News & Views

Engaging The Travel Trade: Here’s What’s Different in 2021

As the summer kicks into gear and borders open in certain destinations, destinations need to be sure they are engaging the travel trade respectfully – and successfully.

Tour operators and travel advisors who will be selling experiences and accommodations in your city or region are excited to get back to work. Those commissions won’t earn themselves. Knowing how to speak to them and invite them to visit firsthand, however, will continue to be a delicate dance even as the vaccine rollout continues its forward momentum.

Keep in mind that the travel industry wants to return to safe, responsible travel. The facts, however, are that vaccine rollouts have varied worldwide. As the U.S. and Europe look to regain traveler confidence, many destinations worldwide will lag.

As such, FAM trips and sales missions are still going to be different. We don’t need to tell you that. We want destinations to take advantage of these differences, to rethink how they are engaging the travel trade, and start planning the sort of experiences that will get results. Be safe. Be strategic. Be ready.

We’re still working under the cloud of the pandemic. People still need to remain separate while dining, at events, in hotels, but there are a few ways to start thinking differently – and better.

1. Create smaller FAM trips with different themes for travel trade.

It might seem like more work, but a bit more organization upfront will produce better results later this summer and fall as travel begins to pick up again. A MEGA FAM trip is not the way forward. Not in the immediate future, anyway. That doesn’t mean that buyers in the travel trade aren’t preparing their next move. They may be willing to come visit, just not in a large group. Engage them now, while respecting the realities facing them.

Instead of a big FAM trip, prepare more targeted, more purposeful itineraries, tailoring them to the specific needs of the travel trade attending. At the very least, stagger trips to keep numbers low and comfort levels high. It might seem like overkill, but it shows that your destination sales team and your travel suppliers are serious about moving forward responsibly.

2. Promote individual trips for travel advisors who want to inspect at their own pace.

For travel advisors – especially important ones who sell your product frequently – consider bespoke trips for them to experience your destination firsthand. Prepare an itinerary, send them on their way, and be accessible if they need you. They’ll appreciate the alone time to seek out what’s important to them without the hassle of a large group.

Of course you can assess the level of concern for travel advisors who are willing to visit – they are probably more ready than others to hit the road. Still, being courteous and generous upfront will ensure that you are engaging the travel trade on the right terms for this new age of travel.

3. Make virtual FAM trips hyper-specific and less all-encompassing.

Virtual FAM trips won’t disappear. In fact, they are invaluable tools to engage the travel trade for years to come. We’ve learned some lessons, however, that bear repeating.

A virtual FAM needs to be engaging, which means it needs to be short and focused. Avoid covering an entire city or country in a day or two. Instead, funnel your energy into making your virtual FAM trips unique and, above all, fun. Video conferencing has its limits, but a quick, sharp, engaging presentation, perhaps with the help of your talented local residents, will showcase your destination and its offerings almost as well as in-person event can.

We stress, almost.

4. Skip the sales trips and go virtual until offices open up again.

Quite frankly, it’s a waste of time to go on a plane to visit a travel agency and talk to them about your offers. It’s also a waste of money. Virtual sales missions allow you to reach various offices in various cities, often at the same time. This silver lining of the migration to Zoom is one that destinations need to remember for the future.

One day, communal meals, experiences and travel trade shows will resume as before in some capacity. After months and months of virtual sales missions, however, it’s becoming clear that we may be able to cut these costs more permanently and invest in other, more vital efforts moving forward. Are we suggesting cutting your in-person sales team? Not at all, but we’ve faced a reckoning with sales missions and it’s time to accept that they have evolved.

5. Ensure your teams are practicing what they preach when it comes to safety measures and engaging the travel trade.

We don’t want to wag our fingers, but we’ve seen virtual events where some people congregated indoors without distancing or masks. You may roll your eyes, but optics are a huge part of any sales effort, and buyers want to know that they can trust your destination.

You never know who is looking at your team thinking, “Wow, why aren’t they wearing a mask?

Be upfront and tell us you’re all vaccinated or that you all got tested, just wear the mask, or else avoid having multiple people together on camera at all. Just remember that if a virtual event is the only way your buyers are experiencing your destination, you need to convince them that they should never second guess your commitment to responsible travel.

The same goes for in-person visits and inspections as they happen.

Engaging travel trade is an investment in the future, but also one that rekindles the reason we all love travel: people. We’ve lost the human touch this past year, and it stings. Destinations need to remember that agents want to feel valued. The travel trade wants to feel like a valued partner in the industry. We all just want to be engaged and, if possible, share a laugh with others again.

Is that a lot to ask?

Looking to innovate your approach to engaging travel trade? We’ve been at it for more than 60 years at DCI. Get in touch with Amalia Meliti at [email protected] to learn more about how DCI can help get your destination in front of the travel trade on the market like never before.

Written By

Amalia Meliti

Amalia has fifteen years of destination marketing experience, having worked in both the travel trade and earned media space for destinations throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. She currently directs DCI’s travel trade marketing efforts in both the U.S. and Canada.

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