Suppliers can provide a wealth of planning advice, practical tips and financial support for agents looking to host their first customer event or improving on the events they already run. Here, four suppliers share their top tips for hosting a successful event.
For those looking for inspiration, Caribtours’ head of sales Rebecca Burgess has numerous ideas.
“We’ve attended cocktails and canapes events in shops where clients can just pop in, and VIP client dinners in local restaurants. We’ve done themed events, such as a fantastic Caribbean one with a steelpan player and carnival girls.
Also summer parties on country estates with Pimms, and afternoon teas in lovely hotels.”
Choosing a venue in an easily accessible location with “a real pull” is key, says Burgess.
“People don’t want to give up their time if it doesn’t sound appealing and attractive. Golf clubs, beautiful hotels and lovely restaurants are popular,” she says.
For those held in store, Burgess recommends having an extra hook, such as a prize draw or raffle, to further entice customers. She says drop-in holiday shows are nearly always held on a Saturday afternoon, with most other events taking place on a weekday evening.
“I’d recommend a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday evening. For our own events we find the perfect start time is 6pm or 6.30pm,” she says.
Burgess recommends having plenty of agency branded point-of-sale material and brochures from key suppliers. Operators will often assist with marketing collateral, with Caribtours regularly overbranding special offer flyers and its Luxury Travel Magazine for agents’ events.
Some customers may want detailed prices, so Burgess encourages agents to have lead in prices available, and a laptop or phone to enable staff to give live quotes if needed.
Then there’s the most important part of any event – the people. Most of Caribtours’ agent partners bring their entire team, and the specialist sends at least one member of staff.
Colin Currie, head of sales at Travel 2 and Gold Medal, advises agents not to fixate on the guest list total.
“From a supplier point of view, I’d much rather speak with 12 people who know why they’re attending and are interested in the product that’s being sold, than 100 people who have just turned up for a free glass of wine. Targeting your audience is much more successful than a scattergun approach. Quality over quantity is key,” he says.
Currie advises sending invites approximately two months in advance, with a reminder a month before, and a friendly ring round just before the event.
Always asking for RSVPs will help with planning, says Currie.
“Encourage them by pushing the exclusivity of the event to create a sense of urgency; let the invitees know that places are limited and they need to get in touch to secure their spot,” he says.
Currie recommends tailoring the food to the theme of the event. “Food plays such an important role in a holiday, give your guests a food experience that will tempt them to visit the destination you’re promoting,” he says.
“I went to a really successful Vietnamese-themed event, which included cooking demos of traditional spring rolls and an Australia event with kangaroo burgers. A good tip is to work with a venue or local partner that is an expert in the cuisine. That way you can focus your attention and expertise on selling your product.”
Currie also advocates choosing wines from the region. “If the destination is renowned for its wine, such as South Africa or Australia, have a chat with the suppliers that are attending about any wine tours you may be able to sell in the region and choose relevant wines. Use the catering as a hook to entice your customers,” he says.
Earlier this month, the ITC Travel Group supported Abbotts Travel with its India, China, Vietnam and Cambodia event, and national relationship manager Sue Cragg organised a prize draw for the 150 guests.
“We pulled out all the stops and got some amazing prizes, with flights, river cruises and accommodation,” she explains.
Prizes can act as a booking tool. “They were large prizes but I’m sure the winners will add to them, to create holidays of a lifetime.”
Cragg suggests including an exclusive offer to encourage bookings, and says an additional booking incentive can help to boost interest further. At a recent event she offered Fortnum & Mason hampers for customers who booked within a fortnight.
Customers normally leave ITC events with a goodie bag, and Abbotts’ guests received literature, pens, notepads, a bracelet and toiletries.
Presentations are a key part of most customer events, and Cragg’s top tip is to vary the content. She explains: “The last thing you want to do is cause death by PowerPoint! Try to mix up the presentation to keep it interesting. In our talks we include personal experiences, video footage, lovely imagery, must-see places and some suggested itineraries.”
At Abbotts’ event, Cragg arranged for ITC’s destination experts and suppliers to give talks. “The main thing that made the evening such a huge success was the presentations as the speakers had huge personal knowledge of the areas and made it very inspirational. Enquiries started to come in the following day,” she says.
Cragg also encourages agents to allow plenty of time after presentations for customers to talk to staff informally and ask questions.
Consider how to bring a product to life through props, decorations or entertainment. Celebrity Cruises’ strategic account manager Bhav Taylor says this also often generates interesting photos for agents to use on social media.
Celebrity frequently recreates its Solstice class ships’ Lawn Clubs for agents’ events. Taylor explains: “We can have our big Celebrity Cruises chairs and boules, and a butler handing out chocolate-covered strawberries. It’s by really demonstrating our USPs and doing something a little different and quirky that we become a talking point.”
Ask venues how they can help. When Delmar World held an event for 80 guests at the Grosvenor Pulford Hotel in Cheshire, chefs recreated the “strawberry fields” delicacies normally served in Celebrity’s Qsine restaurants.
Taylor encourages agents to create a post-event plan.
She says: “We always suggest that follow-up is carried out within 48 hours of the event. An email reminding them of the event and key USPs of the operator is essential. Arrange personalised contact by email or phone with those who were really specific about what they wanted, with the details and costs.”
Suppliers will often advise on how many bookings events can produce, and Delmar World’s managing director Ann Anglesea says working closely with Celebrity’s regional sales manager Daniel Jones was key to her event “smashing” its sales target.
She explains: “We established budget, marketing strategy and presentation content in plenty of time to ensure that both businesses would get a reasonable return on their investment.”