As the world slowly reopens, travelers are finally turning inspiration into action. They are looking at the travel dreams they’ve kept locked down with them inside their homes the last year, and they are setting them free with family, friends and total strangers.
Years of research by organizations like MMGY and Destination Analysts shows that most consumers spend the initial phases of their travel purchase journey speaking to trusted members of their personal network.
They’re looking for ideas: “Where did you guys go in 2019 again?”
They’re looking for validation: “What were the beaches like at that all-inclusive in Cancun?”
They’re narrowing down their options: “Tuscany and Venice, or Rome and Capri?”
With credible sources in hand, they then begin to seek a broader set of inputs and experiences from strangers on websites like Trip Advisor. They’re also asking questions and searching social media platforms like Facebook—usually in a private group that they consider an extension of their tribe.
In one such Facebook group, where I am a member, a woman recently announced that she had just booked tickets for an 11-day July vacation in Greece. She and her husband are vaccinated, and she was asking, “which 2-3 islands are a must?”
[Note: Greece recently announced that it was reopening to European tourists on May 14 to individuals with a “vaccine certificate” or “Green Pass,” indicating they have been vaccinated or are otherwise immune to the coronavirus. There is no projected date when entry for Americans will be permitted.]
As you analyze the responses to this woman’s request, you start to see how varied the image of Greece is to so many people, and how it might be difficult for this woman to make the right choice for her vacation. You also see the effect Greek tourism’s marketing has had on the popularity of hotspots (a majority of respondents recommended Mykonos and Santorini).
Some commenters in the thread wisely probed for the type of experience the poster was looking for—like an astute travel advisor would.
“Choosing islands depends a lot on your pace of travel and what you want to see and do,” one respondent said, asking the original poster how busy they wanted to be on their trip and whether they would be starting their vacation from Athens.
“We are definitely more off the beaten path type travelers and love less-touristy places. Although I feel like we have to do Santorini!” the original poster replied.
Who Wants to Party?
Reading through the posts, you receive a stark reminder about the importance of attracting and properly qualifying sales prospects. If your clients love Instagram moments, a vibrant night life and lots to do during the day, Santorini and Mykonos are hard to not recommend.
When one of the first respondents recommended Mykonos and Santorini, the original poster asked “is Mykonos not more of a party vibe though?” The first respondent replied, “We loved it. It’s more party than the other islands but I loved it.”
Yet another poster, who claimed she was Greek, recommended against Mykonos. “Club and drug scene is ridiculous.”
Later, in the comment thread, a group member suggested that based on the quieter vacation preference, “Mykonos will likely not be your thing. We chose to return to Naxos and are trying a new island of Syros which looks very quaint.”
A Greek member, who said she grew up in Greece, recommended Santorini, Naxos and Mykonos, “on my top 10 for sure, if not top 5,” she said; pointing out that any fears of the party scene on Mykonos could be averted. She said, “the island is big and has space for everyone, those who want to party and those who don’t.”
Still, the recommendations for Mykonos and Santorini kept flowing in, with one respondent calling Santorini “a must. It’s so unique and worth the hype.”
But another poster said that now might actually be a good time to visit an abnormally quiet Santorini, “instead of when the crowds of tourist are back there.”
She had gone there with her husband during the pandemic, “and it was amazingly empty! The restaurants had just been open for a few days after the first wave and it was just perfect. The locals said that this is the way to enjoy the island, instead [of] when 7-8 cruise ships dump thousands of people every day. Just go to Santorini and stay in Oia,” she recommended.
Peace and Quite Finally
Peppered with recommendations for Santorini were thoughts about only spending a short time there for this couple. “Santorini can easily be done in a day or two,” one poster wrote, while Crete “has tons to see and do” and is “more authentic and off the beaten path.”
Another said they had spent three weeks in Greece two years ago, visiting Santorini, Milos, and Sifnos. Prior to that trip, they had already been to Santorini and Mykonos. “I wish we’d skipped Santorini on our second trip,” she said.
One poster wrote about how she and her partner loved their recent 5-day stay in Milos, south of Athens, and about half the way to Crete. The poster called the island “more low key than Santorini & Mykonos. The terrain is striking—from moonscapes to swimming holes among caves. Amazing food options too.”
Occasionally, other members of the group would recommend islands that might just fit the original poster’s “off-the-beaten path” style of travel.
“Naxos!”, one posted, referring to a large Greek island south of Mykonos. Another poster suggested Naxos’ neighbor island, Paros (also recommending Santorini in the same comment).
“I’m not sure why I never see recommendations for Aegina,” another commenter said. “It’s very quiet, but I really liked visiting there for the ruins, the pistachios and the friendly people.”
And yet, another recommended the original poster spend the bulk of her time on Crete, saying Santorini and Mykonos were great for short stays, but maybe not for someone looking to get off the beaten path.
One respondent even suggested getting entirely away from the popular traditional Greek vacation islands, and going west to the Ionian Sea, recommending Lefkada, Corfu, Kefalonia and Zakynthos.
This columnist personally visited Corfu three years ago, and I can vouch for its appeal to the “off the beaten path” traveler. While the small city of Corfu can feel busy, has a wide array of dining options, and is frequented by cruise ships, its easy to find a very authentic, local, quiet experience in beach towns like Palaiokastritsa.
Just south of Corfu, a friend of mine operates a quiet seaside café that overlooks the famous Vachlerna Monastery, seen in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only. It’s easy to find places like this throughout Corfu, if quiet is what you want.
One of the greatest advantages a travel advisor holds in rebuilding their business post-pandemic, is the desire for travelers to spend their time and money on the precise experience they are looking for. Most of us have spent more than a year not living our travel dreams. As we reemerge from this involuntary imprisonment, being matched with the travel style we personally treasure is a driving force for most of us.
As travel advisors, listening for those aspirations, travel goals and styles has never been more critical to your clients’ happiness and your success.
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.