Long Beach makes a play for lucrative tour bus market

Observer staff writer

Published on December 28, 2010 12:01 AM

LONG BEACH — Our little Peninsula was introduced to a big market last month as representatives from Long Beach Package Travel met with approximately 100 bus tour operators from around the continent at a tour convention in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

City of Long Beach Tourism and Event Coordinator Ragan Andrew and Long Beach Package Travel consultant Melody Johnson attended the National Tour Association convention for six days in November, where they shared an NTA booth with the Oregon Tour and Travel Alliance.

Johnson and Andrew were able to attend the convention through appropriations from the city of Long Beach’s lodging tax fund, and took the trip in order to establish the Peninsula as a destination market organization and market the package travel program to tour operators.

Representing Long Beach and the Peninsula, the pair met with nearly 100 professional tour operators during the convention with hopes of convincing tour companies to jump on board with package travel tours that feature one of the eight available itinerary categories: culinary, Lewis and Clark, ecotourism, old crafts and antiquities, festivals, maritime, soft adventure, and students and education. 

“The itineraries are geared specifically to give guests a once in a lifetime experience,” Andrew confirms.

Tourism speed dating

The NTA convention gives destination market organizations (DMO) the opportunity to meet tour operators through a process that is similar to speed dating. Each DMO representative has about 10 minutes to sell their area’s tourism advantages and build rapport with a tour operator, and when their time is up, they meet with another tour operator and do it all over again. Andrew says professionalism is of utmost importance at NTA, as there is an enforced dress code during the meet and greet portion of the convention and complimentary gifts for tour operators are prohibited.

Since there are often lines of destination market organizations waiting to meet with tour operators, Andrew says there are also opportunities to network with other package travel representatives. As a result, many who attend lose their voices from talking for several days on end. 

Johnson and Andrew went to Montreal with 42 appointments, but ended up meeting with about 100 operators who were not acquainted with the Long Beach Peninsula. Andrew also took a “mini workshop” that discussed marketing and branding techniques for package travel programs.

Representing companies in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, tour operators were interested in booking tours that included festivals, kiting events, hiking, fishing and crabbing, maritime trade, river boat tours, Lewis and Clark, national and state parks, cranberry harvesting and agriculture, culinary topics and student programs.

Heads on beds

Andrew says the goal of Long Beach Package Travel is to bring people to the area for multiple-night stays during the “off shoulder season.” The program was created about eight months ago and is being marketed through the city of Long Beach. It currently offers tour itineraries in eight categories and has its own website designed specifically for tour operators, www.longbeachpackagetravel.com.

“Goal number one is to put heads on beds,” she says of the program. “The big picture is to get people here, have a great time, and then tell their family and friends.”

“The city of Long Beach is the information source for the package travel, but it is up to the suppliers (restaurant, motel and attraction owners) to negotiate the contracts,” Andrew explains. “The city doesn’t handle any money; the operators contact each business owner to participate in any given tour.”

Following NTA, Andrew was happy to report that a tour company out of Ohio is bringing 12 visitors here for salmon and tuna fishing trips this year. Another company out of British Columbia will be coming to the Peninsula for a “mystery trip,” where travelers sign up for a tour after receiving limited information on where they will be going or what they will be doing.

Some tour operators plan to conduct site visits in the near future and others were interested in familiarization tours to get a preview of what the area has to offer. Eight operators expressed interest in booking tours in 2012, or including Long Beach Package Travel in their tour catalogs. 

In January, Andrew plans to launch an e-mail campaign that will direct the NTA tour operators to the Long Beach Package Travel website and hopefully expand the package travel contact information database.

In February, Long Beach will host a workshop for Long Beach hotel owners, restaurateurs and anyone else associated with local attractions. Mark Hofman will discuss the concept of package travel, why a business may want to participate in the opportunity, and how to work with destination market organizations and tour operators. For more information on Long Beach Package Travel, call Andrew at 642-4421.

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