Escorted tours expert John Flin offers some insider tips on how agents can maximise their coach sales. Joanna Booth from Travelweekly.co.uk reports
Are you missing out? John Flin, managing director of Coachholidays.com, thinks many agents don’t realise how much commission they could make selling escorted tours.
“Operators who support the trade pay generous commission,” he says. “It’s a specialist market, like cruise, where small, niche agents aren’t dominated by the big two.
“And coach operators are more proactive than mainstream firms. They provide great marketing support – posters, 50:50 financing of a mailshot, that sort of thing.
“Leger does a magazine that you can overbrand with your company name and they’ll cover the lion’s share of the cost. And Trafalgar Tours and Insight Vacations send a list of departures every week that you can offer clients deals on.
“Any of the operators who are part of the Better Escorted Tours (Best) group are really committed to the trade. All you need to do is pick up the phone and any one of them will send someone who deals with agents down to do a two-hour training session.”
Best launched a training academy earlier this month and is hoping for 700 agents to complete the online programme this year. New members can win a prize for registering at bestacademy.co.uk.
Escorted tour benefits
John believes escorted tours can offer the cheapest and most convenient way to see a country.
“Let’s look at a typical escorted tour around Italy,” says John. “It would be very hard for a client to emulate it individually – they wouldn’t get the same hotel rates for starters. And they could try to follow the route in a car, but having driven in Italy, I can tell them it’s not much fun – and nor is trying to find parking space in Venice.
“Tours also give them the chance to travel as a group. I’ve made friends on every tour I’ve been on, and everyone has a really good time.
“Then there’s also the benefit of the expertise of a good guide.
“Even the view is better. Sitting up high in a coach, passengers can see over hedges and get a much better view of the scenery.”
“Everyone thinks coach tours are only taken by people over 65, but that’s just not true,” says John. “Take a company like Contiki. They carry thousands of 18 to 35-year-olds every year.
“The itineraries may vary slightly – the evening is likely to end in a nightclub rather than at the opera – but, in essence, Contiki offers a repackaged version of the holidays offered by sister brands Trafalgar Tours and Insight Vacations. The only company that I’m aware of with a minimum age stipulation is Grand UK Holidays, which is for the 55+ market.
“Clients may worry that they’ll be stuck with a load of people who are no fun and go to bed at 9.30pm. Generally speaking, though, there’s a good mix of clients and people often make lasting friendships.
“It’s hard to predict what the average age of any given tour will be – it can fluctuate so much. The firms with an international client base like Insight, Trafalgar and Cosmos Tourama tend to carry a wider range of ages than British-based ones like Shearings and Leger.
“Because of their client types, these tours carrying multiple nationalities tend to move at a faster pace. Some clients, from the US, Canada or Australia, will be on once-in-a-lifetime holidays and want to pack in as much as possible. These itineraries will be more intense than those from companies which just carry Brits around Europe, where the pace tends to be more relaxed.”
“People have a preconceived notion of noisy coaches, which probably dates back to school outings, but comparing that to the vehicles of today is like comparing a rail holiday with your daily commute,” says John. “People are always really surprised by how quiet and comfortable it is. All the mainstream operators have a modern, comfortable fleet.
“Coach holidays needn’t be a cramped experience. The days of 57 seats in a coach are long gone, and the vehicles themselves have increased in length by at least a metre and a half. If clients are 5’2”, nothing will be a problem, but if, like me, they’re 6’4”, you need to help them choose more carefully.
“Insight Vacations restricts seat numbers to 40 per coach, which gives an almost business-class amount of leg-room. Upgraded services such as Shearings Grand Tourer, Leger Silver Service and Cosmos Tourama Platinum all offer extra room. And for about £50-£70 more for an eight or nine-day trip, the cost isn’t a lot higher.”
“The web has revolutionised how we market ourselves. A good search engine rating is gold,” says John.
“Every so often I invite committed non-coach clients – those who’ve booked a different type of holiday with us – to a lunch in a pub in Kent. I charge them only what it costs to provide the lunch, and coach companies that I’ve worked with for years, like Crusader, Leger and Shearings, lend me the coach.
“I’ve found that once you’ve got people on to one of the new, modern coaches you can convert 25% to coach holidays. And once they’ve tried a coach holiday, you get a very high rebooking rate.”
About our expert: John Flin, MD, Coachholidays.com
John’s family has been selling coach tours for 62 years. Since 1997 he has operated the Coachholidays.com website alongside his agency Wallace Arnold Worldchoice in Croydon, selling tours from more than 70 handpicked operators.
Visit the UK’s number one coach holidays website Coachholidays.com to book your next tour.