Creating memory-filled trips is what the tour business is all about. 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 Carol Dillard, of Mount Vernon, Iowa, here is the second online installment of the many reader responses that supplement those in the On the Record column in Leisure Group Travel’s June print issue:
Extra stops that make a big difference in an itinerary are what make our trips. CVBs and fellow coordinators are invaluable in providing ideas such as that store where the owner has a herd of llamas to gawk at, or that old- fashioned merry-go-round. A stop at landmark churches, a meet with a local artisan to learn more about her craft or a demonstration of border collies herding sheep all have made trips special. Also including an ice cream cone stop or sweet roll in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening means a great deal. These little special things are what customers remember, and making memories is our job.
Mount Vernon Bank and Trust Co.
Mount Vernon, IA
When planning our group itineraries we always add a few extras as surprises. It could be as simple as a draw for some door prizes, providing soda and a snack on a long travel day or an extra lunch, or dinner that wasn’t listed in the brochure. On our long stay in Arizona last February, the clients did not know that the hotels included a light supper Monday thru Thursday each week. What a surprise! The little things are what the clients remember and tell their family and friends about.
Debbie Noonan Lamping
Echo Tours & Travel
Smiths Falls, Ontario
I do not have specific criteria when looking for no-cost or low-cost attractions to add to an itinerary. If I need to add something low cost to offset more expensive attractions, I usually enlist the help of a local CVB to help me out or check group tour planners for the area to see if the planner lists attraction fees. I have found some amazing no-cost or low-cost attractions this way.
In response to your question, I’m not sure what would qualify as extra. Each trip is a unique adventure that I love sharing with our guests, and I never get tired of coming up with different games and adding a surprise “WOW.” Sometimes it’s something as simple as offering surprise pastries in private rail cars on train rides or a surprise ice cream sundae when we take a four- hour river cruise. I have found that most companies are happy to work with me on adding at least one unique feature into their regular venue. Many of them really get into it and start brainstorming ideas with me, which creates a great buyer/seller working relationship. Sometimes I purchase a small souvenir at the trip destination to be won on an impromptu question-and-answer trivia game about our bank (i.e. president’s name, how many branches, what is the name of our recently released checking account, etc.) This works well in keeping our customers informed about their financial institution.
One custom our guests have enjoyed over the years is “earning their way off the coach.” When I first took the position as Vista Club director, I realized that an important question was “who gets off the coach first?” We tried various options, but the one that has been a hit is pitting one side of the coach against the other in a competitive team-against-team game. We have used a relay race, giving the first seat on each side a flag. They are then asked an easy trivia question – the side that gets it right first hands their flag to the seat behind them. The first side to pass their flag all the way to the back gets off the coach first. We have also used the “toilet paper relay” game. I hand the front row on each side the loose end of a roll of toilet paper. They then hand the roll over their head to the row behind, continuing to the back of the bus. The last seat passes it forward to return it to the front. The first team to complete the task without breaking the tissue wins the coveted “First Off the Coach” award. These games are always accompanied by lots of yelling and cheering. I think most people enjoy competition and winning prizes. It costs the bank nothing, it’s a great icebreaker, it makes everyone feel like an important part of the trip and really gets everyone involved.
Cheryl Thorne, Director
First State Bank Vista Club
Although I do not plan itineraries for tour groups, we do try to do some special things for tour groups to surprise our customers when they visit the Tupelo Automobile Museum. If I am available, we ask our customers to vote on their favorite car they find in the museum. When they turn in their ballots, I draw for door prizes that cannot be bought in the gift shop. They are usually surprised with the game, and they remember and enjoy their visit to the Tupelo Automobile Museum. By the way, the car voted the favorite since the day we opened our doors is the 1948 Tucker.
Cindy Hale, Marketing Director
Tupelo Automobile Museum
As a historian-turned-tour-director, my clientele really likes the information along the way. Here in the Southwest we have so much to look at out of the bus windows that there’s no need for videos, etc. By calling participants’ attention to the scenery and telling the stories behind the views, a bus trip is the journey, which in some cases is more interesting than the destination. Engaging top-notch local resource people at destinations helps to make each bus tour a learning experience, and I believe that folks like to learn by travel.
Georgia Strickfaden, Owner/Operator
Los Alamos, NM
In planning group travel, I like to make sure that I’ve included porterage, tips (skycap, transfer driver, guide & driver), and taxes (hotel & air). By doing so, we’ve found that our clients appreciate not having to worry about having to figure out what the tip should be or if they brought along enough money. They can go enjoy their trip without any worries.
Naomi Salcedo. Group Services Manager
Golden Gate Tours
Pleasant Hill, CA
We all love freebies, especially in this day and age, so be sure to throw a couple into your itinerary. In St. Charles, Illinois, we provide complimentary driving tours for groups. Tour operators love this service and it also provides a fun, educational component – groups get to learn all about the past, present and future of St. Charles…with a few surprises along the way! Welcome bags and goodies are also free of charge for overnight groups.
Another is charitable donations or volunteering. Whether they are giving back to the local community or a national organization, people love giving back. Last year, the St. Charles CVB became a proud supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project. One dollar from every hotel room, booked through a lead generated by the CVB, is donated to the WWP. This promotion was recently extended for group tours until December 2010. Another example: I recently worked with a bank travel club on a very inexpensive itinerary so that most of the tour cost could be donated to their local American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
Whether it’s a postcard, keychain or canvas bag…or even the smiling face of CVB staff member…we make sure our group tours leave with memories to last a lifetime.
Jenny O’Brien, Sales Manager
St. Charles (Illinois) Convention and Visitors Bureau
Since our guests have invested time and money and are excited about their trip, we recognize this by handing out souvenir booklets, discount coupons to favorite shopping spots, packets of postcards showing some of the spots they have visited and/or individually wrapped Ghirardelli chocolates after a dinner or lunch. For a higher-end client or incentive group, they may want to include souvenirs representing San Francisco (or whatever hub city is the focal point of the trip)—a small wooden cable car, a redwoods seedling, a charm for a bracelet for the ladies or embroidered polo shirts for the men. We also encourage buying small gift or tote bags with a variety of gifts: keychain, sightseeing and shopping maps, postcards, water bottle, etc. At the end of the trip, we can also offer a CD with pictures from the tour, taken by our tour directors along the way. Framed group shots can be presented at an awards banquet or included on the client’s website with permission. For an extra-special occasion we can offer to deliver bottles of wine, birthday cakes, or elegant jewelry to be given on that special day. Going home with that California glow is what it’s all about! Our overseas guests are especially appreciative of these considerations.
Director of Operations
California Tour Consultants
San Francisco, CA
Little extras go a long way and bring back clients. A few tourism bureaus still give little welcome gifts like a visor, or I put together a little travel pack that included handi-wipes, lotion packs, insect repellent wipe or frozen bottle water (when we headed out to a state park).
Tour and Travel Planners
East St. Louis, IL
I carry an acrylic massage roller in my supplies. When we are spending the day traveling on the motorcoach, I give back massages (to those who want it) while having one-on-one visiting time with each customer. This extra touch brings a smile to their faces.
We cut short an outdoor excursion due to inclement weather. We were in the Ft. Collins, Colorado, so I called Anheuser-Busch brewery about a tour. They could not do a tour for a large group on such short notice, but they invited us to visit the Clydesdale Hamlet and hospitality room for free samples. We experienced true hospitality at this facility and ended the tour on a positive note.
Customer Service Supervisor/
Security Gold Club Director
Security First Bank
Hay Springs, NE
When planning tour packages, we are sure to add those “hidden treasures” that make a visit to any small town, village or city a great one. These can be smaller gift shops that specialize in one-of-a-kind items that represent the region we are visiting or the “I never heard of that” type of attraction that offers minimal or no costs to visit (for example, a hydroponic growing farm that educates groups on the process and offers samples, to homemade candy shops & a tour of their facility).
If I can add a representative from the area to offer information onboard our coach or at an attraction that we visit, it is a definite WOW factor! Fresh baked muffins and juice for early morning departures, snacks onboard the bus, included stops at ice cream stands and special prizes highlighting the area certainly add smiles to our passengers’ faces, turning customers into commercials!
Maria Burridge, General Manager
Know How Tours/Niagara Scenic Tours
Today I asked a client what I add to an itinerary that made him feel special, and his response was I have always been able to surprise them with one-on- one backstage meetings with performers, speakers and chefs based on the trip’s focus. He reminded me that last year on the Live the Legacy Civil Rights experience I was able to arrange a meeting with the King family and also by invitation only they were able to seat directly behind the family in the Ebenezer Baptist Church at the Commemorative King Celebration, and then had one-on-one time with Congressman John Lewis. This was especially meaningful since the day before arrival into Atlanta they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and heard the story of Bloody Sunday and saw images of John Lewis participating in the march across the very same bridge.
In New Orleans, where we focus on receptive services, we pull out all the stops. Most travelers are coming to the city to be part of the culture. If music is their passion, be it jazz, blues or Cajun, I find a really great local place to introduce them to. The icing on the cake is if they play an instrument, I will arrange beforehand for them to jam with the musicians. Of course, my client never knows this until they are invited by the band to join them. Certainly I don’t put them on the spot, but most musicians relish the opportunity to perform live in New Orleans.
President & CEO
Worldwide Concepts Vacations
New Orleans, LA
I have been running group bus trips for Carroll County Department of Recreation and Parks in Westminster, MD for almost 20 years. One thing that I have learned is to make each trip a memory as this may be the only time that a passenger may be able to go to that location. To experience the local flavor of the area is something that they will talk about forever!
1. Instead of going to New York City and staying in New Jersey to save a few $$$, why not stay in Manhattan where they can have free time to explore on their own. They have time to make their own plans and do some extra things while in town.
2. If you can negotiate a price for a classic hotel, rather than a chain hotel, this also is another way of making a memory. My groups have stayed in the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, and as the tour buses were pulling up to drop off their groups to tour the Chateau, my group was standing there saying, “We are staying here!” For the few extra $$$ they had this memory.
3. When on the road, I like to stop at a local color restaurant instead of the chains when I can. On exit 174 in Roanoke Rapids, NC, just off of I-95, I like to stop at Ralph’s Barbecue, a genuine local North Carolina barbecue restaurant. It is always met with favorable responses.
4. When visiting Savannah, GA, make reservations for a meal at the Lady and Sons, or the Crab Shack in Tybee, which was featured on Rachael Ray’s show. The passengers see these restaurants on TV and can experience this on their own. These restaurants are always willing to work with groups and do a great job.
Barbara J. Lages
Director of Trips and Tours
Carroll County Dept. of Recreation and Parks
We always try to have at least one, what I call signature event. It is an event that they could or would never do on their own. They can visit the Vatican but not privately. That can be arranged. Lots of little things that can be arranged at little or no cost. We once opened the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg early. Our people had a private visit to the most famous museum in Russia.
You need to be creative and think with empathy. What would they like to do? Maybe a private sailing regatta in Sydney Harbor. Maybe a night tour of the Washington monuments with champagne served during the stops or on the vehicle.
Another good thing to do is make a transfer seem like an excursion. It’s really not that difficult. You just need to be a little creative.
Larry Flannery, Vice President