Department stores, car dealers, jewelry shops, spas, styling salons, etc. are expert product merchandisers, masters at subliminal influencers such as particular smells, colors, displays, music, lighting, etc. Realtors bake cookies just prior to an open house. To these sales professionals, the message is clear – customers can and will be stimulated subliminally one way or the other.
Travel agents are merchandisers of experiences – gatekeepers to specialized knowledge – to memories that last a lifetime. But what are the subliminal influencers for an experience merchant? They can work for you or against you. Are you still trying to leverage the same old supplier provided promotional materials as differentiators – brochures on a rack, travel posters on the wall and a scale model of the Titanic in the window?
Personally, when it comes to subliminal persuaders, nothing makes me want to pack a bag and jump a train, a plane or a ship quicker than discovering a well written book about travel. I’m not talking about “How to” travel guides like “Paris on $7,561.37 a Day” but rather one by a gifted travel journalist…someone who has a talent for actually immersing you in the experience.
This year happens to be the 100th anniversary of the death of the greatest travel journalist of all time – Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain. He single handedly created the genre. Reading “Life on the Mississippi” instantly filled me with a burning desire to board a river boat and head downstream to New Orleans – not too difficult to do from here in Memphis. Reading Twain’s “Roughing It” had me longing for an authentic stagecoach ride across the plains to the High Sierra gold and silver mining country of Nevada and California of the 1860s…to visit the very location that inspired the hilarious “Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”.
In the same book I loved reading Twain’s description of the long, arduous hike up to the pristine unexplored shores of Lake Tahoe from his mining camp in Nevada (there were no roads there in 1863). On one trip he accidently set the forest on fire due to some sloppy campsite construction. But there was no need to panic or to even attempt to contain the blaze. Why? Because there was not another human being within 100 miles to even notice! (Except maybe for a few inebriated roulette players at the original Harrah’s at South Shore – that casino has been there since the Stone Age.)
Do you have Hawaii bound clients? Suggest to them the chapters in Roughing It about his newspaper sponsored trip to what was then called the Sandwich Islands in 1865. I guarantee they will want to visit the locales of his encounters with Kamehameha.
Innocents Abroad is the chronicle of his 1867 steamship voyage to Europe and the Holy Lands on a side wheeler named Quaker City. Twain’s passage was paid by a newspaper in return for keeping a journal of the trip. His vivid descriptions and satirical insights proved so popular that these notes became his first full length book. In reading his characterizations of the faults and foibles of his cruising companions, it struck me that some things never change!
While Mark Twain is the granddaddy of them all, there are many excellent contemporary travel journalists. Anthony Bourdain (Yes, the food guy with the ‘No Reservations’ food show on the Travel Channel) has compiled an excellent book titled The Best American Travel Writing 2008 – a very good travel themed read. This book will provide leads to many other superb travel writers.
Meanwhile, back at the agency office – why not shove aside a some brochures and stock the shelves with the work of a few great travel writers – both classic and contemporary. Start a lending library with books that will plant seeds for the next trip. Loan them to customers. Set the hook. When they come back to return the book, recommend another.
Give away great travel books as bon voyage gifts. Stamp your agency name and contact info all over the inside cover and suggest they pass the book along to a fellow traveler if so inclined.
A similar promotion will work for the agency website as well – and maybe generate a little extra income to boot. Create affiliate relationships with online book sellers such as Amazon.com. Below is a link that will help evaluate online affiliate relationships offered by major book sellers to determine which is best suited for your needs.
When it comes to merchandising experiences, this subliminal stuff can be fun…as well as profitable. Stay tuned…more to come.