If Allyn hears that an archaeologist professor has taken leave from the university to do a dig in Greece, she will try to use that opportunity for a future trip. She seeks to pair a professor with destinations that match up with members’ interests and mesh with the professor’s schedule.
“These trips also take professors to places they lecture about, so it’s a benefit for them as well,” said Allyn. “The professors bring their experiences back to their classroom to share it.”
Vanderbilt University has strong educational focuses in certain areas that also tie in with travel, such as well-developed history, political science and music departments.
With 20 to 25 trips offered each year, the Vanderbilt alumni group travels all around the world. Allyn finds that Europe, especially, sells well, as does the United States.
“The domestic product is huge for us right now,” said Allyn. “We have a lot of trips to Alaska and our national parks. Cruises down the Mississippi River have also been extremely popular.”
Whether international or domestic, every Vanderbilt alumni trip features an educational component. Destinations like Alaska may not sound like a first choice for the perfect learning experience, but Allyn knows that every place has a history and a point of view.
“On one trip to Alaska, I had a professor that talked about Jack London and the gold rush,” said Allyn. “She talked about why Jack London found Alaska so appealing and about what kind of culture women brought to the state during the gold rush. It was wonderful.”
Of the current 135,000 living Vanderbilt alumni, Allyn estimates only 15,000 to 30,000 could potentially be able to travel with the alumni group. So the question becomes how to convince these alumni to travel with Vanderbilt.
“Loyalty is why they are traveling with us instead of a travel agent,” said Allyn. “It doesn’t matter the age of the people on the trip, everyone has a common bond: an affinity to Vanderbilt. They are together talking about their college experiences and their favorite professors.”
Allyn strives to keep her trips as Vanderbilt focused as possible. One popular way to incorporate the university into the trip is to plan outings with other alumni or students living abroad.
“When we’re able to connect with our students, it is such fun for our alumni,” said Allyn. “They ask questions about Vanderbilt and how it’s doing now.”
Personalized gifts also build loyalty with the alumni group, and Allyn chooses small keepsakes to remind visitors of each destination they visit.
“I sent out walking sticks for everyone in Alaska and paprika when we went to Hungary,” said Allyn. “There are all kinds of little things you can do. They aren’t expensive — just a little pillow gift.”
A conference call one or two weeks before a trip with all the group members allows participants to meet and ask questions. The group learns everything from what to wear to what they will learn and feeds off the palpable enthusiasm.
“I love talking with our alumni,” said Allyn. “In general, they are so excited about going on a trip with us. They love the people they are traveling with.”
• Take calls from your group members regarding trips. You are far more likely to generate bookings by showing your excitement and developing loyalty.
• Don’t schedule too many trips each year. Though you might think more trips would generate more travelers, too many trips tends to dilute your program. This allows for exclusive departures with your institution.
• Try to find a professor or a study leader to accompany an alumni trip. Start small with a popular professor and extend personal invitations to join the groups.