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.
North America Has Most Restrictive Entry Policies of Any World Region
A just-released report from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (WTO) shows that—despite a growing (though small) movement to ease the process for visitiors from nation to travel to another through visa-on-arrival, e-visas and the waiving of visa requirements–North America has the most. Culled from the WTO’s Visa Openness Report 2014, are the following points.
• In North America:
-Only 12 percent of the world’s population can enter without a visa.
-in all of the Americas, however, 30 percent of the world’s population does not need a visa to visit the region.
• Nations in Asia and the Pacific have facilitated international travel the most. To visit Asia and the Pacific:
-23 percent of the world’s population is not required to have a visa.
-23 percent can obtain a visa on arrival.
-5 percent can use an e-visa.
• European destinations are among the more restrictive:
-75 percent of the world’s population is required to obtain a visa before departure.
-21 percent are not required to obtain a visa.
-3 percent can obtain one on arrival.
For a copy of the full report, visit: http://dtxtq4w60xqpw.cloudfront.net/sites/all/files/pdf/2014visaopennessreport2ndprintingonline.pdf
Too Much to Drink? Join The Hangover Club in NYC
With the launch of a mobile lounge that camped out in Lower Manhattan following New Year’s Eve waiting to minister to dozens of New Yorkers who queued up outside a popular nightclub following their revelry, the Hangover Club has established itself in the city where there is an omnipresent market for its product—creating a mood and administering through IVs the fluids and chemicals designed to thwart the symptoms of the hangover that follows a night of excess consumption of alcohol. In fact, for its New Year’s Day stop, there were 75 advance reservations for the Hangover Bus.
The hangover treatment business is one of recent vintage, with such services now available in places such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The Hangover Club is probably the first to actively promote its service and its schedule in an effort to create more inquiries, reservations and referrals.
The IV drips—they contain coconut water, vitamins and other off-the-shelf substances—used to combat the hangover symptoms take about 40 minutes. Prices vary. Retailing for $175 is the Classic, which includes hydration and nausea or pain medication. The price goes to $219 for the Super, which includes a vitamin B boost; for $249 there is the Mega, which adds detox and vitamin C boosts. The Hangover Club also offers in-home service, saying that it “can have a nurse to you in as little as 45 minutes” within Manhattan, with service also available in parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
After the success of its New Year’s promotion, which offered discounted specials, the Hangover Club said that it expected to employ more than a dozen people by the end of January. For more information, visit: www.hangoverclub.com.
U.S. Farmers Group Looking to Connect with Travel Trade to Develop Farm Stay Vacation Market: After picking up on some cyber conversations regarding the niche market of agritourism that invites travelers to spend a couple of days or a week as guests at a real, working farm, Inbound was able to connect with the Farm Stay Association’s founder and executive director, Scottie Jones, and talk about the farm stay phenomenon. (She and her husband own and operate Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, Oregon.) It turns out that the movement, even though Jones’ organization is more than a few years old, is still at the fledgling status, working to build its profile with travel agents and tour operators while, at the same time, shepherding its farmer members along and trying to think marketing as much as they do farming. Following are some excerpts from our online conversation.
Inbound: Just how large is your organization, Scottie?
Jones: To answer your question, we have about 840 working farms, ranches, and vineyards listed on our site. Of those about 160 are paid members of the association. We would love more to help us promote our farm vacations in a more cohesive way, but think we are well represented by the ones who have joined. As the site is really for travelers, we wanted them to have as large a selection as possible to promote even our non-paying members. Funny that there are barely 1,000 farm stays in the entire U.S. when there are 7,200 in England and over 20,000 agriturismi in Italy (both the size of New England!)
Inbound: Do most Farm Stay visitors book on their own–either online through an OTA or through a member’s website–or do they go through a travel agent?
Jones: Most farm stay visitors book on their own. They do it through the member’s site, maybe through our site, which takes them to the member’s booking engine (Airbnb, Resnexus, etc.), maybe via email or phone since some of our members don’t believe in online booking (Grrr). We have been approached by travel agents from time to time about whether our members pay commission. My response has been to say they need to speak with the specific farm and not only ask but also talk about what that percentage might look like since most farm stay hosts are farmers first and hospitality hosts second and may not know what is standard. As I run my own farm stay, that is how I would deal with a travel agent approaching me.
Inbound: Do you and your members work with tour operators?
Jones: At Farm Stay U.S., we would like to work with tour operators similarly to how we work with travelers. We feel there is opportunity here to send small tour groups to our farms and ranches that can accommodate the numbers. A number of our members offer more than just the overnight lodging, with hands-on participation and classes or activities (cheese-making, cooking, hiking with goats or llamas) that would be interesting to a tour group. Some also have festivals at different times of year that might provide a good day visit to the farm. I think the biggest problem we face with tour groups is capacity for beds in once place. To date, I only know of farms in Vermont working with Vermont Farm Tours, but haven’t really asked the question of our members, but that doesn’t mean they don’t or wouldn’t. I could always ask in our next newsletter.
Inbound: Are groups a part of your business? If so, what percentage of your visitors are groups?
Jones: Again, tours aren’t part of the U.S. Farm Stay Association business plan, but they could be. We just need to know what tour operators are looking for so we can put together some ideas and get buy-in from our members. Personally, I don’t host tours because I only have one cottage so I’m not able to accommodate more than six people (and they need to know each other well enough to share beds and a bathroom!) Many of our members are in the same boat, although a large number of the ranches can take more people and even some of our farms.
Inbound: What percentage of Farm Stay business is domestic and what percentage is international?
Jones: Hmmm, it depends, and this is going to be an anecdotal answer. I know that our ranches in the western U.S. get a large number of international guests, maybe 30 percent, as do many of our eastern farms. Here in Oregon, I get international guests who are living in the states more than those flying in from overseas. Some of this is related to how the state markets itself internationally and how easy it is to get into the airport. Our ranches have the pull that everyone would like to try out being a cowboy and the vistas are generally gorgeous and open and just like in the western movies. I have had queries from farmer/ranches in Australia (more than once) to provide a tour route for looking at farming practices in the Midwest where they are coming with several farmers and their wives.
Jones: We connect travelers with working operations across the States and are the only website specifically focused on farm vacations† and getting people closer to the source of their food and rural American farms. Urbanites are pretty disconnected from farming life with no family farm to return home to on the holidays so we have now taken on a bit of a mystique in terms of what we do and how we do it. I think farmer’s markets have certainly helped to raise awareness of small family farms and we are just the next step for the full experience. People may not want to buy the farm, but being able to be out in the countryside, hear a rooster crow, sit down for a family meal of good local produce, and basically unplug – if only for the weekend – feels good for the soul and good for relationships. Heck, the Italians do this all the time where they leave the city for the weekend to smell some country air.
Americans still don’t know they can take a vacation on a U.S. farm, thinking they need to go to Europe or Down Under (not so bad but the airfare and passport thing self-select the clientele). We are encouraging people to look in their own back yard but we have a ways to go before the term “farm stay” is as recognized at Disneyland or even dude ranch (which in our eyes has nothing to do with the agricultural business of ranching and are therefore not included on our site…which is also how we separate ourselves from bed & breakfasts in a beautiful old farm house that is no longer part of a working farm, I might add).
One other point, we are farmers and farm stay hosts running this organization with a mission to promote what we do and a passion to inform farms about diversifying their income streams by allowing guests to stay overnight on their farms so that we can grow the category and become a real travel niche in the U.S. similar to other countries. We are at the end of a phone (not like Airbnb or VRBO) and at the end of an email. We will do anything we can to help the traveler or the farmer or the writer to get the message out. Oh, yeah, and not unlike many non-profits, we are looking for partners and sponsors to help get our message out because we are apparently better at marketing than finding money to support our cause …just thought I would throw that in there 🙂
† Another source of information on farm stays and visits is Agritourism World (www.agritourismworld.com ), a directory of that is more comprehensive and inclusive than Farm Stays.
AgritourismWorld acts as a clearinghouse for 3,000 agritourism businesses that accept public visits. It has no centralized reservation number; rather, the public may search the site by destination or type of visit desired and go directly to the business. It has information on some 3,000 farms and “ag-destinations” that are broken down into more than 100 categories of interest: U.S. state and international locations; events; farms with animals; food and beverage producers; gardens and plants; markets and retailers; overnight stays (bed and breakfast locations, camping sites, lodge hotels, RV parks, retreat centers, etc.) and more. A relatively recent venture—it was established by long-time tour and travel industry veteran Charles Presley, a co-founder of Group Travel Leader publication and founder of the Group Travel Leader family of businesses.
Germany: Sixty Five-Plus Travelers Will Drive Growth of Market
Senior Travelers Will be Key to Growth of German Market in Near-Term Future: According to the just-released annual Tourism Analysis by the Hamburg-based Institute for Future Issues, the number of Germans over 65 who went on at least one five-day vacation increased to nearly 50 percent last year, compared to 44 percent ten years ago. The study’s report, which was based on a representative survey of 4,400 consumers, indicated that this trend is likely to intensify in the coming years due to demographic factors. (Nearly 21 percent of Germany’s population of more than 80 million is over 65 years old, vs. 13.7 percent for the U.S. In addition, 52 million Germans speak English—the UK is the only European nation with more English speakers.)
The finding is encouraging news for U.S. travel suppliers, who regard Germany as a rich market because they visit for longer periods and tend to explore new parts of the USA in their travels—more so than do visitors from other major overseas source markets. Germany is expected to send about 2 million visitors to the United States this year; it is now the Number 5 overseas source market, having been eclipsed in 2014 by China, which is now Number 4.
Some points noted in the Institute for Future Issues report include the following:
- Overall, about 57 percent of Germans took a one-week holiday (or more) last year, which was unchanged compared to the previous year. But study author Professor Ulrich Reinhardt, the study’s author, said the level is high, noting that number is seven percentage points higher than in 2009.
- This year, 44 percent of Germans are definitely planning a foreign holiday while 37 percent are still undecided.
- Germany itself remained the most popular overall destination for German holidaymakers—37 percent of vacations last year were taken domestically.
- About 29 percent of Germans—particularly those in the 50 to 64 age group—“dream” of a cruise holiday.
New Product: Travel Alliance Partners Expands Range of Activities
TAP Opens Guaranteed Departure Tours to International Operators: The Just published 2015-16 Guaranteed Departures brochure of Travel Alliance Partners (TAP) offers the most wide-ranging collection of travel experiences ever developed by the organization since it was first established in 2001 by a group of NTA operators looking to develop product that any of them could market. Now 32 in number, TAP’s operators have product that is guaranteed against cancellation, even if there is but one confirmed booking backed up by a deposit. TAP travelers can now selected from product that features 500 worldwide destinations.
Asked about the TAP’s global reach in a conversation with Inbound that focused on the 2015-16 brochure Stefanie Gorder, TAP’s executive director, made the point that all TAP products are available to international tour operators and that, to varying degrees, all TAP operators are experienced at conducting business—and regularly do so— with international operators.
And while Guaranteed Departures will always be the signature of any TAP product, Gorder added, the organization is expanding its reach to include a wider variety of travel experiences, including cruise (it has expanded its partnership with Holland America Line, offering cruise and Alaska Land Journey options) rail, and more.
In addition to its Guaranteed Departure line, TAP operators also feature Scheduled Departures (these tours have timing and pricing ready to go; itineraries are available for booking and once a passenger quota is met, Scheduled Departures become Guaranteed Departures) and Custom Group Tours (the standard minimum ranges from 20-30 passengers) for groups seeking a personalized touring experience.
To download a copy of the 2015-16 Guaranteed Departures brochure, visit: http://www.flipsnack.com/TAPllc/tap-into-travel-2015-2016-guaranteed-departures.html. For more information on Travel Alliance Partners, visit: http://www.travelalliancepartners.com/.
Thomas Cook chief executive Peter Fankhauser—he took over from the departed Harriet Green in November—has revamped the company’s management structure, creating a smaller top management team. Green had more than 20 people reporting to her directly; Fankhauser said that this structure needed to be streamlined. Instead, he has a four-person executive committee that includes: himself; chief financial officer Michael Healy; chief airlines and hotels officer Christoph Debus; and chief corporate officer Craig Stoehr. The move didn’t mean that he had “cleared out people” in his first three months as chief executive, although he has eliminated the post of chief operating officer–a position Fankhauser himself held before his promotion to CEO.
Joleen Haran has take over as director of sales for Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. She joins the attraction from Choose Chicago, where she served for nearly 15 years, most recently as assistant director, tourism.