We all know what traveling like an insider means. For the airlines, center seat as close to the lavatory as possible and extra points if the seat is broken. For the hotels, it means the smallest room closest to the elevator—bonus points for a nearby ice machine. Cruise lines reserve the interior cabins under the disco or those abutting the hidden crew member passageways. So when I see the come-ons about traveling like an insider, I cringe. I am sorry, if I am selling travel, I prefer to travel like a client and see the experience firsthand through the eyes of a client. And that is just what I did last weekend!
I do a lot of small to medium sized groups and one of the most popular questions I am asked is, “Do you go on all of these trips yourself?” And invariably the questioner is shocked to realize the answer is “no.” Yes, my wallet also has limitations and when I got into this silly business, unfortunately it did not come with free passes to the world. But I do try to travel with my groups as much as possible and it is always an eye opener and something I recommend to everyone.
Sure, we all know how a trip is supposed to work out. We have talked to the sales managers, reviewed websites, pored over brochures, and read review upon review. If it is a group, maybe we have arranged for some special amenities. Of course because we do our jobs well, we question the client upon their return, but most are not interested in giving you feedback—unless it is REALLY bad. So do you ever really know how a trip went off?
Last weekend I found out. And, I am glad to report that aside from one or two glitches, we did a good job with this one. Our group weekend was to the Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland, NY. They bill it as a dude ranch, but I like to say it is more “dude ranch meets the summer resort from Dirty Dancing.” We have organized a similar trip like this twice a year for the past ten years and I wanted (no, make that needed) to see it from the eyes of a client before committing to a 21st trip. While I certainly scrutinized the process of being there, most of my investigation was talking with my clients while they were there.
We had 46 families and 122 people and I spoke to them all—parents and kids alike. I found out that I screwed up with the timing of welcome reception on the first night because I was unaware of “typical” traffic problems in the metro NY area. I learned that the tweens were put off by a teen night and felt they should have been included. I learned that a repeat client on several trips will never be satisfied—the butter seemed too salty to her. Mind you, their kitchen is run by the CIA—from where I am it is a government agency, up there it is the Culinary Institute of America. The ranch knows how to flawlessly schedule trail rides with their 200+ horses. The main lodge was built in the early 70s and construction was not as solid as it is now, so noise late at night or early in the morning was a bit of a problem. Wifi was weak to non-existent in the more remote rooms. The new indoor water park to go with the existing indoor pool was a huge hit, especially for the little kids. All in all, we did well by our clients and the ranch did well by us.
There was one disappointment. In the past, Saturday nights had a late night adults only show and the kids were entertained with a movie and an ice cream social party. Due to the economy (and the relatively small audiences) they eliminated them both. Since we are single parents, this was a big deal. As single parents, we need some grown up time. Thankfully, management is VERY receptive (and thankful that we can provide a group during the soft weekends) and I am confident this will return when we do in March.
Traveling with your clients is definitely an eye opener for everyone. For you, you get to see the experience through the eyes of a client—invaluable. For the clients, they tend to get a glimpse of how hard you work on their behalf and appreciate the personal concern you are showing. And finally, for the vendor, they can see how much you value your clients, your business and your relationships.
As I told 46 families last weekend, I truly wish I could afford to be on every trip we offer, it is just not possible—especially with three kids. But, when you get the chance, take it and gain some valuable insights!