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Did you know that there are really only four elements that every successful destination, attraction, restaurant, hotel and local sightseeing include in their marketing strategy. Yes, just four key elements.
Could it really be that simple? Of course. Take a look...
RELATIONSHIPS. Reputation. Trust
A tour operator must trust that their customers will have a pleasant experience when visiting your area or utilizing your service. The operators' reputation is on the line with every new product, service and vendor they utilize on each itinerary. Elbert Hubbard once said, "In order to have friends, you must first be one."
As an industry supplier, you'll need to go out of your way to demonstrate that you care not just about the tour operators' ability to pay for your product, but that you care about his/her professional reputation. You've got to take time to learn about the things that are most important to the operator, show that you are willing to go the extra mile and be able to back up your words with like actions.
A few great, inexpensive ways to break past the professional barrier to build a strong trusting relationship with tour operators...
Networking Events - take advantage of opportunities to get to know operators outside of the business appointment. Wrap up a site visit with a casual lunch, cocktail or dinner.
Sales Missions - take your message to the tour operator at his/her office. Demonstrate that you care enough about their business to personally visit with that operator. Join sales missions with other suppliers who may already be working with those operators, leveraging their relationships to help get your foot in the door.
Trade Affiliations - membership in certain trade associations shows that you share an interest in the health of the tour operators' industry.
Social Media - use LinkedIn to connect with clients, prospects and vendors professionally. Connect on Facebook or Google+ to learn more about the personal interests of those individuals. Use that knowledge to better connect on your next call, email or face-to-face interaction.
THE RIGHT PRODUCT.
Chances are that, without getting yourself a new job, you can't change the product you're tasked to market very much but you can change how you market it.
Sell the Experience - In a recent article entitled, "Don't Sell The Product, Sell the Experience," Gordon Plutsky described three ways by which we can build trust and affinity with potential buyers.
Storytelling and Context - When hearing a story, the audience has a natural tendency to imagine themselves as the hero. Use stories to help your audience imagine how they can become better operators by utilizing your product.
Be Visual - If having a face-to-face discussion with an operator, give them your profile sheet at the start so they can visualize the story you're about to tell. If on the phone, ask them to join you for a walk thru on your website.
Connect Emotionally - People share needs. In understanding your customers' needs, you can connect with them on a deeper level than that of the typical vendor/customer.
Create Added Value - Whenever possible, give operators more than they might expect. You don't have to give away merchandise to do this. Sometimes it's the personal touch - the personal greeting when their guests arrive, a fun anecdote they can share with passengers, handwritten note after a new booking, ability to refer operators to other nearby partners, activities or suppliers that can help with their itinerary.
Price It Right - Be ready to answer questions about your pricing structure, group incentives, tiered pricing and comp policies. Operators aren't always looking for the lowest price, but they do want to know that you understand their needs and can price yourself accordingly.
And, especially for destination marketing organizations...
Themes - When pitching new ideas to tour operators, be sure to offer themes that are fun & relevant. Just because you're marketing to a group of senior citizens or students or corporate travelers, does not mean that they're willing to settle for the lowest common denominator. Suggest package themes that you and your friends would enjoy - adventure, humor, excitement, culture, beauty, uniqueness, etc. all work to your advantage.
Relevant Product - Understand that not every restaurant, hotel, attraction or activity in your area is right for tourists and tour groups. Tour operators will be equally turned-off by an itinerary that includes restaurants too small to accommodate groups, run down accommodations, attractions with no motor coach access and byways that lack appropriate signage as they would be turned on by an activity that will leave their guests wowed.
THE CALL TO ACT. Special Announcements
Timing - Know when to deliver your message. In our 2014 Tour Operator Survey, we learned that more than 80% of tour operators determine travel itineraries more than 6 months in advance of the expected travel dates and over 30% of operators plan more than a year in advance. You must understand that tour operators have a very limited ability to incorporate new elements into itineraries that are already sold.
We often suggest that museums and performing arts venues sell the daily visitor experience as an itinerary 'must have' and use special exhibitions, season announcements and limited engagements as the 'added value' elements.
The Right Offer - The perfect offer includes a benefit to the end consumer, an easy solution or benefit for the operator's company and something for the decision maker who's responsible for the buying decision. Let's take a look at those elements:
Consumer benefits would include value add items - breakfast included, guided tour, VIP upgrades, fast-lane privileges, discounts toward onsite purchases, free gift with purchase, access to places before or after the public, etc.
Operator company benefits would include a better comp offer, deeper discounts, exclusivity, loyalty points on their corporate account, etc.
Operator personal benefits may include a Visa gift card for the person who books, personal loyalty points, breakfast or lunch delivered to the operator, gift baskets, etc.
An Announcement - Draw special attention to your product or service by making a big announcement. Did you get a new fleet of vehicles? Is some major headliner coming to your theater? Do you have new suggested itineraries/themes available? Is there a new exhibit opening soon?
Use these announcements to entice operators and to remind them that you offer relevance year-round. These are often great opportunities to qualify operator interests that may lead to future sales.
The Right Method - You want your call to action to stand out. The most effective methods we've seen are fax broadcast and postcard mailings.
Fax Broadcast - nearly 80% of tour operators in our network have opted-in to receive special offers from us via fax. With most operators working in small offices, the person reading the fax is most often also working on tour packages.
Postcard Mailing - You have 5 seconds to make a meaningful impression with direct mail. A postcard quickly identifies your product offer, features, benefits and visual appeal. Properly executed, they are neat, clean and concise, printed on quality paper and eye-catching.
THE STEADY BEAT. Brand Awareness.
Music is nothing without a steady baseline. The same holds true for a successful tour/travel marketing strategy. You need to be sure that your organization, product or service is on the radar year-round, during each of the operators' relevant seasons. We've got two easy ways for you to help make that happen.
Multiple Mailboxes - In our blog post last month, 5 Powerful Tools to Attract More Visitors, we highlighted the appeal of using a multiple mailbox strategy. Research suggests that overexposure through one channel leads to a decrease in the perceived value of a brand or product. Increase recognition and limit annoying interferences by using a variety of tactics to get your message in front of the buyer. Proven delivery methods to tour operators include: direct mail, postcard,email, fax broadcast and personal delivery.
Multiple Impressions - Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do." If you want your product to offer a constant solution to operator needs, you need to present that solution multiple times throughout the year. Deliver your message during each of the tour operators' business seasons. While some options are obviously more pricey and others more targeted than others, here are a few inexpensive tools to help you place your product in front of operators repeatedly.
Quarterly Direct Mail Program - a Fire Starter Brands exclusive will deliver your 8.5x11" to 700 of North America's highest volume tour operators for under $300 per quarter.
Digital Advertising - ads are available through most of the trade associations for their email blasts and websites. Fire Starter Brands also offers digital solutions that target ONLY tour operators. Our quarterly email is delivered to nearly 2,700 tour operators, contains only 3 ads and has one of the highest open rates in the industry. Our operator only page is a trusted resource for operators from around the world.
Ads in Trade Publications - most travel industry associations offer their own magazines or newsletters. While delivered to the operator members of these associations, their distribution lists typically include delivery to a large number of other suppliers and DMO's and multiple ads throughout the publication.
Trade Show Sponsorships - get your logo plastered all over place at an industry trade show for repeated exposure. Keep in mind that only the operators who are members of that organization will see your message and that the impressions will end when the conference is over, but it's a great way to build awareness.
3 Steps to Better Trade Marketing, Better Connections, and Better Results
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR...
Stephen Ekstrom is a well-recognized tourism marketing expert whose influence reaches millions of travelers every year. He's been profiled by the New York Times and appeared on CBS, NBC and NY1. He is a fixture in the travel trade and has served as a board member, expert panelist, committee chair, mentor and program facilitator. Fire Starter Brands, founded by Ekstrom in 2010, manages a network of over 6,000 opted-in global travel trade buyers, advising, teaching and assisting smart travel industry suppliers and destination marketers. Stephen currently lives in South Florida with his two dogs, Match & Rudy.
This article was first published October 4, 2014.