Despite advancing technologies, too many agents are still unsure how to embrace new technologies to become more effective marketers and increase the productivity of selling travel, says travel industry veteran Steven Hattem, marketing manager, Amadeus North America.
A former travel agent and executive with Norwegian Cruise Line, Carlson Leisure Group/Travel Leaders, Oceania Cruises, franchiser CruiseOne and host agency Cruises Inc., Hattem urges agents to understanding how to use the right tools combined with personal methods to improve their business.
The concept of the “never-ending vacation” is not new, Amadeus' Hattem says in an online blog posting. "It’s all about touching customers at strategic times before, during and after the selling/buying cycle with the ultimate goal of connecting customers to their next vacation in a subtle and non-intrusive way."
It all starts with a good customer database or CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool, Hattem says. "Knowing your customers’ wants and needs creates the right relationship with your clients. Some agents/agencies use off-the-shelf sophisticated and professional CRM software solutions such as Sales Force or Sugar. Others use simple database tools built into Microsoft Outlook or Google Mail. Some agents have database functionality as part of their host or franchise agency program and others use the CRM tools offered through their GDS solutions."
Hattem urges agents to start by gathering as much info/data about customer as they can without making them feel as if they are being interrogated. It will take time to gather all of the essential details/information, he says. but at a minimum, agents should gain:
- Birthdates (of the individual, their spouse, kids and even the family dog)
- Favorite past destinations and future bucket list destinations
- Favorite time/times to travel
- Travel preferences (adventure, luxury, with kids, without kids)
Hattem also offers nine steps to cycle marketing, including:
"The goal is to always have your customers thinking about their “next” vacation. So, how do you begin? For me, the natural starting point is the trip purchase, although some prefer to start the marketing cycle with a qualified lead.
1. The purchase is the trigger point to begin your cycle marketing program.
2. The after purchase “thank you” note.
3. Reinforce the purchase to ensure the booking sticks through to the final payment and build excitement about the soon-to-depart vacation – send a photo of the destinations to be visited or something even more three-dimensional to get them visualizing the destination. An example is a Margarita recipe and mix complete with one of those mini drink umbrellas for a Mexican vacation.
4. Send a pre-trip or during-trip gift to remind the customer of your involvement in their journey.
5. Send a welcome home note that includes a survey about their experience and some upcoming travel specials. Offer an incentive for another booking within 45 days of returning home.
6. Send a marketing message 30-45 days post-trip, reminding them of the great trip they had and reinforces the booking incentive.
7. Send a “soft” message after 30-45 days about the benefits of travel… “Recharge your brain” and “the newest trends in travel” (gadgets, electronic books, travel clothing, etc.)
8. Send a message two weeks before the anniversary of their booking date, reminding them of the wonderful voyage they took.
9. Send a message 350 days after their original voyage."
Hattem argues that agents can use many methods to market never-ending vacations. "So you may be asking yourself, “What methods should I use to market the never-ending vacation?” I would recommend using a mix of email marketing, printed materials, phone calls and hand-written notes. Too many marketers use only a single method (email) and this is a mistake. Yes, printed materials can be more expensive but the ROI can be very strong."
"Don’t forget to also communicate 2-3 additional times each year sending a greeting for birthdays and anniversaries. I am also a big fan of Thanksgiving cards. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to send a card to your customers and prospects thanking them for entrusting you with their vacation plans."
"In addition to cycle marketing, a good marketer has a strategic plan to regularly touch prospects and past customers. Since it’s difficult to determine when customers will be in consideration or shopping mode, you’ll want to make sure that your name and marketing message is delivered regularly (at least once every 4-6 weeks) to ensure that when a customer is in consideration mode, that you will be at the top of their mind. Marketing traction takes time, so be patient and stick to your plan. Make adjustments to your marketing messages with the ultimate goal of getting your customers to pick up the phone and call you. A simple referral program will also help your clients remember you."
"Don’t forget to market the right products at the right time. Look at typical booking windows, or the time booked before the departure date. It used to be that an exotic cruise was booked 18-24 months in advance, a European or Alaska cruise was booked 12-18 months out and a Caribbean cruise was booked in a 6-12 month window. These booking windows have been cut in half or even more, so adjust your cycle based upon your business trends."
Remember, Hattem counsels, the goal is to stay top of mind with your clients and to softly reinforce your business throughout the year.
For more useful selling tips for the New Year, check out Travel Agent's favorite travel experiences of 2013 for suggestions and inspiration.
And don't forget to visit our new Advisors' List, which rounds up the top family-friendly and romance travel hotels and resorts as ranked by our readers.