very custom cake if it’s a celebratory occasion.
Mary Lynn, franchise owner of Travelonly in Brockville, Ontario, Canada, has sent “Tim Horton/Starbucks gift cards to use at the airport, a pre-night hotel, premium airport lounge passes, private limo airport transfer for clients going on a 70-day grand voyage. One of my favorites is the document dinner party. I love getting our supplier travel bags to share with our clients and samples of their bath products from their resorts. I save all the swag from trade shows and then I have a bucket for the visitors to grab a little goody.”
Some agents just go crazy, while others are careful in their choices. At Guyer Travel in Rochester, Minnesota, Dillon Guyer falls in the former category. He started by hand-writing letters and “spoiling my guests every day.” His clients’ favorite swag includes: passport holders, preloaded Visa gift cards for the kids, hibachi dinners at three restaurants in Orlando with which he has deals, free WiFi on the plane, and even visits from an "in-house artist" to sketch the children with characters from their favorite Disney movies for a personalized autograph book to have signed in the Disney parks.
He even gives swag to potential customers. For the past five years, Guyer has thrown a party called “Rochester Night Out,” where he gives out backpacks filled with school supplies. “It's like a giant block party, and we end it with a movie night on the baseball field and sometimes a bonfire,” he said.
William Kiburz, vice president of Coronet Travel Ltd. In St. Louis, Missouri, takes a more low-key approach. “My favorite thing to give clients lately is a round of drinks at a hotel or bar I like in whatever city they are in," he said. “It’s much better than the sub-par, overpriced wine that they don’t touch, and it gives me a chance to expose them to brands I love, yet rarely sell.”
And at Mitch Krayton Travel in Aurora, Colorado, Krayton makes things even more personal. “The best gifts I give my clients are wonderful memories and enduring stories of their experiences; changing a life is invaluable,” he said. But still, a little tangible swag never hurts.
“I usually deliver the travel documents with some gift or two that I think will be useful: translation guide, backup cell charger, etc. Then on their return, I ask them for a photo or two and often will visit them to see their images, too. I like to interview them and post that on my blog and web pages. If they travel a lot, I will also gift them with a nice photo album they can create online with their best images and keep on the coffee table.”
In the end, Krayton said, “Gifts are nice when they are thoughtful and useful, but not necessary if you are doing more than they expect in the first place. It just reinforces that we are grateful for their continued support and referrals.”