As much as we hate it, COVID has sent us back indoors. For an industry that is the polar opposite of lockdowns and physical distancing, this is the cruelest blow. In order to maintain contact with clients and keep them inspired about traveling again, just about everyone—including me—has resorted to video broadcasts of one kind or another.
For so many travel advisors, the most common concept has been a 60-minute Zoom webinar co-produced and co-sponsored with a supplier or destination. Since these became the rage starting in early summer, I’ve sat through about 50 of them. I took copious notes about things like number of attendees, quality of the presentations, attendee engagement, etc.
For other travel advisors, entities like Sandals Resorts have been helping produce live “events” from their properties. (My partner, Aaron Schlein, and I hosted a series of more than 50 live talks over the summer, many of which included entrepreneurs broadcasting live from their city or resort. We called it Travel Unites Us.)
I’m going to be frank with you, dear reader. Most travel webinars I’ve attended have been dry and uninspiring. The producers fell into several traps—from the moment they made the decision to host a webinar, to the process for choosing the content and presenters, to promoting the events and following up with attendees.
Travel is such an amazing topic that can be easily entertaining, even on a laptop or smartphone screen. So it befuddles me that our industry does such an awful job hosting travel webinars.
I think a big part of the problem is that, like most marketing and sales strategies travel employs, webinars typically focus on the features and benefits of a supplier’s product or a destination. I have seen countless screens filled with bullet point descriptions of a product or destination, next to a somewhat less than interesting photograph. Ugh!
Alas, too many travel advisors and their destination/supplier partners load up 45-minute canned presentations, taking us on some chronological itinerary of a river cruise, safari, or group tour. They miss the whole point of why someone would be even remotely interested in dedicating 60 minutes to your webinar—taking a break from binging on Schitt’s Creek or Tiger King!
I attended one webinar where an attendee literally wrote in the chat box for everyone else to see, “Oh. This is a sales presentation.” You could feel their disappointment.
Consumers want to hear stories that put your product or destination in some kind of context for their lives. They want a way to envision themselves in those stories, meeting those people, doing those things. They want to begin to know and trust the characters in this storyline—especially YOU!
For one of the Travel Unites Us webinars, I hosted two travel advisors and Kristin Karst, co-owner and executive vice president at AmaWaterways. For nearly TWO HOURS, we told stories about our favorite moments taking river cruises, including Christmas markets, cooking classes and my personal favorite, playing soccer with AmaWaterways’ onboard staff in Budapest.
We all agreed, as we wrapped up this Friday night discussion, that the time had passed so quickly and that we all had such a good time. Why did we feel that way? Because we engaged in the oldest form of communication—storytelling. We got personal. We got down to a level of details where characters came to life, and emotions were easily accessible.
That’s what is missing from the overwhelming majority of travel webinars I see being proffered to the traveling public.
Travel Webinars Julia’s Way
Can I make a suggestion then, so we can stop this madness and start engendering more trust and love for travel again? Produce your next webinar the way Julia Matheson, owner of Travel Julia’s Way, did Friday, Feb. 12.
I absolutely adore this woman because she is so phenomenal, and so phenomenally consistent with how she does what she does. She just launched Julia’s Travel Salon, a new series of online chats she will be hosting a few times each month, featuring a different guest speaker—either a native or an expert in their field.
This webinar featured Lina and Oliver, a married couple living in Paris, talking about five little-known Parisian romantic spots. It doesn’t hurt that both Lina and Oliver are book authors and excellent communicators. That, and their incredible romantic affection for each other and for life itself, was the driving force of this webinar—and perfectly matched with Julia’s romantic approach to life.
If I was to break down the three biggest reasons why Julia was so successful it would be this:
1) She Doubled Down on Her “Why”
When you first meet Julia, online or anywhere, you immediately get this sense of the place she inhabits. She is a French major and international MBA grad who loves France, especially Paris.
From the get go, you know exactly what you are signing up for when you see her webinar announcements: “… back in the day, fashionable ladies held social gatherings called ‘Salons’ where diverse topics were discussed—from art and culture, to politics and philosophy. I’m bringing the spirit of the Salon back, virtually!” And Julia promised “We’ll get a taste of that French joie de vivre each time we’re together.”
“I meticulously craft great days for busy people who have graduated from the DIY backpacker mode of travel, but still want to experience the real culture of a destination…”
She goes on to say further that “If you’re the kind of traveler who:
- Wants to experience the true destination, not just the tourist traps
- Wants to travel in a relaxed fashion, allowing for plenty of time to explore with all five senses
- Doesn’t want to do what ‘everyone else does,’ yet still wants to understand why the famous landmarks are important
- Wants to discover the ‘je ne sais quoi’ of a place—that special something that makes it unique and special
“Then you’re looking to ‘TRAVEL JULIA’S WAY’!”
And that is what she delivers on her Instagram and Facebook accounts, and her “Salon” Eventbrite registration landing page for the 12th: “The Most Romantic Spots in Paris that You’ve NEVER Heard of!” You are never in doubt that you are in the right place.
2) She Shared It, AND Owned It
The next important thing Julia did was ensure that SHE didn’t cede her authority and trusted space during the event to her co-hosts. While Lina and Oliver told us their top-secret favorites, Julia was always hovering around the conversation, interjecting, asking questions, and chiming in with her own expert commentary.
There was a rapport between her and her guests that made this a conversation of equals.
This is so important people. I cannot emphasize this enough.
When you take your brand, your time and YOUR audience, and hand a webinar off to a supplier for a 45-minute sales pitch, you are doing infinite damage to your travel business. You need to own your webinar and give direction to your co-hosts. This is not being rude. This is not being unappreciative for their time and collaboration.
The attendee’s time investment is with you, and your partners get the benefit.
3) She Entertained and Informed
Julia understands marketing, and the need to entertain sales prospects in order to move them through the sales funnel to consider a specific offer from you. If I need the specs on a resort, a cruise line, a destination, I DON’T need a webinar for that. I can go to that supplier’s or destination’s website for that. I can ask a question on TripAdvisor.
The whole concept of a webinar is to be an interactive tool where I can see the presenters, hear their voices as they narrate the meaning of a photo or video, and start to connect with them specifically.
In Julia’s Salon, Oliver, Lina and Julia created storylines and joked with each other. They went off on mini tangents, as if we were holding their hands down side streets in Montmarte. They gave us the details of experiences that we very likely couldn’t have found online—or in person—without hours of Google searching. And that, of course, showed us the value of handing off our next romantic Paris trip to them.
I love webinars when they are done right. They can be amazing tools for finding new clients and qualifying them properly. But done poorly, they can be damaging to your brand and a colossal waste of your time.
If you are going to use webinars to promote your business this year, to attract and qualify ideal clients, and one day make money curating a trip for those attendees, please take my advice: Travel Julia’s Way, and shine the spotlight on your own je ne sais quoi.
Richard D’Ambrosio is a master storyteller who, for more than 30 years, has helped leading brands like American Express, Virgin Atlantic Airways, the Family Travel Association (FTA), and Thomas Cook Travel tell their stories to their customers, the media, and employees. A professional business coach and content marketing consultant with his own firm, Travel Business Mastermind, Richard most recently has worked with The Travel Institute, Flight Centre USA and a variety of host agencies and tour companies, helping entrepreneurs refine their brands and sharpen their sales and marketing skills. Richard writes regularly about retail travel agencies, social media & marketing, and business management.