One of the most popular of Connect Travel’s series of “Staying Connect” virtual roundtables, this month’s “Connect with Itinerary Planning Experts” generated questions ranging from “What do we mean, when we say something is ‘unique’ to an itinerary?” to “How do we handle the challenge of ‘safe and clean’ to travelers who are used to a ‘hands-on’ experience?”
Panelists included: Karin Omojola, vice president of product, AmericanTours International and Sean Bayliss, president and CEO, International Tourism Resources Group. Moderating the discussion. was Shari Bailey Shari Bailey, vice president, Connect Travel, and general manager, Connect Travel Events,
“The rules are kind of different now; we’re all starting from the beginning again.”—Shari Bailey
Bayless’s Five Keys to Developing and Itinerary
Bayless said that, right now, there are five keys to developing an itinerary: (1) known your target market; (2) create partnerships; (3) know your strengths and develop around them; (4) prepare for trends that will be shaped by a post-COVID market (“It’s the big question everybody’s asking now how: Are we coming back? When are we coming back?); and (5) ensuring the bookability of the itineraries—“You can design the most beautiful itinerary in the world, but if it’s not bookable out there, it’s unsuccessful.”
Other Points Made along the Way in the Bayliss Presentation:
—Focus on your core strengths.
—If you’re looking at new markets, just do it slowly. Get to be established in that market before moving to another.
—Budgets are going to be tight for the foreseeable future so you know look at what you’ve got to spend and look at how you market this look at partnerships.
—Internationals are visiting for an average of 12 to 14 days; in some markets, up to 21 days. This is a long journey for them it’s normally a bucket list item. They want to see as much as possible. So partner with destinations surrounding you. Use all of your strengths. This increases the variety of the product, and it increases the international gateways where people can come in so that increases the markets you can operate in.
—Remember—a percentage of something is better than all of nothing. That is, if you partner with four other destinations and you have three nights out of the twelve three nights is better than nothing.
—Self-drive will be hot. The average duration of the international trip is still going to be around 12 to 14 nights. Travel will be focused on beyond the gateways. For the short term, visitors will feel uncomfortable in built up areas; also, there’s not so much open in those areas—there’s no major shows, no concerts. So, initially they will look to go beyond the gateways,
America’s Wide-Open Spaces Will Be Popular
—An outdoor-centric itinerary allows social distancing. America is known for its wide-open spaces. Such destinations offer the perfect product for the post-COVID itinerary.
—One of the key things we’re seeing and I’m hearing from operators overseas are motorhomes. I don’t think you can rent one at this point for the whole of next year.
—Even pre-COVID, people were starting to travel in small groups—you know, three couples; two couples as friends; two families because the kids are friends; that trend is growing.
—Though there will be interest in self-drive, beyond the gateways, and outdoors, people will still want to do city stays; It’s not that people aren’t going to stay in cities. They are. Remember, the average duration is four to five days.
—Home rentals will start to become popular; it’s where people can self contain in their own group if they’re traveling with friends or if it’s two families traveling together.
—Outdoor activities will become a key focus and not just because people are looking to stay outdoors, but a lot of indoor places are still not open or they’ve got limited numbers. So if you expect someone to stay four to five nights you’ve got to create enough interest of things for them to do.
Toward a Post-COVID Market
—In recovery, we’ll grow exponentially because (of COVID and) what we’ve always called the hub-and-spoke, mentality where people will be staying in the city, but they they’re staying four to five nights; they don’t want to do every day there. Rather, they will go out on certain days and I think we call it like probably like a two-to-three-hour radius that they will drive there.
—One of the perfect examples I can look at is Las Vegas. People will stay in Las Vegas for four, five, six nights. International travelers will take a Day trip to Death Valley, which is an hour-and-a-half to two-hour drive. They take a day trip to Zion—a two-to-two-and-a-half-hour drive, and then every other day they can still lie by the pool. The plus is they’re not having to pack and unpack because they’re not going to different hotels. They’re able to settle down in one place where they feel comfortable. know your strengths
—International travelers will do a lot of investigation and you may not think they know about your secondary or tertiary sites but, believe me, they do. The internet has made the world a much smaller place.
Branding—What Are you Known for?
—Brand your itinerary to define who you are again. It’s not just about the itinerary it’s about branding your region—what are you known for what are your strengths? Is it food and wine? Is it national parks? Is it music? Play on your strengths. develop around your strengths but but then go into detail because that’s what creates the experience.
—Two good sources for starting to build or building an itinerary are TourOperatorLand.com, and Brand USA. The latter’s website is: https://www.visittheusa.com/traveltradeusa
—Take a look at the itineraries and how we have worked upon different regions strength to create different themes and those themes are everything from culinary, historic cultural, outdoors and more. Once you’ve looked at all that and you know what your strengths are you know what your market is you know what your theme is going to be then and only then develop your itinerary. When you’ve developed the itinerary, you go out marketing it … that’s great but do prepare with your region and with your partners. if you’re including hotels, attractions, sightseeing, ensure that those people know that they’re included and ensure they understand the international market.
—Then, there is the most crucial part: ensure bookability. You can create the best itineraries in the world, but if it can’t be booked, how do you prove a return on investment? How do you justify the budget? Where do you get stats and figures so you know?
Work with the Receptives
—Work with receptive international tour operators create worldwide awareness of your brand through consumer known and trusted channels. They work with the tour operators in those international markets that the public knows and trusts. They’re not only doing marketing and brand awareness of your product but they also educate they run familiarization tours. They make people aware and they ensure that people are selling your product properly through training and awareness return on investment. They ensure a conversion to book passengers and they provide statistics and tracking when you need to justify what you did to your boards, to your owner.
—A receptive tour operator at the international wholesaler retail distribution they’re your marketing arm overseas they break they branch out into secondary and tertiary U.S. destinations, so they’re not only focused on the known key gateways; they promote the entire U.S. That’s the benefit to smaller destinations or if you’re doing partnerships—they have the ability to penetrate in not only existing markets but also emerging markets with very little risk to you.
—The international tour operators are located overseas. They’re your sales team. They’re predominantly laser-based. They’re market specific. They’re focused. They’re based in the UK, Germany, Brazil, Australia … They are the experts in their market. They have market-specific knowledge and experience.
—Together, the receptive tour operator and the international tour operator will give you a streamlined approach to reaching international audiences through one contact.
“One nice thing with TourOperatorLand.com is that the itineraries are downloadable and each time someone downloads an itinerary you get an email with the contact of who downloaded that itinerary, so it gives you the ability to follow up with them.”—Shari Bailey
Some of ATI’s Karin Omojola’s Notes on “Road Tripping”
—Road trips will be the biggest trend for the domestic traveler from now till the summer of next year.
—Sixty-five person of U.S. travelers are right now planning to take a road trip within the next six months, and there will be a huge focus on outdoor activities.
—In the U.S., consumer confidence went from 35 percent in May to 49 percent in August and it’s obviously been continuously going up, which is great news.
—Road trips have been really popular with the international market even before COVID, provides and they’ll be even more popular when international travel returns.
—When it comes to domestic markets, which is the company’s focus at the moment, domestic travelers are really showing a great interest for road trips—(She calls it “road tripping”)—as they can travel with family and friends and create their own “travel bubble.”
—ATI’s Drive America program actually empowers the traveler to take advantage of this travel trend and its newly enhanced Drive America Road Trip building platform was actually developed as a result of ATI’s long-time partnership with AAA and the Canadian Automobile Association.
—Right now, its Drive America Road Trip is being featured by the British travel publication, Travel Mole, and is actually targeting the domestic traveler,
—ATI has just launched a Drive America campaign on Travel Mole where it partnered with Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.
—The tour operator is also promoting a road trip itinerary from Las Vegas that goes to Bryce Canyon, visits Escalante National Monument and then returns to Las Vegas.
—Not confined to the popular national parks of the U.S. Southwest, ATI has a road trip itinerary that focuses on the southern coastline of the U.S.—with product that includes North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
Drive Itinerary’s Flexibility
—Underscoring the program’s flexibility, as well as its natural appeal to destinations and their tours attractions is a concierge service that complements its Drive America bookings—this allows agents to add specialized services such as private guides.
—ATI, Omojola emphasized, is the only tour operator/travel company that has the flexibility offered by its Drive America program. Travel agents using the platform can log on and create new itineraries—they can start from scratch or take action in assisting a drive itinerary and then amend it so they can start a new itinerary really from any city.
—The program also allows an agent building an itinerary to change the number of days you want a client to stay in any city. They can change hotels from one that has a three-star rating to a five-star rating. As well, they can add as many attractions into a package as they would like.
—Also, end consumers of the itinerary will actually have an app on their phone in which every detail that’s actually relating to his or her drive itinerary is on that app. Overall, ATI is featuring the 31 Brand USA tours that Bayless alluded to, It also has 120 tariff tours and 400-plus client custom tours.
—With the program, ATI can promote first-tier, second-tier or third-tier destinations (“it makes no difference”) and, because of its reach, ATI and its market experts tells agents and DMOs “We are your marketing arm and we do specialize in domestic and international travel so when we collaborate … we have close relationships with the neighboring states and that’s really important when you consider multi-state drive itineraries.”
—The tour operator also offers an extensive number of day-trip itineraries.
Readers can access a complete recording of the session at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhR1GbCz95o