Tour ops face challenge of nonstop bad news in brochure season

Tour ops face challenge of nonstop bad news in brochure season

For tour operators vying to be heard amid a cacophony of
competing voices, brochure launch season presents both opportunity and
challenge.

This year, they have had the added challenge of trying to drum up
excitement for their 2018 tours amid a nonstop negative news cycle that has
been the backdrop to much of their September and October sales and marketing
efforts.

Stephanie Mirando, marketing manager at Collette, was making
the rounds last month at the AAA Travel National Conference in Charlotte, N.C.,
where she was experiencing the challenge of marketing Collette’s 2018 brochure
firsthand. She noted that in addition to selling escorted tours, Collette’s
travel agent partners often also sell cruises and hotel packages that might
have been affected by the recent hurricanes.

“It’s definitely been a challenge,” she said. “Being
in touring, we understand that they have their cruise suppliers and their
hotels.”

Acknowledging that even during a quiet year — which this
has not been — travel agents have a lot of information to retain about all
their different supplier partners, this year Collette did something different
when releasing its 2018 products.

In addition to the regular consumer brochure, the tour
company created a brochure specifically for travel agents called the Agent
Resource & Worldwide Travel Guide. The guide is meant to be a selling tool
for agents with information upfront such as how to sell guided tours, a
training page that dissects itinerary pages (which are tabbed by destination so
agents can quickly and easily find them) and ways in which agents can and
should maximize tour sales.

“It’s really giving them selling tips that they don’t
get from a consumer brochure,” Mirando said. She added that the timing of
introducing such a guide during a year when agents are more distracted than
usual was fortuitous.

Vanessa Parrish, channel marketing manager for Globus, said
that the timing of all the back-to-back breaking news just as tour operators
were heading out to market new products wasn’t ideal, even though many of those
products focus on destinations like Europe, Asia and South America that were,
for the most part, not affected by the recent headlines.

“The practical challenge for leisure travel sellers was
the back-to-back storms in September, which set back the entire industry on forward
bookings,” Parrish said. But, she added, “things are now on their way
back.”

In an effort to offer something unique for 2018, Globus
introduced an Undiscovered Italy product, a series of tours designed to
showcase more off-the-beaten-path destinations, such as Sicily and Apulia.
According to Parrish, the new tours worked. Italy bookings are up 17% compared
with this time last year, with the Undiscovered Italy product line serving as
the driving force.

“We don’t think this is an Italy rebound overall,”
she said. “Instead, we believe that creatively marketing an innovative
product that travelers were craving — and no one else in the market had — we
have had the opportunity to address a gap in the escorted tour market and break
through.”

Parrish pointed to the crucial intermarriage of innovative
product and creative marketing that tour operators need to engage in to
effectively market and sell tours.

While operating tours might not always seem to lend itself
to a whole lot of newness — there are no shiny, new ships to showcase, and
many of the destinations they sell remain the same year in and year out —
operators report that finding ways to introduce products, whether new
destinations or new ways of experiencing destinations, is a crucial component
to generating excitement and giving agents something to talk about and sell to
their clients.

“‘What is new?'” Mirando said, “is absolutely
one of the biggest questions that I get. They always want to know what is
trending and how we’re delivering on those trends.”

For instance, she said, Collette has introduced a trip to
Finland for 2018 that includes a hard-to-nab stay at an igloo resort, which
generated some buzz among agents.

And of course, deals and promotions timed to coincide with
launch season that incentivize agents and clients to start making bookings are
an important part of kicking off the forward-booking momentum for the coming
year.

“Promotions are an important part of the travel
industry,” said Phil Cappelli, president of Insight Vacations. But, he
added that as a luxury vacation provider, Insight Vacations is not focused on
price competition. His challenge during launch season, he said, is
communicating the uniqueness of the product and how Insight differs from the
rest of the marketplace with things such as exclusive VIP experiences for
guests.

One of the biggest launch-season dilemmas for tour operators
has long been that they are all rolling out their products for the coming year
at the same time. The result is a rush of new-product marketing campaigns,
promotions and incentives that are being thrown at agents at the same time.

Globus launched an Undiscovered Italy product line.

Several agents who were asked what most annoyed them about
launch season said it was the onslaught of marketing emails. What’s more, they
acknowledged that they are more distracted this year because of bookings
impacted by the hurricanes.

Wycliffe Seamans of Potomac, Md.-based Travel Leaders,
said, “Winter in Caribbean will be off. I’m offering Europe” as an
alternative.

Leslie Lindenberg, who works at the same Travel Leaders
office, added, “Some just are not booking at all right now.”

Asked what Contiki’s biggest challenge is in terms of being
heard by agents, Adam Cooper, USA president of the youth tour operator
responded, “Noise! Specifically with our Europe launches, we tend to
introduce our experiences at the same time as others in the market, so cutting
through can be a challenge.”

Cooper said Contiki has a big advantage in that it has a
different story to tell regarding the opportunities in the age 18 to 35 touring
market. For 2018, Contiki has introduced a travel style called Independent
Insider, which Cooper said has provided a great marketing tool for kicking off
conversations with agents about what’s new and different for next year.

The Independent Insider line enables travelers to build
trips in three-night blocks up to a full 12 nights of travel. The itineraries
are more flexible and enable travelers to opt in or out of suggested
activities.

Communicating new products and the upcoming season of tours
has become more complex and nuanced with the evolution of communications
technology. Most operators say that face-to-face meetings with agents remain
among the most effective marketing and selling tools. But of course, they are
reaching out in other ways, too, and with a wider variety of tools.

“When schedules don’t allow, we’re also big fans of
video training and utilizing our growing Facebook group for agents,”
Cooper said.

And in terms of physical marketing materials, “We’re
definitely seeing a huge increase in the number of brochures that are
downloaded in electronic format from our website, and we’re confident that
these numbers will continue to increase,” Cooper said, adding that good
old-fashioned paper brochures remain a really important piece of the marketing
package.

“There’s still something very special about the
anticipation and excitement that comes from holding the new paper Contiki
brochure in your hands,” Cooper said. “I’ve seen many over the years
and can honestly say that the 2018 brochure is special; it has a real editorial
feel that tells the story of what you and your customers can expect to
experience with Contiki.”

Insight’s Cappelli said that he prefers to refer to the new
paper brochure as a “magazine” in which the company has included more
maps and, for the first time, editorial content.

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