Marketing for Group Travel: Building Solid Relationships with Tour Operators

Group travel is a significant segment of the tourism market, and if you want to see those buses pulling up to the curb and filling your destination or attraction with excited travelers, you’ll need to know how to market effectively to tour operators. 

According to ABA Foundation (American Bus Association) the most recent statistics (2022) state that in the United States and Canada there were 211.5 million motorcoach passengers. Digging into the census data, we can see that more than 138 million of those passengers were part of charter groups, tour packages, and sightseeing trips. You can use these four strategies for marketing group travel to reach out and grab a piece of that pie.

Get into the Mind of Your Buyer

The travel trade market is a B2B (business to business) sales cycle, so when you are marketing for group travel, it’s important to understand your buyer and their needs. With group tours, you’re not directly selling to consumers, but rather to tour operators who will then promote and sell your destination to their clients. Tour operators need to be comfortable with you and your destination, so they can confidently offer it to their customers. Therefore, nurturing relationships with tour operators becomes crucial in the sales process. 

Connect with Tour Operators at Travel Tradeshows

Travel Tradeshows offer you a ready-made audience of tour operators, sometimes in the hundreds – no need for cold calls! Consider attending key annual North American travel tradeshows, or attending more if you’ve been to one or two.

Tradeshow Tips: 

  • Find out who will be attending the tradeshow (this is usually found on the tradeshow website) and then research them. Look for who they are, what type of tours they offer and where they go. These shows typically are appointment-based and you request who you want to meet with.
  • Reach out to the tour operators prior to the tradeshow introducing yourself and asking if there is any specific information you can bring for them when you meet.
  • During the tradeshow be sure to take detailed notes on each tour operator you meet.
  • Remember – tour operators are counting on travel destinations to help them be successful in their business.  They have a need and you have the answer – make sure they know it!

Follow Up with Your Tour Operator Contacts

Follow-up is always important, but even more so when you attend a large trade show with short appointment times where you are only scratching the surface of what you have to offer. There are several ways you can follow up and make the most of your new contacts:

  • Follow Up Email. Send a follow up thank you email and additional information after the tradeshow. This is where the selling often begins.
  • Mail Information.  Sometimes good old-fashioned snail mail is the best way to get your information in the hands of your audience. Send a nice presentation folder with general material and any specific information they are interested in based on the conversation you had. If the tour operator requests information to be sent only via email, make sure you have the same information in digital form.
  • Phone call.  That’s right – actually pick up the phone and make a call! Even if it’s just to say, “Hi, I mailed you something and want to make sure you received it.” Take the time to call and say hello.
  • Keep notes.  Through this entire process, document in a sales database where you are in the sales cycle with each tour operator you are communicating with.
  • Follow up again!  Even if you don’t get a booking immediately, continue to take the time to follow up with your prospects. This can be through mass communications, like email newsletters, but remember to keep personal touch points. You can also take advantage of the time of year. The holiday season is a great time to say thank you and remind them what you have to offer.

The Best Way to Sell Your Destination to Tour Operators

The most effective way to sell your destination to tour operators is to give them a chance to experience it for themselves, on a FAM tour (familiarization tour). FAMs can be done as a group or individually. This is a great way to show firsthand all the assets of your destination while also having the opportunity to spend more time together and build your relationship. Here are some tips for hosting tour operators on FAMs.

  • Make sure to qualify the tour operator as a prospective buyer, and then invite them on a FAM.
  • Include a survey at the end of the FAM to have a clear understanding of the tour operator’s perspective.
  • After the FAM, contact the tour operator and offer to prepare a customized itinerary based on their specific needs or offerings they want to provide to their customers.

Read more tips for creating a successful FAM

Remember – tour operators are counting on destinations to help them be successful in their business.  They have a need and you have the answer – make sure they know it, and your hard work in marketing for group travel will pay off when those buses pull up to the curb.

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