Could Mel Tye, a Small New England Operator, be the Tour Operator of the Future? When Google’s designers changed their algorithm in 2013, Mel Tye—he owns Tye’s Top Tour & Travel in Merrimack N.H.—soon found that he was losing nearly half of the organic traffic to his website. So, last year, he took action by enrolling in a graduate level e-commerce marketing course at a local college and blogging all along throughout the experience about his trials, tribulations and feelings of inadequacies to his 2,200 followers on Facebook. Those who were expecting an academic train wreck as this fifty-something tour operator in an old-school industry took on the digital world instead were treated to weekly pronouncements of frustration and vulnerability as he shared a class with “whiz kids” who knew so much more than he did; but they also read and sensed the pure joy he experienced with every new skill he was able to learn.
“The average age of our client base two years ago was 65 plus; I had to do something,” lamented Tye, as he recalled the motivation for his decision. “Eventually, I was able to bring the age down to 45-to-65 years old.”
Tye is one of those no-nonsense types who, when people approached him to arrange an appointment at the recent American Bus Association (ABA) Marketplace, had no compunction in telling them, “I have no interest in selling Montana so you’re better off spending time with someone else.” And now, he uses Facebook to crowdsource interest in tour ideas he’s had. A post from Jan. 6 typifies his social media approach. “I have received about 10 calls and emails today asking if I am going to have a trip to Cooperstown to see Pedro Martinez get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Will you let me know how strong the interest is? I will have this tour ready tomorrow if the interest is strong.” The next day he announced the tour was on with 25 people.
Tye also announced on his Facebook page that he will be distributing selected packaged travel product on Amazon.com with this post: “I am entering the test phase to make sure the bugs are worked out. I feel like the little fish in the shark invested waters, but, as the saying goes; with no risk there is no reward. I am grateful that my contacts at Amazon.com believe that selling packaged travel on Amazon.com is viable.”
Tye, who is active as an East-of-the-Mississippi tour operator with a specialty in New England, also serves as a receptive tour who sells to international tour operators. “I wanted to show that you’re never too old to learn,” which, coincidentally, be one of the themes of his presentation at NAJ’s RTO Summit in New York on May 6th. (For more information, visit: www.rtosummit.com. )
The Amazon Connection: Inbound met with Tye during the ABA Marketplace and conducted a follow up interview regarding his affiliation with Amazon and his other pursuits. Following are excerpts from the interview.
Inbound: How were you first approached by Amazon?
Tye: I found them. I reached out to Amazon last June, and told them that they sell everything else … Why didn’t they consider packaged tours. I “seeded” the idea and told them how it might be structured while I was taking a graduate level e-commerce marketing class at one of our local colleges. They came back to me with some ideas for pricing, and we and two or three operators in the South are being used as beta programs for them. They hope to have 12 different tour operators from different regions of the country selling packaged programs.
Inbound: How have sales performed since the test?
Tye: The goal is to do $30,000 in sales over three weeks. Yesterday was the first day and started off with close to $5000 in sales. There is absolutely no reason why packaged travel cannot be sold like any other product on Amazon. We have broken the glass ceiling, and Amazon is excited about this new product. We have a commitment to test the sales through November of this year.
As always, I am pushing the limits of what can be done to distribute our products where the market is not crowded. I have multiple irons in the fire for distributing our products in a digital format. I am creating affiliate marketing programs just like the big guys have.
Inbound: What types of tours are you running?
Tye: Currently we are testing three different program all of which are mostly selling baseball tours to Boston and New York City as part of the beta program. We’ve reserved 50 seats each for the tours. Here’s an example: http://local.amazon.com/greater-manchester/B00TKO9JJU?ref_=site_more&cid=site_more
Inbound: How was the pricing structured?
Tye: I can’t talk about the actual pricing, but with package tours it’s all about creating perceived value by the customer. If I can add components that travelers cannot get anywhere else, the consumer is willing to pay a premium.
Inbound: What other types of tours are you developing?
Tye: November-March is considered mud season in New Hampshire. We’re calling it “value season” and will be promoting it through multiple channels.
Inbound: You stated that 40 percent of your business is from international. Since you don’t attend the traditional inbound show such as IPW, how do they find you?
Tye: International operators find us through our search optimization efforts when they are seeking New England bus tours or motor coach tours. But consumers are finding us, too.
Inbound: Where’s your business coming from?
Tye: Mostly Western Europe. Europeans don’t want to travel on large motor coaches and we promote that—we use Mercedes Sprinter vans. Some of the tours begin with 10-12 passengers, but then end up expanding into a full motor coach.
Inbound: What are the source countries for your customers?
Tye: We see FITs booking from UK and Ireland who are buying direct; We also have one coach from Australia and New Zealand and we partner with an Ireland operator by handling each other’s tours.
Additionally, we have 11 Sprinter tours booked from Italy between now and April 2016.
Inbound: Where do you see yourself moving in the future?
Tye: I am pushing the limits of what can be done to distribute our products where the market is not crowded. I have multiple irons in the fire for distributing our products in a digital format. I am creating affiliate marketing programs just like the big guys have and I’m hoping to be selling our packages on eBay as well; eBay already has a program for distributing packaged travel, but it is extremely cumbersome to use. It involves being certified as a travel seller and submitting form after form. I don’t believe selling packaged travel on eBay is practical for the little guy.
Inbound: What’s your take on ABA and NTA having staging their shows so close to one another?
Tye: What we really need is one large show for one week. Everyone would make money. ABA on one end and NTA on the other end and a core in middle … revenue shared on the core.