News, guidance, and resources for group travel planners

The Holbrook Insider


Customizing your travel program to your members

Much has been made in recent years about the need to reach your organization’s members programs that are geared to their special interests, information that is relevant to their interests. Customizing a travel program to differentiate you from the many trips available on the market will help you stand out and create better affinity. This article is about how to connect with your members that is genuine and true to your mission - customization that will develop a real connection with your audience.

How do I customize a travel itinerary?

First and foremost, your trip or itinerary should have unique aspects that would are not available elsewhere. 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, the Serengeti or the Taj Mahal, 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.”

How? Ask your travel partner to supply ideas and make this a requirement. Or if you or your organization has experience and local contact, work with your supplier to incorporate this into the itinerary. 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."

Can I customize 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.

Can I customize my communications with my audience?

Yes. Beside travel itself, speak to your audience with messages that are personal and relate to them. 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 customization?

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,” custom communications or "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. Be sure to use these systems wisely to profile your clients by their subject interest and level of connection with your organization, then customize your message to that audience to have more impact.