Travel planners who attend the next Select Traveler Conference, February 28 to March 2 in Panama City Beach, Florida, have a perfect opportunity to learn about new travel destinations and itineraries during marketplace sessions. But they also can soak up an enormous amount of travel information from the many conference sponsors.
“The greatest value that sponsors bring to delegates is the increased awareness of their unique destinations,” said Charlie Presley, conference partner and founder of The Group Travel Family, which manages the Select Traveler Conference. “They also convey the message that delegates are important enough to them as a group that they are out in front of them sponsoring parts of the conference, whether it be a meal or something else. Sponsors essentially help planners to be there.”
Select Traveler planners represent travel clubs affiliated with banks, chambers of commerce, and colleges and universities. Naturally, sponsors want to showcase their brands to this prestigious audience.
Some sponsors buy a booth that is one of a dozen or so that ring the floor of the marketplace hall, giving them added exposure to delegates throughout the two-and-a-half-day conference. The whole point is for travel sellers in the booths to interact with travel buyers milling about the meeting space.
As Presley put it, “Sponsors are telling the planners that they care about them and made the time and effort to be there in person.”
Sponsors may include states, cities, resorts, hotels, attractions and all types of travel companies. Sponsors want to showcase their offerings to just the right people and to educate planners who may need their services. Sponsors get to do that in several ways, such as during registration time when planners are checking in and have a few minutes to stop by a sponsor’s booth for a chat. Sponsors hand out “auction dollars” to the delegates with whom they speak, and those can be used to bid on valuable prizes awarded later during a fast-paced and fun auction. Or it may come during a mealtime when sponsors and planners mingle and then planners watch and listen to sponsors deliver their travel pitches from the stage.
With a limited number of marketplace appointment slots available, sponsors and other travel industry reps know they will not be able to sit down with every travel planner. But they can still reach quite a few of them during “booth time.” Another advantage for travel planners of visiting a sponsor’s booth is time savings. With personal introductions already out of the way, a sponsor and planner can save time later when the six-minute clock is ticking during their marketplace appointment. Then both sides can get right to the point and see if they want to do business.
Sponsors also get their names out there with signage, name badges, videos, printed materials and the entertainment they may bring to the conference.
Sponsors Share Ideas
Bob Cline of U.S. Tours, based in Vienna, West Virginia, has sponsored opening breakfasts for travel conferences for years and promotes his company through other conference sponsorships.
“It gives us a chance to bond with the planners, develop friendships and enhance our credibility,” said Cline. “We don’t need to speak at great length about any one travel product; instead, we just need to make a presence. I want my people to be known as the friendly team.”
Cline said he loves the friendships that have developed over the years and the new ones he begins wherever he goes. “But when those folks are ready to get serious about planning a trip, you can bet we’ll work with them.”
U.S. Tours has also sponsored numerous pre-FAM tours just before a conference. “We like to put 20 or 30 of our best customers on a bus and take them sightseeing at that destination or near it,” he said. “If you get to spend three or four days with planners on a FAM trip, you really get to know them. You’ve got a relationship.”
U.S. Tours has also brought entertainment to a meal function, such as a band or a singer. Cline also enjoys announcing creative travel events he has put together. He once presented a Janis Joplin look-alike who performed at a conference breakfast to promote the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.
“I get 20 minutes to present something, and people like that are way more entertaining than I am,” said Cline. “So I let them have at it.”
Michael Lundquist of Mayflower Cruises and Tours in Lisle, Illinois, is a frequent Select Traveler Conference sponsor. He represents part of the wide cross-section of the industry that is at the conference to sell travel. He strives to make an impact with planners.
“Every sponsorship we do is good for delegates,” said Lundquist. “Whether it’s meals or receptions with drinks or giving out Starbucks gift cards, there’s a mutual benefit because sponsors get to talk about what they do and their products and how they differ in unique ways from other sponsors that are attending the show.”
Lundquist is sure to pick up fistfuls of business cards from the travel planners he meets so the Mayflower sales team can make follow-up contacts after the show.
Lundquist loves sponsoring conference segments for Mayflower because he says the company is always coming up with new travel ideas to share with delegates.
“Now that we are owned by Scenic Group, I can talk about our new small ships and our products and itineraries,” he said. “Getting in front of a room full of group leaders is a great way to get the message out.”
Sometimes a sponsor will have a conversation with a planner with whom they did not even have an appointment, and that leads to some new, unexpected business for them.