Some travel agents are willing to wait for customers to come through their agency’s door and to simply take their orders. But those who are looking to grow their sales and their bottom lines understand that they can generate new sales by getting to know their clients and creating trips based on their hobbies and interests.
One of the easiest ways to do that is to build weekends and longer stays around the thousands of rich and thriving festivals held all over the world. Name any subject and numerous events likely exist relating to the topic. The real question is: How do you tap into this burgeoning event market?
Poll your clients
A little research will go a long way, and some of your best information is right at your fingertips. If you’ve developed an email list of your agency’s clients, send out a short survey asking age-appropriate questions. Free online surveys systems like SurveyGizmo, Responster, and SurveyMonkey can help you get the job done.
Questions can include:
1. Do you follow the [insert major sports team name]?
2. What’s the last big festival or event you attended?
3. In order of preference, select your favorite food: steak, seafood, BBQ, Italian (pizza), chili?
4. Rank in order of preference these TV show types: cooking, gardening, quilting, reading or none.
5. What’s your favorite music genre? (select all that apply): classic, jazz, blues, rock, folk, top 40s, other.
6. Do you watch independent or foreign films?
7. What’s your favorite adult beverage? (select all that apply): craft beer, wine, bourbon, margarita or martini.
8. What are your favorite three months to travel?
Hidden beneath these questions, you’ll be able to determine if your clients are good candidates for a tour group to attend a St. Louis Cardinals’ out-of-town baseball game; a seafood and margarita event in Crystal River, Fla.; a BBQ festival in Kansas City; a garden tour in Charleston, S.C.; a national quilt show in Paducah, Ky.; a book festival in Washington, D.C.; a film festival in San Diego; or a craft beer festival in Seattle.
With those survey responses, now mock up several event packages and send out another poll with this question: “If our agency offered the following tours, would you be interested in joining us?” (Note interest and cash to sign up can differ.)
Believe it or not if you’re not packaging events and selling them, your customers are likely doing it for themselves. I know of a group of stock car fans that makes an annual pilgrimage to a NASCAR® race. Another group that plays golf each Friday afternoon is planning an outing to Arizona to attend one of the big tournaments. And then there are the seven sisters who routinely book girls’ weekends.
These types of events do not need an escort. However, your clients do need to be aware that your agency can coordinate the travel arrangements. In fact, travel agents who only sell events created by established tour operators and wholesalers are missing out on lucrative money-making opportunities.
Tips to market your events
How do you get the word out? The most important tool in your toolbox should be a proactive email collection mechanism — think a pop-up window on your website — and a database of all your existing clients.
This is a qualified list that you can communicate with on a regular basis. Set a schedule, for instance, every 4-6 weeks to send an email — and stick with it. No excuses. As William Wrigley, Jr. said, “I market for the same reason a pilot keeps his engines running once he’s off the ground.”
Some very simple email marketing systems are available and many offer starter templates. Many can handle the email collection piece, as well.
For each mailing, add a clever headline like: “We’re headed to Merlefest! Join us!” Then change out the photo and copy, along with your call to action at the bottom. Remember to include links to your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.
For those travel agencies with a Facebook page, set one of your buttons so interested parties can call you or sign up for your e-newsletter. Don’t be bashful; invite people you know to “like” your page.
If timely and consistent posts on Facebook have been a problem, consider using Hootsuite’s free service to create and schedule posts in advance. Then set it on cruise control.
Don’t we all like to spend time with a storyteller rather than a salesman? Do not use Facebook to “sell” your services. Instead share stories about your products, destinations, festivals and events.
If you don’t have a social media account but want to grow your business, pick one social media platform like Facebook and work it.
The group event business is huge. Isn’t it time your agency gets a slice of the pie?
Lynn Fuhler is a noted expert and author on event marketing and the former tourism director of Clearwater Beach, Fla. She has organized events throughout her career, including the largest free jazz festival in the Southeast U.S. In 2016, she published, “Secrets to Successful Events: How to Organize, Promote and Manage Exceptional Events and Festivals” to help planners grow and enhance their events. You can follow her at lynnfuhler.com.