Richard Turen
Richard Turen

Today's chat is going to take a bit of imagination on your part. Instead of discussing travel as it is, I thought we might spend time trying to envision the selling and marketing of travel products as it might be. Join me in imagining that we are a high-profile group of investors from the world's largest travel venture capital firm. We are sitting behind a large conference table in Palo Alto. There are several Wall Street types in our group. Presenters have 30 seconds to describe their travel business idea and to plant the seeds of possible investment on our part. Each of these proposals is loosely based on a concept I have seen floated in the past 24 months.

Here comes our first presenter:

Adventures in progressive countries
Given the fact that tourism is the largest single investment in many countries, there would be widely shared support for a travel firm that held to high standards by only sending tourists to countries that meet the minimum standards of human decency and mutual respect without regard to income, gender, political views or sexual orientation. We will choose to sell only those countries that meet certain agreed-upon standards as regards personal freedom and political participation. There are large numbers of millennials who will support our stance.

Comment: So, in other words, you'll be selling Scandinavia exclusively?

Worldwide tablet travel

We offer tours around the world using local guides. But every one of our tours is personally escorted by a trained tech expert on a top-tier tablet. Every tour participant (each couple or single) receives a new tablet, the latest version, with final documents. Our tech guide teaches everyone in the group how best to use the tablet during the tour. Everyone comes home with great photos and an understanding of a wonderful new piece of the latest tech equipment.

Comment: What would you have to charge people who go on your tours? Don't tech advisers earn $900 an hour? If you're giving away an iPad, you are looking at a $500 item or higher. This will only work if you can absorb the cost of the tablet and the tech person. But guaranteeing that will prove challenging unless you have huge numbers.

Friends and family 'famcations'

If you add up the number of bookings that involve family and friends traveling together, you are reaching millions of potential clients. Our company would book online and would operate a booking center with two divisions: family travel and friends traveling together. Our minimum booking would be for four, so we would, in essence, be working on more profitable minigroups. We would not plan vacations for singles or just one couple. People want to book with small-group specialists, and we can certainly generate buzz around this concept.

Comment: Are you sure you want to combine them? Seems like two businesses to us. Aren't there a fairly large number of family-travel specialists in this space? It strikes us that "friends" may be a more needed approach than "family," but we wonder what kind of monetary benefits you would be able to offer to acquire this business. It seems that "friends" might prefer face-to-face planning contacts.

Intelligent personalization

We have developed a university partnership that is developing a wide range of psychological profile questions that will enable us to pinpoint a specific vacation recommendation. It will include destination, cost, time of year and specifics regarding preferred mode of travel. One subsidiary website will concentrate entirely on the cruise experience. The advantage of our approach is that we will have professional psychologists with university affiliations designing our questions. Every recommendation will be truly personalized. We will also publish a newsletter that recommends travel based on psycho-demographic data.

Comment: This has actually been tried before, and there are similar programs in development at this time. Among the numerous reasons we are having trouble with the concept is the length your survey would have to be to develop any kind of rudimentary profile. Then there's this: The client who does a kayaking trip one year may well sail Cunard the following year. We think travel profiling has some severe limitations. And who will be interpreting the psychologist's questions for the user? Not a travel agent, we hope!

Blogosphere travel

We are a full-service agency devoted to including complimentary blogging platforms for each of our clients. When you book a trip with us, you are given a proprietary blog address, access to a demo on YouTube so you know just how to use it and your own preformatted blog that you can immediately start using the day your trip begins. Our services will enable nontechies and mature travelers to communicate easily with friends and family in a beautiful blog format. And best of all, it's free. Our revenue will come from traditional agency commissions.

Comment: Some of us feel the idea could have legs, but we wonder how you are budgeting for the tech platform, teaching time, etc. You should come back to us after you have tested this concept on an existing client roster to see just how many travelers would find it valuable. But for us, the bottom line is that those who want to blog have already figured out a way to do so.

The gift of travel

We all have marketing backgrounds, primarily in the coupon industry. Our new travel-planning firm will look and feel like a travel agency but with one important difference: We will negotiate with major national retailers to purchase large numbers of gift cards at substantially reduced prices. Clients who book with us will receive a menu of discount cards from which to choose when they return from their vacation. Why would you ever book with a travel agency that didn't provide an entire menu of gift cards from some of your favorite stores?

Comment: You kind of lost us with "feel and look like a travel agency." No one at this table is excited about an investment in anything that doesn't break the rules or the current boundaries in the industry. We doubt that most major suppliers would have an issue with this, as it is already being practiced by Costco. This concept could work among certain value-conscious purchasers, but we see some huge advertising costs to create brand awareness. You are on to something with your "menu of rebates."

Water-only travel
We are excited to present our exclusive water-based travel concept. If you aren't going to be spending your vacation on water, you will need to shop elsewhere. But if you are thinking about a cruise, a riverboat or luxury barge vacation we're your source. We will also handle canoe and kayaking trips. Our plan is to immediately implement both a brick-and-mortar presence and a website and then, following a three-year trial, to determine which outlet is producing the best sales so we can concentrate on growth in one of the models. Staff will all work in bathing suits.

Comment: No one here really thinks this has legs. First, some of the best travel minds in the country already specialize in or have entire divisions based on cruise or riverboat vacations. The competition would be fierce, and you would likely be crushed. We really think your concept of a brick-and-mortar versus internet challenge is misguided. It means that after devoting considerable time and effort to both approaches, you will, essentially, announce that you are closing down one of them. This is a terrible idea, and we haven't even mentioned the bathing suits.

Readers, I'd love your feedback. If you were seated at the table, would any of these concepts attract your investment dollars?

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