Every year, 6,500 travel planners descend on a key US tourism market to meet with destinations and travel suppliers in three days of pre-scheduled business appointments. These domestic and international buyers negotiate contracts and learn about new things they can sell in each city.
I just returned from three days in New Orleans with my gracious hosts, Broadway Inbound, and kept a running list of tips that can be adapted by any show looking to increase their tourism business.
I’d be remiss not to mention that the surprise passage of Brexit will very likely have an impact on tourism from the UK, currently the #1 international market into NYC. If the dollar remains strong, British visitors might see fewer shows once they’re in market—and it’s possible that domestic tourists might take advantage of the exchange rate to travel to London while it is “on sale” instead of a trip to New York. Hopefully I’m wrong—The Independent tells us that between the summers of 2008 and 2009, when the cost of going abroad increased by roughly 25%, the number of overseas vacations taken by Brits decreased by a much smaller percentage.
TOP TEN TAKEAWAYS
1. High-touch is making a comeback.
OTAs are still big business, even with Expedia gobbling up competitors like Travelocity and Orbitz. But smaller companies are emerging to provide curated experiences and custom recommendations for niche markets, like families looking for city destinations.
2. Don’t over-complicate your FIT prices.
Many companies still load product and manage blackout dates and price changes manually. Unless your show is their #1 seller, you’ll get dropped if frequent changes result in booking errors or extra work for the operators.
3. Keep a year of performances on sale. Really.
The two best-selling shows for FITs religiously maintain an 8-month booking window. There is no “tight ticket window” for buyers planning tours 12-24 months in advance—they pick the shows that are on sale. They promote the product that never falls behind in extending their on-sale windows.
4. What’s up with Brazil?
When there’s volatility with currencies and politics, travel planning can become difficult for this important Broadway feeder market. Operators are hopeful that political instability will be sorted by August, and they already provide financial flexibility for their buyers, spreading payments over ten installments. And while many airlines are offering incredible sales to the US right now, that can hurt the tour operator agency model as bargain-seekers may book hotels and attractions directly or through OTAs. An important note to shows is to educate consumers in this market directly as well as through operators.
5. Travel bloggers
Blogger outreach is no longer hosting a “blogger night.” Cultivate relationships with style icons, travel bloggers and “Instagrammers” so that their next trip to NYC includes a trip to your show and some great pics that get devoured in markets like Brazil and China.
6. Replacing Mamma Mia!
For most operators, the ABBA megahit was in their Top 5. With the closing, some business has been spread around, but many companies are just booking fewer tickets. Remember that operators and agencies make the same amount of money regardless of whether business is spread over 30 shows or 3—if you want your chunk of the sales, you need to fight for it. (Hint: Tourism is all about relationships).
This show was rarely mentioned by the buyers (excluding one intrepid Japanese operator who invented rates and loaded the show in her booking system). NYC might be the center of the world, but it takes time for travel planners to become familiar with shows.
8. Don’t forget about premiums.
There are plenty of operators happy to purchase premium seats for their clients, but don’t forget it’s a separate programming step in the BIB system.
9. Agent training
In much of the world, NYC vacations are booked by people who walk into their local travel agency. There’s thousands of them. And they are trained in destinations and products by the staff of tour operators who are promoting packages, local representatives for those destinations and reps who come from the destination to do sales missions. The game is to stand out…invite those who do this training to see your show, see a screening of your show, listen to the cast recording, watch compelling content about your show in local languages…anything that will get them to pull out the stops when selling your show.
10. NYC Center Stage – the Broadway luncheon
Achieving cut-through in a conference of 6,500 people is tough. If you want to play in this market, you need these eyeballs (and the ancillary travel press attention). Just remember that costumes and principal cast members are the key to looking like a $145 ticket.
Bonus takeaway: A quick tourism glossary!
- Wholesaler: A travel provider who creates packaged holidays for sale through tour operators and travel agents. They do the legwork to have contracts with suppliers like Broadway Inbound. Their business is exclusively B2B.
- Tour operator: Similar to wholesalers except that their business can be B2B or B2C. In some cases they have direct contracts with companies like Broadway Inbound, but if their volume is lower for products like Broadway they may book through a wholesaler.
- FITs: Originally Foreign Independent Travelers, now more accurately Free Independent Travelers: tourists purchasing airfare and tickets through travel providers but not as a group purchase.
- Net rates: On Broadway, represents a 20%(ish) discount on tickets sold through Broadway Inbound so tour operators can mark the ticket up to match the full price (the “rack rate”).
- Blackout dates: Dates where commissions and net rates do not apply (e.g. Christmas Week).
- OTAs: Online Travel Agencies (e.g. Expedia).