Giving clients lasting memories is how tour planners entice them back trip after trip. Readers of Leisure Group Travel were asked how they enhance itineraries with little extras. Below, they share their tips in response to the questions: In crafting itineraries, what do you add at little or no cost that makes a big difference in satisfying customers? Are there hidden extras, surprises, even gifts that provide icing on the cake and bring smiles to passengers’ faces?

Beginning with comments by Cathy Donahue of Collette Vacations, here is the third online installment of the many reader responses that supplement those in the On the Record column in Leisure Group Travel’s June print issue:
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Cathy Donahue

Cathy Donahue, Collette Vacations

Exciting additions that add little or no cost include visiting places that make their own chocolates, cheese, olive oil and wines. Our passengers can taste the products as well as enjoy a tour and the chance to purchase the products. Collette passengers also enjoy listening to a local person from the areas we visit. For example, we have Native American speakers on our National Parks tours who enlighten our passengers on their customs. Something that always brings a smile to the face of our clients is visiting a Collette Foundation site. The Collette Foundation is an employee-run initiative with a mission of improving the quality of life of children – one project at a time – in the destinations we visit. Our clients love seeing the kids, presenting them with a small gift, and hearing about the work being done.

Cathy Donahue
Product Manager, Western USA
Collette Vacations
Pawtucket, RI

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When putting my itineraries together, I step into their shoes. What experiences would they want? A unique story to tell all when they return is always the answer. For example, anyone could go to Thailand and visit the Royal Palace and glide on the Venice of the Orient. But I go a step further with my clients and let them experience an alms giving. When it comes to customized itineraries, I am more about the experience, the uniqueness and creativity in which I enrich each and every itinerary. That’s why my clients keep coming back.

Danielle McKee
Cruise Travel Vacations
Wheelchair Travel, Inc.
Toms River, NJ
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I shop all year for special bargains. At Victoria’s Secrets (for $2 each) I purchased 40 beautiful (ice cream colored) travel bags for their cosmetics. I will purchase a bushel of peaches at a roadside stand and my group will enjoy this special treat at a rest stop on picnic tables. I work with the CVB and we do a lot of research and they refer me to some of the most unusual restaurants—in caves, jail cells, pirate ships, granaries, outdoor fish boils, goats eating grass on the roof of the restaurant and lunch with Archie Bunker and wife as the waiter and waitress and including ousts guests as part of the act. We have been met by Huggy Bear and each senior citizen was given a large bear. These surprises are never mentioned in our tour packages, but the list goes on and on.

LaVerne Robinson, CTP
International Travel Club
Kansas City, KS
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Becky Wiegand

Becky Wiegand, TravelStarz

I always try to hire a step-on guide to fully enhance our tours. Step-on guides possess a wealth of information to educate and enlighten the passengers on the area they are visiting. An escort can really be put on the spot when a passenger has a question about a particular area or building and the escort cannot answer that question. The cost of a step-on guide spread over the number of passengers on the tour is minimal considering the experience added to a tour.

Becky I. Wiegand
19551 Gilmer St.
South Bend, IN 46614
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Our Cajun Cultural Tour will bring many surprises to motorcoach clients.  We take them to visit seafood factories and show them how crayfish are boiled and how to eat crayfish (samples provided). If crayfish are not in season, we serve boudin and explain how it is prepared. We stop at two local homes and hear about the Cajun lifestyles. Locals will play the Cajun accordion. We enjoy catered lunch on the edge of Bayou Grand Caillou and visitors view crab traps that are set to catch crabs. They hear local oyster fishermen talk about oyster business and visit a shop where a net maker shows how he makes nets for shrimp boats. We visit Mardi Gras den and visitors get on Mardi Gras floats for group photos. Visitors receive large amounts of beads and Mardi Gras cups as gifts while at Mardi Gras den.

Sandra Aycock Pellegrin
Cajun Tours & Cruises
Houma, LA
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When the Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau starts crafting their itineraries, they look at what is going to be best for the group. We like to add some of the free tours in our area to the tours that may have a small fee.  This way you can add more things for your groups to do without raising the cost of the tour. Another thing that I love to do is send the tour operator a copy of our Quad Cities DVD so they can get their clients ready for a fun- filled tour and see what we have in store for them. The DVD is a great way for the operators to help sell their tour. Many people have not heard of the Quad Cities, so the DVD shows them what we are all about and how we truly are ‘Midwest Magic on the Mississippi.”

Dan Gleason
Group Sales Manager
Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau
Moline, IL
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rob callahan

Rob Callahan, First Midwest Bank

I have added different things at different times of the year. On our Christmas trips I give them all a nice box of chocolates or Christmas music CDs. I have also thrown in hidden special treats like a stop at a very famous ice cream shop or an unexpected stop at a chocolate factory store. I have also given away free day trips. We play games on the motorcoach and award small bank gifts as prizes, which they really enjoy.

Rob Callahan
Gold Club Coordinator
First Midwest Bank
Poplar Bluff, MO
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Many operators make the mistake of thinking that by giving a group a series of trinkets and souvenirs, they are giving them a surprise. However, anyone can do this and these small offerings really cannot compare to offering clients one-of-a-kind experiences throughout their trip, which is what truly leads to lasting memories and a sense of value. For example, when one of our guides learns that a group is passionate about pastries and schedules an unexpected stop at a pastry shop along the road to Taormina – where the group is able to taste and see how these sweet treats are prepared first-hand – that IS a surprise and one in which they will talk about at the dinner table with their friends and remember for years to come. Or imagine the clients’ faces when they know that they will be attending an Italian cooking lesson, and upon arrival, they are met by the host’s family and each client is given an envelope with cash and told that they will be going to the fresh produce market in town along the Amalfi Coast and will be buying the ingredients themselves, chatting with the locals and making their way around the market.

Sergio Bigini, Executive Vice President
Central Holidays
Moonachie, NJ

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Over the years I have always included something a bit more, a surprise, a new twist. Originally my wife and I would put together a surprise for all of our tour guests the first day. Our first year it was fresh baked muffins, fresh squeezed orange juice and freshly ground coffee when our guests climbed aboard in the morning.
The next year we had specially screened T-shirts with the group’s name and geographical area. For instance, for a doctors group visiting Yellowstone National Park, the shirt had the name of the group, a picture of a moose dancing and the logo “Moose Jive Adventure CME.” For a New York extended family on a recent custom 10-day trip through the Southwest, I included a day where they volunteered at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. This year I am including more voluntourism in my itineraries. Working with Phoenix Philanthropists organization, I find out my group’s interests and customize the volunteering event to the group.

Wayne Parker

Wayne Parker, Open Road Tours

Another little thing that not only makes the tour clients feel very special but  makes the chef at the restaurant feel important as well—I prearrange for the chef to come out to our group and give a small presentation about what he or she has prepared for them.

For outdoor groups, I will see if their trip coincides with a full moon. If so, and they are at a location where it is appropriate, I will throw in a full moon walk alongside the rim of the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon or just about any place where a walk would be appropriate. My guests over the years have raved about this little add-on. They are amazed that I thought of this.

Most of the time I will provide a gourmet box lunch if my guests have a long flight and are arriving around the noon hour before they embark on their tour with us. This is not prearranged usually and always appreciated.

My objective is to always give the customer more than what they are expecting. This is the way I like to be treated when I travel.

Wayne Parker
Open Road Tours
Phoenix, AZ