Perhaps you’ve had the experience of putting forth a trip that you think will be a winner, only to find that it isn’t selling as well as expected. Departure time is drawing closer and closer and you’re starting to panic. Should you operate it at a loss? Should you cancel? Should you invest more promotional monies into it? Should you lower the price and give away the company store just to get new enrollments? Let’s look at the possibilities.
Plan for Possible Low Numbers
Don’t ever assume that every trip you offer is going to succeed. At the time you plan and price the trip, make certain “fall back” plans are in place just in case it doesn’t meet your expectations.
Here are some of the things I do when I first plan the trip.
I price the trip on the lowest number of enrollees I think will join, not my maximum goal. If I’m hoping for 25 on the tour, I book space for 25, but price it on only 15. If I only get 15 to sign up, I can still operate the tour and perhaps make a small profit. However, if I’m successful and get 25, those ten additional bookings are “gravy” and my profit picture is well above expectations.
Second, I always cost in a small margin for error or unexpected costs. This could be for the tip I forgot, a drop in the dollar’s value vis‐à‐vis a foreign currency, a sudden increase in some item in the tour, or to cover a misunderstanding. I always like to have a small padding there to protect myself.
Third, I remind myself to indicate in my trip brochure, flyers, newsletters and social media to publish the minimum number of participants on which the tour is priced.
And when considering promotional avenues at the outset, I consider the possibility of partnering with another organization of similar interests for maximum chances of success. Several years ago, I participated in a three‐day tour to Ashland, Ore., to see the Shakespeare plays. The trip was jointly sponsored by one of the local senior centers here in northern California and the Berkeley Jewish Center. It made for a full motorcoach and the participants from both organizations got along famously.
This joint‐sponsorship method is often called a “Host Club” arrangement; one organization, the “host club,” plans and controls the trip but invites one or more similar clubs to join with them in promoting to their membership from the outset, not as a last‐minute rescue operation.
It’s almost 60 days before departure. Your enrollments are still not up to expectations. Where do you go from here? The first thing is to re‐cost the entire trip. You may be surprised to find that perhaps you can operate it with just a tiny profit, or perhaps just at cost. When faced with a choice of operating at no profit or canceling, I usually choose to operate it, because you can use the on‐tour time to provide a successful travel experience for those enrolled as well as building loyalty and promoting future trips. Also, promotional outlays already made will not show as red on your balance sheet.
However, if you are actually going to lose money by operating at small numbers, your alternatives are trying to renegotiate certain items on the tour or putting participants on another company’s tour. Try locating a smaller coach, negotiating better hotel rates at other properties or arranging less expensive menus. Perhaps hire a leader who lives near the tour venue rather than paying to take an in‐house leader from your organization. Be sure your publicity materials have not been so minutely specific that you’ve backed yourself into a corner trying to fulfill written promises to the traveler.
This all is possible if done sufficiently early and if you’ve kept careful track of your deposit risk dates so that changes you may make don’t incur suppliers’ penalties.
Lastly, don’t forget that your present tour members can be your best sales force. Give them some sort of recognition (financial or otherwise) if they bring along friends or family as new enrollees. Often the solution is closer than you think.