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Travel Toolbox: Upgraded Experiences

Your members have a wide variety of choices when they want to travel, so why should they choose to go with you?

There’s a lot of competition for sophisticated travelers. Your members and prospects can book vacations online, work with local travel agents or join with other community organizations that offer tours. If you want to convince them to travel with your bank, alumni group or chamber of commerce, it would behoove you to offer them upgraded experiences and amenities they aren’t going to find anywhere else.

Everybody loves an upgrade, and providing a high level of customization and quality is an excellent way to win customers. Although conventional wisdom holds that price reigns supreme in the group tour market, research is showing that younger travelers are willing to spend more on trips that offer a greater perceived value.

Upgrading your trips can involve small, inexpensive changes or luxury-level services that come with much higher price tags. How you deploy upgrades will depend on the tastes and budgets of your travelers. But here are a few ideas to get you started.

Better Dining

With the exception of breakfast, buffet dining has become anathema to the high-end travel market, and many food enthusiasts look specifically for special culinary experiences as part of their trips. One of the best ways to please these people is to book two or three meals at exceptional local restaurants over the course of the trip and to offer a wide variety of options during the meal. Letting groups order off the full restaurant menu instead of restricting them to a limited “motorcoach menu” makes travelers feel special and independent. These upgrades can cost a little more in terms of time and money, but the return on the investment is worthwhile.

‘Suite’ Accommodations

The largest single expense in most vacations is the hotel stay, and it makes sense that many tour operators use moderate to midscale hotel properties to keep their prices competitive. But if you want to wow your travelers, spring for something one or two tiers up from the typical limited-service hotel. Whether it’s upgrading your group to a stay at a swanky property near the heart of town or to suites instead of standard double-doubles, upgrading accommodations can make an impact on a traveler’s perception of value. The same goes for cruise cabins: Going one step higher than normal is sure to make an impression on your guests.

Tricked-Out Transportation

During the course of a busy tour, your travelers are likely to spend a lot of time on a motorcoach; they may even spend more waking hours on the coach than they do in their hotel rooms. This makes motorcoaches a good opportunity for upgrades. Today’s new vehicles can come with wireless internet service, seat-back USB ports for charging electronics and myriad other special touches. Ask your tour operator or coach provider to dispatch one of these vehicles if you have a large group. If your group is smaller, consider booking a luxury coach, which has less seating but ample space for onboard lounges and a galley.

VIP Access

One of the hallmarks of a memorable group tour is that it gives participants access to experiences they couldn’t otherwise arrange for themselves. You can take this principle one step further by arranging some memorable VIP moments for your travelers. They can include such wide-ranging options as private entrance into popular attractions, behind-the-scenes tours at museums and special encounters with local celebrities. If you have sports fans in your group, you might even offer hard-to-get tickets or access to special VIP areas at sports venues. Savvy tour operators should be able to help you arrange these sorts of experiences in a variety of destinations.

Personal Hospitality

Ultimately, the best opportunity that you have to upgrade your travelers’ experience is through personal, hands-on hospitality. You are your travel club’s primary ambassador, and when you travel with your members, you’re in a position to show them how much you value them. Go the extra mile to show them hospitality. Inexpensive items like small gifts or welcome bags go a long way in making people feel important. If someone in the group has a birthday, an anniversary or another special occasion during the trip, help that person celebrate with a special meal or dessert. Host a hospitality suite in your hotel after hours or buy a round of drinks at cocktail hour. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend doing this. As the old saying goes, it’s the thought that counts.