Keep the travel dream alive

Staying home, will travel again soon...

Advisors and suppliers share creative ways to promote travel while clients aren't travelling

By: Ann Ruppenstein
Cover photos: Tim Trad & Spencer Davis 

Keep the travel dream alive

The reality is that many agents aren’t booking a lot of travel these days. Instead of a hard sell, consultants are finding creative ways to stay engaged and build relationships with their travel community.

In a world turned upside down by the pandemic, Matt Berna, Intrepid Travel’s Managing Director in North America; Janet Bava, Chief Marketing Officer for AmaWaterways, and travel advisors Rhonda Dashevsky and Kathryn Comeau-Wong share some thoughts and advice on how to stay top of mind in anticipation of the inevitable rebound.

At a time when the future is murky, travel specialists Rhonda Dashevsky and Kathryn Comeau-Wong have a game plan.

The travel advisors with Personal Travel Management have developed Trips to Tales, a board game that ensures clients will keep dreaming about travel even while they are staying close to home.

“The purpose of the game is for people to compete with friends and family in a hilarious game of stories from past travels, dreams of future travels and challenges from around the world,” Dashevsky tells Travel Courier. “People will be taken around the world to relive their previous travel adventures and follies, dream about where they would like to travel to next, as well as participate in challenges from around the world. Bottom line is that we wanted people to continue to dream.”

After realizing that the pandemic would be around for awhile, the colleagues brainstormed ideas back in May to come up with ways to keep people engaged in the love of travel. 

Travel advisors Rhonda Dashevsky and Kathryn Comeau-Wong launched Trips to Tales as a means of keeping the dream of travel alive during the pandemic

“We went through a number of scenarios from stories to scavenger hunts until we landed on the idea of a game. We did not want it to be your typical travel trivia game but rather an opportunity for people to remember their past travels and dream about future travels with a competitive twist,” Dashevsky explains. “We wanted to bring something positive into a seemingly negative space. There was a steep learning curve when we were looking at how to produce it as well. Obviously we had never done anything like this before. It is perfect for regenerating excitement of travel while we are all locked down.”

Although many travel agents aren’t making hard sells right now, they can still stay connected with clients as a means of engagement to building future business.

In terms of promotion, it is reminding people of their dreams, bucket list wishes and looking towards the future. I cannot personally do any kind of hard sell right now as it is not reasonable for people but I can remind them of the emotions of travelling when they are ready and to dream about the places that they would like to go when this is over,” she says. “In such a negative time, we want people to remember this and to have something positive to hang onto. The more you stay engaged with your clients right now, the more they remember the same. Travel agents are a vessel and a touchstone to a more positive time.”

“I cannot personally do any kind of hard sell right now as it is not reasonable for people but I can remind them of the emotions of travelling when they are ready and to dream about the places that they would like to go when this is over.”

It's time for travel advisors to be intrepid

Matt Berna, Intrepid Travel’s Managing Director in North America, believes travel agents have a unique opportunity to openly engage with their clients to build a stronger community, facilitate meaningful conversations and direct the conversation toward how travel is changing — for the better, with more focus on regenerative tourism — than hard-selling travel.

“During travel’s pause, there is an opportunity to restart meaningful conversations centered on impactful stories, which will draw travellers toward new experiences and impact how they plan their next trip,” Berna tells Travel Courier. “Marketing is more than an instant conversion tool, it can and should be a long-lead sales tactic, purposed to engage clients in your brand (you, the travel agent) by telling stories that create shared value and build a community of followers that’s inspired, connected and encouraged by what you’re sharing. With a strong community of engaged clients, you’ll inevitably see future sales when travel rebounds.”

Right now, during travel’s pause, travel agents have a unique opportunity to openly engage with their clients to build a stronger community, facilitate meaningful conversations and direct the conversation toward how travel is changing—for the better, with more focus on regenerative tourism—than hard-selling travel.

Matt Berna

Managing Director, Intrepid Travel

Although clients are likely opting to venture more around their household than across the continent these days, Berna says it’s important to maintain relationships.

“As international travel remains suspended, your clients have a pent-up desire to travel and a renewed sense of wanderlust for future travel,” he says. “Your clients want to hear about the stories behind a trip on a page, they want to know what to expect when travel resumes.”

Here are Berna’s top tips on staying engaged with clients during this time:

  • Focus your marketing on engaging, personal stories about your travel experiences. Let these stories connect your clients to the world, virtually; allow these stories to prompt conversations that will encourage travellers to dream about their next trip, while looking to you as the go-to source of information on travel’s future.
  • Since there’s much uncertainty about where your clients can travel and when, encourage your clients to think more about how they’ll travel when they do, instead of focusing only on the destinations they want to visit. While people are listening, now’s the time to engage them in meaningful conversations about responsible tourism and what that means for them, and the places and people they visit. Instead of selling a medina visit in Marrakech, talk about the local artisans your clients will meet in the medina and how their lives will be impacted through tourism dollars, especially after COVID’s devastation of local businesses. Instead of focusing on selling a safari, speak to animal welfare initiatives in these destinations and how important it is to view animals in the wild, as intended. Talk to your clients about human-powered adventures and offsetting carbon emissions, focus on regenerative forms of travel that not only leave less of an impact but actually better the people and places they visit. Go beyond the trips you sell and get into the heart of travel, talk about connection and life-changing experiences. These stories will impact your clients and change their perspectives on travel, they’ll renew a sense of wanderlust and create new dreams and travel aspirations. 

“Marketing is more than an instant conversion tool, it can and should be a long-lead sales tactic, purposed to engage clients in your brand (you, the travel agent) by telling stories that create shared value and build a community of followers that’s inspired, connected and encouraged by what you’re sharing.”

Hope floats on

Stemming from a company that puts personal connection at the forefront, AmaWaterways’ Chief Marketing Officer Janet Bava believes travel advisors can act now to stand out from the crowd.

“We believe strongly that developing relationships within travel advisor’s local community and positioning themselves as a travel professional by providing insights on their expertise and the benefits of using their services when they are ready to book will set travel advisors apart and help build their future business,” Bava tells Travel Courier. “During these times, travellers are looking for a credible source of information and travel advisors need to stay connected informing their clients of the latest news and information. Education and inspiration now will in turn result in a quicker booking process later as you have spent this time engaging with them dreaming and planning for the future.”

Bava says agents can also utilize this time to evolve their marketing. This year AmaWaterways launched a series of Virtual Sip & Sail Cocktail Hours, which advisors can take advantage of by personally inviting members of their community to grab a cocktail and learn more about what awaits them on a luxury river cruise.

“These inspirational sessions are recorded to share later and are led by AmaWaterways’ executives and frequently showcase new itineraries like the Secrets of Egypt & the Nile as well as sought-after experiences, like Europe’s magical Christmas Markets and Celebration of Wine cruises,” she says. “Our Business Development Managers are hosting hundreds of Virtual Cruise Nights with our travel partners providing those that need it with the step by step support on how to set up, invite the right clients and convert the attendee’s interest into solid leads. This has become a new, complimentary marketing opportunity for travel advisors looking to engage without hard sell.”

One of AmaWaterways’ core values is personal connection and we believe strongly that developing relationships within travel advisor’s local community and positioning themselves as a travel professional by providing insights on their expertise and the benefits of using their services when they are ready to book will set travel advisors apart and help build their future business.

Janet Bava

Chief Marketing Officer, AmaWaterways

Here is Bava’s insight on how to market travel during this time:

  • Providing engaging and compelling content via social media and Virtual Cruise Nights are two great no cost marketing channels that advisors can use to remain engaged with clients as they are at home and dreaming of their next vacation.
  • We recommend advisors to poll their clients on social media, it’s a great way to gauge their interests and remain top of mind. 
  • Travel advisors are an extension of our sales and markets teams, and AmaWaterways has redirected 100 percent of our marketing efforts to support them by providing short videos and social media toolkits containing shareable content – all centralized within the Travel Advisor Portal on our website. We also have just added an innovative virtual Marketing Suitcase to help travel advisors build their individual brands while marketing one of the fastest-growing segments in travel – river cruising. These Suitcases provide expert knowledge and tips from our respected leaders — including co-founders Kristin Karst and Gary Murphy — customizable blog posts, a month’s worth of social media posts, and other marketing materials all at zero cost to our partners.   
  • As we wait for travel restrictions to lift, pent up demand is growing stronger every day, and clients are getting anxious to re-schedule their postponed trips or get a new voyage onto their calendars to look forward to. We know that people are prioritizing safety and flexibility when planning future vacations but they are also looking to spend more time in Europe when they do reschedule – both of these considerations fit well with AmaWaterways new programs: 10% savings on back to back cruises and our complimentary Ultimate Cruise Flexibility Program. Advisors can find all information on our policies at AmaWaterways.com/Travel-Updates.

“Be the travel advisor that shares positive and inspiring credible content. By providing motivational content their past, present and prospective clients will want to contact their advisor once they are ready to move from the dreaming stage into the planning and reserving stages because you’ve already laid the groundwork of knowledge, trust and confidence. ”

Overall, during this challenging time, Bava suggests being the travel advisor that shares positive and inspiring credible content.

“During these times, our email inbox, social media feeds and TV are filled with news that can be stressful and worrisome.  By providing motivational content their past, present and prospective clients will want to contact their advisor once they are ready to move from the dreaming stage into the planning and reserving stages because you’ve already laid the groundwork of knowledge, trust and confidence. 

Bava says advisors can celebrate the spirit of the season with their clients and spread some holiday cheer during a special “Sip & Sail & Celebrate” event on Dec. 17.

“Our co-owners, Kristin Karst and Gary Murphy along with Director of European Operations, Wade Korzan, will host this virtual holiday cruise bringing Europe’s most magical Christmas Markets into people’s homes with inspiring stories, seasonal recipes and jolly music,” she says. “This is a wonderful and timely opportunity to engage with clients, raise their spirits and entice their interest for next year’s Christmas Market river cruises, which I’m excited to say are filling up very fast.”

A deal for agents

Trips to Tales

For any travel advisors who are interested in spreading the gift of travel this holiday season through Trips to Tales, the board game is available to the trade at a special rate for those who purchase two or more.

“We all often send out clients gifts and touchstones and we think that Trips to Tales is an awesome gift for a client to continue to remember their travel agent and their travels and how much they want to travel in the future. Every time they look at it they will remember you,” says Rhonda Dashevsky. “We believe that we have an awesome product for agents to send to their clients to remind them of travel and as a touchstone every time the client looks at it or plays it.”





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