You’ve crafted the ideal trip, with a perfectly paced itinerary, a capable tour operator and exciting excursions. But after the tour, no one talks about it. It’s like it never happened.
According to data company Nielsen, 92 percent of customers believe recommendations from friends and family over all other forms of marketing. Therefore, to expand your loyalty travel group beyond its current membership, word of mouth is key. Your members must champion your loyalty program to other potential travelers for your organization to grow.
To encourage travelers to become advocates for your loyalty travel program, engage current group devotees more in the program. You want your travelers to actively root for the success of your group, instead of silently signing up for another tour. If members feel ownership in the program, they are more likely to talk about your latest tour to everyone who will listen.
Gathering feedback is the first step toward cultivating involved members. Though talking one-on-one with members is always important, surveys are an effective way to find out what people think and to ensure they feel they have a say in the program.
Periodically survey all members — travelers and nontravelers — to determine what types of trips to offer. Many group leaders discover that members are eager to travel with the group but unable to because of the length or the price of the trip. A survey that asks what days, times, lengths, prices and destinations they prefer can tap into a larger pool of potential travelers.
After planning a trip based on members’ needs, also survey the travelers at the end of the tour. Don’t wait to send out a survey of the tour until after they return home; they may not complete the form. Make time near the end of the tour when travelers can fill out the surveys and not feel rushed. Stress the importance of their participation so they know their feedback will improve the travel program.
Nicola Wissler, education and workforce development manager for the Visalia Chamber of Commerce, also encourages participation from members with surveys that help determine future trip destinations.
“We come up with 12 options and give our surveys to members to let us know what places they are most interested in,” said Wissler. “It helps us plan for future trips. If there is consistent interest in one trip we can’t do yet, we save it for a future year.”
Engagement with the travel program should start before members even set foot on the motorcoach or cruise ship. Once you have your list of travelers, foster connection to the group through personal phone calls, information on the upcoming trip, pretrip gifts with your organization’s logo, recommended reading lists and other means.
Ensure that travelers feel comfortable asking questions. One way to do this other than reaching out personally is to host a pretrip reception. Some planners create elaborate themed receptions with appetizers, decorations and slideshows of the upcoming trip.
In some loyalty travel programs, however, members live across the country, making a fun party together impossible. Instead of giving up on the idea, host a conference call with all the travelers where they can introduce themselves while you talk through the details of the trip and ask questions. You could also introduce your group members to each other via a pretrip email with a short bio of each member.
During the tour, try to either go yourself or send someone from your organization to emphasize the tour’s relationship with the organization rather than just the tour operator. With someone there, you can ensure that each member feels personally connected to the rest of the group.
“We typically like to have one person from Commerce Lexington on each bus,” said Katie Hardwick, assistant vice president of programs and events for Commerce Lexington in Kentucky. “We feel like we’re not only selling our tours, but ourselves.”
Once you’ve involved members before the trip and surveyed them during the trip, the most important step is to follow up after the tour ends to ensure long-term, vocal supporters of your program. Immediately after the tour, ask them to post about it on social media.
Another way to encourage endorsement from members is to ask them for photos or quotes about the tour to share with all members in newsletters or social media. If your program runs a blog, ask if any members will volunteer to write a blog post about the trip. Information coming from a traveler rather than a group leader can mean more to those on the fence about their first group trip. It also provides a way for the traveler to relive the experience through writing.
Don’t just hope that word of mouth spreads naturally; task your members to share their experiences with others by offering discounts on future trips for those that successfully recommend a friend to sign up. Mail everyone memory books after each tour so travelers can show friends and family the program’s exciting adventures without any effort on their part.
With the proper encouragement, your galvanized members will publicize the travel program for you.