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Bureaus use personal touches to help close the sale


By Vito Palmisano, courtesy Detroit Metro CVB

It takes more than a profile sheet and a nice website to attract group travelers to a destination. In an age of instant information and ubiquitous travel promotion, successful convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) are finding that great customer service requires a personal touch.

At CVBs around the country, group sales representatives are reaching out to group travelers with itinerary planning, hotel leads and other services that make it easy for tour operators and group leaders to arrange a visit without hassling over the details.

And many organizations have begun to add special touches such as themed giveaways, personal meet-and-greets and costumed tour escorts to make groups feel welcome once they arrive in town.

Creative itineraries

Many CVBs assist tour planners with securing lodging, sending out leads to area hotels and reporting back to the group leaders with bids from the different properties.

More bureaus are also working closely with travel planners to create and customize itineraries tailored to fit each group’s interests and time constraints.

“People want to see sample itineraries, but I find myself doing a lot of custom itineraries for tour operators based on how long they have in town,” said Jennifer Petrous, international sales manager at the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Sometimes a niche group wants to see something specific. So we do a custom itinerary where we time everything out for them. We can suggest the best place to stay based on all their needs.”

Recently, a group asked Petrous to create an itinerary for a Made in Michigan theme tour that they were planning through the state. She did special research on attractions in Detroit that featured handmade products and wrote an itinerary featuring a tour of a candy factory, potato-chip makers and local breweries. She even found restaurants that feature Michigan foods, such as fish from the Great Lakes or cherries from Traverse City.

The CVB also helps group leaders to keep their passengers entertained before they get to town, sending them packages of Detroit-branded items that can be used as contest prizes.

“Sometimes, people are on a coach for so long, so we’re asked to give away a few prizes for people answering Detroit trivia questions,” Petrous said. “We provide small gifts, like tins of mints, luggage tags, Detroit portfolios or golf balls that tour operators use along the way.”

Tribal blessings

In Durango, Colo., local tourism officials take advantage of their area’s distinctive characteristics to give groups an uncommon experience. One example is a motorcoach meet-and-greet that features a cultural encounter with the local Ute Indians.

“The southern Ute tribe was here before the Anglo-Saxons, and we work really closely with the tribe to offer blessings to the group,” said Sarah McLean, group sales manager for the Durango Area Tourism Office.

“Two to four people come in traditional garb and do a blessing ceremony. They talk about the earth and everything that they believe in. They have incense and do a chant with large eagle feathers. It’s a very big presentation.”

For travelers interested in history, the tourism office enlists the help of the Victorian Aid Society, a club of locals who have created their own Victorian-style costumes and who give historic walking tours of downtown Durango. Other groups might come with interests in agriculture, and the tourism office will set up a tour of a local farm for them.

One of the most popular options Durango offers is a chance to go behind the scenes at the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

“We work with the railroad to do yard tours,” McLean said. “That shows a little bit behind the scenes. Anyone can ride the railroad, but giving them the tour shows them the inner workings of the train.”

The tourism office can also arrange for groups to hold private receptions in the railroad museum.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.