News, guidance, and resources for group travel planners

The Holbrook Insider


Getting personal with your travel program

Much has been made in recent years about the need to reach your organization’s members with “one-to-one” communications, information that is relevant to their interests. Do NOT make the mistake of thinking this means using their first name in bulk email subject lines or in letters. Your clients know the difference and this will turn them off!

Personalization can mean many different things and can take on many forms. This article is about how to connect with your members that is genuine and true to your mission - personalization that will develop a real connection with your audience.

How do I “personalize” my trips?

First and foremost, each travel program itinerary should not be generic. The new generation of travelers, including baby-boomers, want meaningful encounters in the destinations. You’ll still want to cover the must-see places like Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat, but you should add extra “behind-the-scenes” activities to your itinerary. “Our members want to be immersed in an experience," says Karen Burns from the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. “They want in-depth knowledge and to get to share experiences with the people and local culture. I never go with a canned trip that is not customizable.”

Ask your travel partner to supply ideas, or if you have an organization member that has experience and local contact, work with your supplier to incorporate this. Your trip will also benefit with a thematic thread. This can start with the title and work its way into the activity highlights of the itinerary. For example a classic safari could be called “Tanzania: Investigating Biodiversity and Human Civilization” with a unique feature: “Experience the daily lifestyles and traditions of Maasai and Iraqw tribes and participate in a service project."

How do I get personal in my communications without devoting too much time?

Travel planners don’t have the time to reach out to their members on a regular basis, but when you do connect, make it meaningful. Ask them questions about their co-travelers, their interests, their association with you. Note that in your client record, then build on that and develop a personal relationship. For an upcoming group trip, if you happen to see news on that destination that is relevant, send them an email even though it’s not part of your pre-departure. Extra stuff matters! “I post articles on social media or send notes to my leaders for their members," says Sandy Doss from Holbrook. “Our team is always on the lookout for interesting anecdotes that will get folks excited, also after the trip.”

What technology tools help with personalization?

Technology has invaded client relations for many years, and the tools are more powerful than ever. From CRM (Customer Relationship Management) to web analytics to “inbound marketing,” personalization is getting ever more present and can be invasive. The best marketers do not overstep this line. How? It is fine to gather information on your client’s interest through 3rd party data (data overlays) and electronic engagement, but don’t be overt in your correspondence. CRM systems are ubiquitous these days. Depending on the CRM system your organization uses, you can store all kinds of data on your clients that is easy to access. Hubspot is an “inbound marketing” system that includes email, blogging, and sign up pages. Hubspot also recently introduced a new CRM system that is truly free and will show when your members visit your website. Or there are plenty of other solutions on the market. Either way, be sure to use these systems wisely to profile your clients by their subject interest and level of connection with your organization.

Can I personalize my overall travel program?

Yes. In fact, many travel planners will benefit if they carve out a style or focus for their travel program overall. If you work for a larger organization, such as a university, school or a natural history museum, you want your program to be seen as memorable. How? Position your program with trips that reflect your style. Some planners promote and showcase trips in their publications that reflect a more in-depth, unique program that includes activities in the field with other members, or a program run by the organization. This makes the program stand out. Why is this important? Chances are your members do international travel programs already. With so many choices in the market and your clients taking them elsewhere, you want to distinguish your offering. Particularly if you are more expensive, you need to show why your program will be more meaningful.


Photo by Eric Lindberg