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TAP Collaborates to Innovate

Travel Alliance Partners, commonly known as TAP, was an innovation when it began 16 years ago. And innovation continues to be a driving motivation for the organization’s tourism professionals.

In 2001, a small group of tour operators banded together around a novel idea: They each operated in a different part of the country, which meant that they had different expertise and different audiences. So they decided to form a network that would allow them to leverage that diversity to create growth opportunities for everyone, and TAP was born.

Each tour operator member opens its products for sale to all the other members. That allows each tour operator to offer its customers more tours than just the ones it creates. And it gives each company an opportunity to attract customers from its partners’ audiences, thus expanding the size of the market for everyone.

“We have 30 unique companies in the TAP network,” said Stefanie Gorder, TAP’s executive director. “They are regional experts, offering differentiated products and clients. Some are focused on students. Some are pushing millennial product. Some are pushing senior product. Some are better at special events.”

TAP’s reach is larger than just its 30 partner companies, though. The organization works closely with many representatives of destinations, attractions and other travel industry companies to help inspire new ideas and create new tour itineraries for customers. Those industry representatives, called Preferred Professional Travel Providers (PPTPs), gather with the tour operators every summer for a four-day conference called TAP Dance.

TAP also has outreach initiatives aimed at helping group leaders make the most of its offerings.

“When you look at TAP, this concept of working cleverly together to better everyone’s business is remarkable,” Gorder said. “It continues to grow because it’s not one-sided. It takes our operators, our suppliers and our buyers of TAP tours. We’re all working together for the larger goal.”

Focusing on Innovation

TAP’s concept has proven successful: The network added five new tour operator members in 2017 and has many PPTPs from around the country participating in its programs. Now, the organization is focusing on refining and innovating its model to achieve new successes in the future.

“If we do the same old thing, we will have the same old result,” Gorder said. “The TAP of the future is getting new results. That means revitalizing every program.”

A key element of this initiative is a focus on new technology platforms. TAP has long marketed tours with a website, as well as the TAP Tour Wrap, which allows other travel organizations to market TAP trips directly on their own websites. Now, Gorder said, TAP partners are enhancing those platforms with travel videos and outreach on social media networks such as Facebook Live.

The group is also expanding the scope of its successful TAP Into Travel webinars, which take place every Tuesday at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. Each webinar features a presentation by a different TAP member tour operator. For several years, those presentations have focused on specific tours those members offered, but now some feature educational elements as well.

“The focus of the webinars is not just on product anymore,” Gorder said. “It’s on how to help someone’s company grow, whether through enhanced print buys or targeted email marketing. Trends and changes in the industry are a big deal right now, and TAP continues to be the leader in providing educational opportunities to enhance the end user’s business.”

Each weekly webinar is recorded and stored on TAP’s website, which means that travel planners can listen live or after the fact and can browse the archive of content for topics that interest them.

New Tour Ideas

One of TAP’s most significant early innovations was its Guaranteed Departures program. The first of its kind in the travel industry, this program consists of dozens of tours that TAP guarantees will operate on their scheduled dates, regardless of how many customers sign up.

In addition to its Guaranteed Departures, TAP offers many more Scheduled Departures, which are tours they expect to perform well, and Custom Tours, which are exciting travel products available to group leaders on request. Those two types of trips are creating opportunities for TAP members to offer new tour experiences.

“We have some really cool cruise programs,” Gorder said. “Traditionally, we haven’t focused on those, but we have some great ones now, like a new PBS Garden Smart cruise program. There are new group products, like Hippies to Honeymoons, in upstate New York. And we’re selling the 2020 Oberammergau Passion play — you don’t want to wait to book that. We have huge numbers already, and there are lots of Custom Tours available around the Passion play.”

Fun and Productivity

Many of these new travel ideas are the result of meetings between TAP Operators and PPTPs at TAP Dance. Tour operators have four solid days of appointments with destination representatives and use that time to find new travel ideas.

“We have a partner whose entire 44-page catalog is all fresh product developed at TAP Dance 2017,” Gorder said. “Another partner has done 11 custom products from TAP Dance.”

The schedule of appointments is demanding, but Gorder said, in the spirit of innovation, the organization is finding new ways to incorporate fun and community into these meetings.

“Sometimes we do better business at social events,” she said, “so we’re restructuring our social events. Put on a bathing suit instead of a business suit, and the conversations take a whole new turn.”

There will be plenty of opportunities for fun at the next TAP Dance, to be held June 4-8 at a beachfront hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The 2019 edition of the conference is headed to the Little America Hotel and Resort in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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.