Jen Campbell Boles, owner of Explore More Family Travel in Cornelius, N.C., opened her business in 2019. Then the pandemic hit, and brands everywhere, including in the travel industry, turned to virtual events to help connect with current and prospective customers.
Boles worried that, unlike her more established peers, she didn't have the client base to draw in crowds for her own virtual events. So she got creative.
One of her friends, Cari Clark Phelps, owns Clark Creative Communications and Salacia Salts. The two have traveled around the world together, and even worked together a bit in the past; with her Clark Creative hat on, Phelps had helped Boles with her travel agency's logo. But Boles saw the potential for a larger collaboration during the pandemic, this time with Phelps' retail operation, Salacia Salts.
Salacia Salts has two retail locations in Savannah, Ga. It features natural skin care products and handmade goods, many created by locals.
"I think there is a lot of opportunity to merge retail and travel together to keep people engaged in this new socially distanced environment," Boles said.
She had the idea to create some kind of tactile element to add to a virtual event. Her mind first went to drinks -- something to sip on while talking about trips -- and the idea grew from there.
Now, each month via Zoom, Boles and Phelps host a Sips & Trips virtual event featuring discussions about travel and a themed, travel-inspired kit attendees can purchase in advance. Phelps curates the kits, many of which feature the makers who supply her retail stores with locally crafted goods.
Purchase of a kit isn't necessary to participate in the event, but attendees are encouraged to do so in advance.
For instance, the most recent Sips & Trips event surrounded sailing the Caribbean. Charter company the Moorings would attend to talk about what it's like to sail around the islands. Attendees could purchase a Caribbean kit for $30 that includes a hand and surface cleanser, a fish pen, a nautical rope travel pouch, a salt soak and a Caribbean silk sponge. For an extra $25, or $55 in total, they can add on a craft cocktail kit that serves 16 (alcohol not included).
Each Sips & Trips event lasts around 60-90 minutes, and both Phelps and Boles can leverage them to expose their companies to new customers.
"I get introduced to new people through her audience, and her products also get introduced to my audience," Boles said.
The Caribbean was the most recent topic because Americans can visit a number of destinations there, Boles said.
As the world opens up, Sips & Trips will continue, at least through the end of the year. Beyond that, Boles and Phelps are considering making the events quarterly, or perhaps going live from destinations they, themselves, visit. They also plan to incorporate some element of support for a nonprofit or similar.
"I just love the idea of giving [my clients] something more than a virtual event," Boles said.