What is the new norm of doing business in the group tour industry?
I know we all wish we had our own crystal ball to see into the future and ask what group travel looks like? Will all the changes we made during this pandemic stay? Do the consumers still want them too? Can suppliers sustain this?
While we all believe there will be a new norm, we are still just working our way toward it. We have all changed the way we do business now, if we didn’t then we wouldn’t be here anymore. Consumers have also changed the way they do business. They are more cautious with their health, spending time with loved ones and not moving in mass crowds. Hmmm, that is certainly different for our industry.
We all need to embrace this change and make it work for us, in a way what that gives our customers their confidence back but allows us to sustain our business. We need to be like water and go with the flow, but have an ultimate, defined goal of where we want it to go.
Being in a touchy-feely industry that embraces customer service with a smile, this is a tough situation for us. How do you show your customer you care when you can’t even smile at them? Well, you need to smile with your eyes, and you embrace them with your words. You show empathy, respect, and envelope them with your body language. You just need to figure out the best way to do that with your business.
The consensus is that the general population has horded their money during this pandemic and are not afraid to spend it now. They are expecting high quality in return, as well as safety and confidence. Though the capacity limitations are challenging especially on motorcoaches and the margin is tight with these limited numbers, now more then ever, you truly can charge the customer more. You can do this if you instill all the safety measures demanded and show confidence with their investment. This can be done in such little ways and with added value such as care packages, allocated seats, their own lunch bags, utensils, care boxes etc. Be creative and inspirational, this is how you make yourself different.
Looking at alternative ways to do sales now is essential. Customers have become so savvy during this time with plenty of time on their hands and on-line access. We have gone back to the simplicity of communicating with the added touch of an on-line connection. Call your customers personally, mail them, email them, or ramp up your social media, everyone has more time on their hands now to read and talk. Provide them with tours of adventure, mixed with choices, and outdoor fun, this will enlist your customers back and perhaps even bring a new kind of customer to you.
Thinking outside the box:
- Fruit picking
- Garden tours
- Outdoor picnics
- Outlet shopping
- Working with a local hotel to provide unique experiences
- Farmer’s markets
- Volunteerism tours to give them a sense of worth and value by helping others during this time
- Friendship tours
- Women’s getaways
We all feel the love for our industry even more as it has been lost to us for so long. The need to get out and see the world and socialize is even greater than it ever has been.
Providing safety and value is so important, the customer will pay more to ensure that piece of mind. More people are willing to buy first class tickets on a plane now to ensure that safety, so they will spend more money if they know the quality is there and the follow through exists. Tour Operators can help spread your word and build consumer confidence with their database and audience reach. Partnership and collaboration are more important now than it ever has been before.
Eventually sports travel, student travel, corporate travel and casino travel will come back, this just takes more levels of confidence to achieve with more layers of governance to make it happen.
We have all had to pivot our way of doing business during this time. Moving forward to accept this new way of doing business with the motorcoach market, we will need to be innovative, creative and fluid.
We need to have flexible terms and conditions, cancellation policies and look towards added value to our operations. Everyone is fighting for the same piece of business right now and there is less of it. Value, integrity, confidence, and relationships will make or break your sale.
You will need to re-invent your offerings, but it doesn’t have to cost you more. What is just a hotel room could be positioned as a home away from home, an escape to comfort. The Old Stone Inn, in Niagara Falls, has done a great job with being innovative during this time. I attended a ‘mom marketplace’ that they hosted a couple of weeks ago. It was great to walk outside and do a little shopping. We conveniently had to walk through their ‘pop up’ restaurant patio so of course we sat down and had a few drinks and some appetizers to enhance our continued shopping spree. Following the marketplace, I talked to the owner Ann Marie because her vision was so impressive. She explains,
“I truly believe in partnerships and collaboration, this opportunity to both elevate each other. Through these types of partnerships, you create word of mouth advertising, and you share social media audiences; all done with no dollar spend.”
She absolutely sees additional room nights both during the event and by new customers following the event after they saw her property. All suppliers can follow this same path, take the time to engage your customers and attract new ones. There are many ways you can increase the value of your product or service and set it apart from others, encouraging the pathway to close the sale. Think outside of the box by offering new ways to look at your business, it also extends your market share and may attract a new customer type that you never had before.
These are challenging times for us all and we need to work together to get through it. We need to find alternative sales solutions and embrace change. By working collaboratively, creating partnerships, and smiling with your eyes, we will create this new normal together.