I have the opportunity regularly to meet with suppliers and talk about what is working and what’s most effective with travel professionals who want to grow their business. One of the top three reasons suppliers consistently give for success is hosting a consumer event.
Consumer nights are a great way to connect customers interested in what you’re selling travel-wise to you, the travel professional; it establishes you as the expert. Travel agents who take the initiative to host a consumer night for their clients and potential clients to expose them to a particular product or travel style will certainly be one step ahead, and now is the perfect time to start planning your event, as CLIA Plan-a-Cruise-Month is in October.
Consumer nights (which can be held any time during the day or night) can be very rewarding in terms of driving results but take careful planning and execution. Let’s look at five essentials of hosting a successful consumer event:
Hosting a successful consumer event starts with determining the type of event you want to have. Your theme is a crucial element of success. It needs to be appealing and relatable to the attendees – the consumers while also bringing in the type of clients you wish to do business with. Finding an appropriate venue is part of this process.
Some questions to ask yourself to help you get started include:
- Do you have a particular group you’re trying to promote or book?
- Do you want to do the event on a certain style of travel, such as river cruising?
- Do you want to hold a small event with just one or two speakers (yourself included), or will a trade show format work better?
- Is there a place where a group of people meet that you can bring the consumer night to them, such as a country club, church, senior center, neighborhood community center, etc.?
When considering venues, ask yourself:
- Is there a good Wi-Fi connection?
- Is it the right size?
- Does it offer catering, or will you need to bring food and beverage in?
- Is it easily accessible?
- Is there a charge to rent/use the space?
If you’ve never held a consumer night before, start small. It could be hosting 10-12 people at a local Mexican restaurant or having nachos and quesadillas in your backyard to talk about all-inclusive resorts.
No matter what your theme or purpose of your event, you’ll want to ensure the experience mirrors the theme. For example, if you’re promoting luxury travel, the venue, food and beverage and overall experience should also emulate luxury.
Next, you’ll want to find the appropriate consumers to attend your event. Here’s how:
- Be targeted. Go into it knowing exactly the type of client you want to invite and the type of products/product that would be of most interest to those clients. If you’re not sure, engage some of your clients or people you meet and ask them about what they want when it comes to travel. If informal conversations aren’t getting you the results you seek, then try sending a survey, posting to social media or bringing in a pied piper. Travel professionals who engage a targeted group prior to the event to find out what they want and then plan that event around that particular need – whether it’s learning about a supplier or travel niche/style – are typically more successful than setting something up and hoping people will come. The “Build It and They Will Come” approach does not apply to consumer nights!
- Be specific. The broader your target audience, the harder it will be to produce a successful event and attract attendees to come. Segmenting your database is a best practice (not only for consumer events but in general). Search your client CRM for customers based on travel or interest, and use this to invite to the event. For example, Alaska cruises is a frequent hot topic that consumers want to learn more about. If you’ve kept track of who has Alaska on their bucket list in your CRM, you can easily invite them to an event touching on this subject. Don’t have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program to segment and query your clients? Nexion can help!
- Be “them.” People will only attend your event if it’s clear what’s in it for them, so always have this in the forefront when planning. What will they learn? What will they come away with after attending?
- Be cognizant. Ensure you know where to find the consumers you want to attend and how to promote the event to them through various marketing channels.
The good thing about hosting a consumer night is you don’t have to do it alone! Supplier partner Business Development Managers (BDMs) can often assist with co-op and/or attending the event to speak, depending on the scope and size. Here are some things to think about when choosing event partners:
- Have you determined your event budget, and are there partnerships to help offset costs, such as supplier co-op? (Nexion has a co-op process in place to assist.) Remember, it’s up to you to do your homework on the expected outcome of the event and show suppliers what they can expect in return from their co-op investment.
- Which suppliers do you want to partner with on your event? Unless you’re holding your event on a large scale, be targeted and focused.
- If you’re going to have more than one supplier attend, have a theme. For example, if you’re promoting family travel for your event theme, consider having one tour operator, one cruise line and one specializing in family activities.
- If you plan to give away prizes at your event, be realistic. Suppliers are usually willing to give away promotional items, but it is not realistic for them to give away free trips. Prizes should also be relevant to your overall theme, so plan ahead.
- Don’t know where to start? BDMs can help you organize, order collateral and execute a successful consumer event. Take advantage of their expertise!
- In addition to supplier partners, don’t forget about your community partners. They can help when locating a no- to low-cost venue, for example. Are there cross-promotional opportunities, such as partnering with an Italian restaurant to promote an Italy trip? Consider partners you can pair up with to cover part of the costs, while you promote their venue in the event marketing.
Now that you’ve got the bulk of the hard work squared away, you can focus on the details of the event to ensure it’s a smashing success. Just a few things on your checklist:
- Where are you going to hold the event? (When finding the right venue, be aware of cost minimums. Remember that venues don’t have to cost money; be creative.)
- When will you have the event?
- What content are you going to deliver during the event? Are you giving a presentation? Is a supplier presenting?
- What materials do you need? Are you promoting a unique departure?
- How are you going to market the event to attract attendees?
- One idea is to create an evite to RSVP, which also sends reminders.
- Don’t forget the power of personal invitations – a personal message sent through social media or even a handwritten note goes a long way.
- What resources does the event venue have for communicating the event? For example, if you’re holding at your church, what methods are available of communicating to members? Consider time dependencies and deadlines associated with the frequency of these promotions.
- Set up an event on your business Facebook page and through social media.
- What are you going to do once people get there; how are you going to engage them?
- What will you serve? Appetizers or a meal? Beverages?
- When promoting a specific group for your consumer night, look at key dates associated with the group, such as when you have to give back unused space, to determine planning time and when you’ll need to hold the event.
Congratulations! With these tested methods, I’m certain you’re on your way to booking some exceptional travel for new and existing clients! However, take a moment to measure the results of your event, and follow up as necessary.
- Have realistic expectations for your event. Is your goal to obtain three new clients? Book two vacations from information or promos presented? Measure your results, but keep in mind that bookings may not come right away.
- Find a way to keep in touch with the event attendees. At the event, have a way to capture their interest so you have a way to follow up. (A raffle where they give you their information to be entered into a prize drawing is an easy approach.) Note: It’s important that you capture their interest during the event, but do not try to book them. You want to spend the right amount of time with them on their individual booking, which is best done following the event. Consider having a “save your spot” capture form they complete versus booking. This will also protect you with consumer protection rules in place by the Federal Trade Commission. At the same time, you want to give them something as a “thank you” for attending – again, it’s the “what’s in it for them” approach. This could be an early booking discount, reduced deposit or whatever extra thing will help close the sale during your appointment.
- Make sure you’re ready to answer inquiries after the event. Don’t forget the power of social media – check to see if any attendees posted from the event or shared any feedback.
Now that you have the tools and resources to hold your best consumer night ever, plan to hold at least one consumer night a year – it can be as complex or simple as you want to make it – and see your bookings soar.