Struggling to sell themed tours? Laura French gets the lowdown on how to secure more bookings
As Cinderella’s slipper once taught us, there’s no one-sizefits- all approach in life, and touring is no exception.
Which is why themed tours can be something of a saviour when it comes to finding a holiday to suit your clients. And whoever you’ve got on your hands – whether it’s a photography guru or a green-fingered gardener, a wildlife seeker or a wannabe walker – you’ll find the slipper that fits.
When you do, it’s a win-win situation: clients get to delve into an area they’re genuinely passionate about, while you get to enjoy the fruits of a high-value trip where knowledgeable guides come with a price tag to match their level of expertise (and commission to match).
It’s also a good way to shine a new light on adventure touring – after all, it doesn’t always have to be about bungee jumping off a bridge, or trekking 200 miles in a day, as Brian Young, managing director at G Adventures, explains: “Themed tours can act as gateway trips for agents to get their customers thinking about adventure in a different way.”
Paul Melinis, head of sales for Insight Vacations, adds: “They are an opportunity to introduce customers to new destinations and travelling styles they might not have considered.”
The only tricky part is knowing how to sell a themed tour – and who to target. So let us lend a helping hand with these tips from those in the know.
Target new clients
Cracking a new market always comes with its challenges, especially if clients – and agents – come with pre-conceived ideas of what escorted touring involves. But as is clear from the example of the cruise industry, widening out the potential audience is crucial to a sector’s success, and a themed tour is an ideal way of doing exactly that.
Steve Spivak, vice-president of global sales at Tauck, says: “For the agent, themed tours open up new markets and potential clients, and because they share an affinity, they are easy to find.”
So use a niche interest to get some touring first-timers on board. “For foodies, this could be cooking classes and local market tours,” says Donna Jeavons, Contiki’s UK and Europe sales and marketing director. “For budding photographers, it’s the expertise of a professional Instagrammer as a guide, and for those pursuing a truly local experience, a focus on authentic and stylish accommodation is the key selling point.”
This works for people from all walks of life; clients who enjoy a drink or two but wouldn’t normally consider a trip might be tempted by AmaWaterways’ wine and beer-themed voyages down the Danube, while history buffs turned off by the prospect of an ‘adventure’ trip might reconsider when they hear the word ‘battlefields’.
Link up with local clubs
Fortunately, finding the right clients for these tours should be relatively stressfree. Local clubs are chock-full of opportunity and can hook you up with people drawn together by a common hobby – think running and cycling societies for active trips, cooking classes for foodie tours or birdwatching clubs for wildlife expeditions. And if you get it right, you can pull in the bookings en masse, especially if you offer an incentive for those who book with you.
For Beverly Philpotts, business development manager at Great Rail Journeys, this is a tried-and-tested strategy. “We have recently had success with agents approaching their local British Legion group about our battlefield tours, and we supported the agents by holding a slideshow and giving out flyers”, she says. “This has worked well with people who have never tried escorted touring before”.
And once you’ve got one client on board, they can recommend it to friends with a similar pastime.
“An individual client may suggest such a holiday to their interest group, resulting in more clients for the agent,” says Maria Cook, general manager at Ffestiniog Travel, which specialises in rail tours. “The potential for group booking is increased with themed tours.”
Host an in-store event
Turning your agency into a space for events or talks can be another effective way of getting the message out there – and making sure it reaches the right people. Intrepid Travel’s head of business development, Daniel Pawlyn, says: “We often work with agents to host events in their stores, such as a wine and cheese evening to promote food trips, or inviting in an expert speaker to talk about polar or astronomy trips.”
And don’t neglect other local venues. The gym isn’t just a hotbed for eye candy – it’s also brimming with active types who might jump at the chance of a cycling holiday or some other outdoorsy adventure. After all, if a gym fiend isn’t going to climb Everest, who is?
Emphasise common interests
Let’s face it, identifying and reaching out to a potential client is no use unless you’re able to persuade them to actually join the trip.
Group tours are an excellent option for travellers wanting to meet similar people, so underline the fact your client will be with others who share their interests, however weird and wonderful they may be (naked cruise on Bare Necessities’ Big Nude Boat, anyone?)
Ruth Hilton, sales and business development director at Trafalgar, says: “Travellers who are new to guided holidays, or those who might be travelling solo, can be confident knowing they’ll meet like-minded people on a themed journey.”
And as Cook from Ffestiniog Travel points out, that’s likely to appeal to solo travellers in particular, including clients whose better halves would rather stay at home and feed the cat than hike Kilimanjaro or kayak through glaciers. “Themed tours appeal to individuals – your client is unlikely to be the only single passenger,” she says.
Don’t be a know-it-all
When it comes to selling something this niche, there’s the temptation to make yourself out as an expert. But Patrick Millar, marketing manager at Kirker Holidays, says this is the wrong approach. “Your clients will almost always be more experienced and knowledgeable in their specific area of interest, so don’t pretend to know as much as them,” he says.
Chances are you’ll get found out pretty quickly when they start asking questions about the dicentra eximia of the horticultural variety, or the oleaginous hemispingus of the bird family – apparently they both exist!
Highlight insider access
It’s also worth emphasising the wider advantages of an escorted tour, such as gaining access to places and experiences clients wouldn’t have otherwise. Take Kirker Holidays’ New York tours, which give arty clients access to the Museum of Modern Art outside ordinary opening hours, guarantee hard-to-get tickets at the Met Opera and offer backstage tours of the theatre.
Explore’s Local Life tours, meanwhile, take travellers everywhere from a farmer’s house in Georgia to a Miao ethnic village in China – try doing that on your lonesome.
And of course it’s those off-thebeaten-track regions that make ideal touring destinations, so suggest a guided expedition to clients who might be a little nervous of venturing to these more unusual places alone.
If you combine that with the other bonuses – the reassurance of a guide, the ease of a set itinerary and the joys of flexible travel – you’ll have a powerful wand to wave at eager clients.
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