Everybody likes to feel important.
In an industry bookended by rush-to-the-bottom price competition on one side and tiered loyalty programs on the other, the average traveler can often feel squeezed, overlooked or forgotten. So it only takes a small personal touch or an exclusive experience to break through the norm and give someone a sense of respect and significance.
Making members feel special should be a crucial part of your loyalty-building strategy as an affinity travel program director. Sometimes, this might mean paying special attention to an especially influential guest. Other times, it means delivering upgraded travel experiences that your customers won’t get from any other travel organizations in your community.
Whether you have true VIPs joining you on a specific trip or just want to offer a high-end travel opportunity that will make every member of your group feel important, here are some surefire ways to deliver VIP experiences to your guests.
Set Up Personal Encounters
One of the most effective ways to make someone feel like a VIP is to introduce them to other important people. When you’re traveling, that means meeting the movers, shakers and influencers at destinations and attractions. In a small town, you might arrange to have the mayor greet your group at an attraction or a meal. At a theater, perhaps you could have a director or some cast members spend time with the group. And at a museum, ask for a visit with the curator instead of a volunteer docent. You can often secure these VIP meetings simply by asking for them.
Hire Executive Coaches
On many group tours, travelers spend more waking hours on a motorcoach than anyplace else. So, to heighten your travelers’ experience to the VIP level, upgrading the motorcoach can make a lot of sense. Today’s transportation companies offer a range of options beyond the standard 54-seat coach. Highlights include minicoaches, which feel more intimate, as well as full-size executive coaches that have been appointed with high-end finishes to feel more like limousine interiors. Some even feature a lounge area and a small kitchen, allowing you to offer comfortable seating, snacks and beverages en route.
Upgrade Rooms and Amenities
Hoteliers figured out long ago they could make their most loyal customers feel like VIPs by offering them free upgrades to fancier rooms and exclusive amenities. And while you probably can’t get every member of your group into a presidential suite, you can work with hotel partners to offer better-than-average accommodations. This could entail rooms on the concierge or club levels, which often include free appetizers, drinks and other perks. If these spaces aren’t available, you could also arrange for a gift or small edible goodies to be delivered to each traveler’s room while they’re out seeing the sights.
Include Optional Activities
A long-standing practice in both tours and cruises is for operators to offer some highly memorable — and highly valuable — experiences as optional extras for passengers who want to pay for them. This helps keep the cost of a trip low. But if cost isn’t your primary concern, consider building some of these optional activities into the standard trip package. On a tour, it means working with your tour operator to price one or two signature experiences into the overall program for every participant. On a cruise, it might mean booking a shore excursion exclusive to your group or, perhaps, including an onboard credit so travelers can pick their own excursions.
Plan Around Marquee Events
Getting access to high-demand events can make travelers feel special. So to really sell a VIP tour, consider building it around a marquee sports or cultural event. If your travelers love sports, work with an experienced tour operator to put together a trip to the Kentucky Derby, the Super Bowl, the Masters Tournament or the World Series. For theater lovers, don’t just plan a generic trip to New York or Chicago; instead, find a way to score tickets to “Hamilton” or “Dear Evan Hanson.” Many of these trips will be significantly more expensive than regular tours, but for VIP customers, the price might pale in comparison to the value of the experience.