How to sell small group tours with Back Roads Manager

Tourist taking photographs from a bus traveling through the Southern Alps mountains of New Zealand.

Coach tours tend to get a bad rep. They’re often perceived as “daggy” or unglamorous, but in reality they’re one of the best ways to indulge in some of the biggest travel trends around: adventure and experiential travel.

To get the low-down on some of the many benefits of small coach tours and find out how agents can best sell these intimate, immersive experiences to their clients, we spoke with Back-Roads Touring Country Manager for APAC, Dennis Basham.

Basham told us that the beauty of working for Back-Roads is that there’s no one doing things quite like them.

There’s a lot of small group operators who have groups of 25 – 30, we’re lucky enough to have the smallest at 15 – 18 people,” he told us.

“It’s also very much regional focused and leisurely paced so we’re taking things very slowly and really connecting with the locals and checking out the scenery”

“We’re not rushing from one country to the next where you’ve got to do an eight-hour drive in a day. If we’re on the coach for more than an hour, it’s quite unusual for us.”

Basham told us the top three benefits of small group touring are as follows:

It gets tight-knit

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“For us, the biggest feedback we get is that it’s just a smaller group of 15 or 16, 17 people so you can get to know everybody on board,” Basham told us.

“There’s not a huge distance between the front of the coach and the back, its probably about four or five steps.  So you get to spend some time getting to know your fellow travellers and that’s important for us because about 30  per cent of our clients are solo travellers.” 

It’s flexible

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“The biggest benefit is that when you’re getting on and off the coach it doesn’t take 20 minutes because there are 50 people,” he said.

“If you want to stop and take a photo of something, or if you want to stop to go to the toilet, it’s much easier. It’s just the small things that you don’t really think about.”

“If 50 people are getting on and off then it’s quite a serious stop. Whereas for us, getting on and off it’s not a big drama. Everything from people wanting to take photos, going to the toilet, even a stop for lunch or something like that it’s not a big drama.”

Inclusivity: it means no worries

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“The all-inclusiveness is really what our clients are after,” Basham said.

“Our tours are around 60 per cent scheduled and you need to be at a certain place at a certain time. But about 40 per cent of the time is at your leisure or you’ve got a bit of free time.”

“The beauty of that is we spend two nights everywhere, the first night we’ll generally have a team dinner at a local restaurant and usually the second night you can experience your own thing and go a bit further afield and see if there’s anything else you want to explore.”

“What we find is most of our guest will dine together anyway on that second night, they’ll just go and find a local restaurant.”

“It’s a nice mix of being scheduled and unscheduled and we find they all hang out together all the time anyway so it’s quite a nice bonding situation.”

So how do you sell it?

Basham told us that over the last two or three years, travel agents are beginning to get on board and educate themselves about small group touring.

There’s still some confusion around understanding what product to match up with their clients,” he said. 

“There’s a big difference between a large coach operator and a small one, but there is a range of smaller ones as well.”

“We’re 15-18 people, there are some others that are 20-25 then there’s 30 up to 48-50 seaters. But I think agents are really starting to understand there is a coach operator for all types of clients.”

Budget is also something Basham thinks could be a big selling point.

“It can be confusing for agents because when they look at a price point they might think ‘oh that’s reasonably high’ but if you were to break it down and look at what the clients would have to be paying individually or even as a self-drive client, it’s significantly cheaper.”

“Giving [clients] the daily break down of what it costs to do a tour is where they’re going to win them over because it’s very affordable when you weight it up to paying everything individually yourself.”


Do you have something to say on this? Get in touch with Travel Weekly Editor Ali Coulton here to share your thoughts.

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