Destination Directory

Enter the Mystery Tour

We would all like to think that our destination is the most amazing place and that there are so many cool things to do that tour operators should want to send groups there.

Reality check: that isn't true. Many of our destinations don't have name recognition or don't conjure up excitement and must-see travel when people think of it. But don't despair! There are ways to get tour operators to start featuring your attraction and destination. Read on!

Just because we love our destinations and attractions-doesn't mean everyone does.
When I worked at the regional DMO for New York State's Finger Lakes region, I was aghast that not everyone wanted to promote our region. After all, we had wineries, women's history, amazing state parks with waterfalls, famous residents like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Susan B Anthony, world-class art museums like the Corning Museum of Glass, and 11 gorgeous lakes! I mean, come on!

But I learned that my passion didn't translate to the rest of the world. Many tour operators told me they had tried to sell it in the past, but it just didn't seem exciting enough. And because tour operators need to make money to stay in business, they probably wouldn't be featuring my area any time soon.

But all was not lost.

Enter the Mystery Tour.
At one of my seven-minute appointments at a group tour trade show, I was introduced to the concept of a mystery tour. This is a tour that an operator promotes without revealing the destination. Not every tour operator offers mystery tours, but for those who do, it can be a winning strategy.

The company will list the dates of the tour and some tantalizing hints. When a customer buys a seat on a mystery tour, they are given a sample packing list. Coats or bathing suits. Walking shoes or flip flops. Binoculars or sunscreen. All these hints get the guests even more excited. What I have learned about companies that offer mystery tours is that they have loyal repeat customers who trust that any tour will be great and that these mystery trips often sell out quicker than any other tour they offer.

Mystery Tours as a sales strategy.
Tour operators will also use a mystery tour as a way to test the market. If a tour goes well and customers like it, the tour operator is more likely to add it into the regular offerings the following year. So how can your destination or attraction be considered for a mystery tour?

Have a compelling itinerary.
I recently wrote about creating an itinerary, and you might have to think bigger for a mystery tour. Can you partner with an adjacent region to create a more robust tour? The Finger Lakes is less than two hours from Niagara Falls, so we often used a day trip to Niagara Falls as a hook. You might have to give up a night in your destination to add a night somewhere else. But see the bigger picture: A booked tour will likely bring more booked tours in the future.

What superlatives can you offer? Do you have something that is the oldest, largest, only, most award-winning? You get the picture. We need to have elements that can help create buzz.

The word on Mystery Tours from some tour operators:
"Mystery Tours are always so much fun to operate yet can be a challenge to plan. When you know your customers and know where everyone has been, it's coming up with that something new and different. You don't want to repeat what you have previously offered. Mystery Tours are great to offer the places you come upon that you know people would love, but may be apprehensive to purchase. The most amazing part is to watch how fast they sell and how many people ask for them. You can have a full calendar of tours and people will sign up for a Mystery Trip, not knowing where they are going, over a trip where every detail is in print. The excitement builds as people try to figure out your clues and of course the driver has to play along—yet has to get everyone there, while also pretending to not know. The day or weekend comes together as people Journey Onward to places unknown and to new destinations." 

—Leslie Schoenthal, Integrity Tours

"So often, we have a wonderful tour itinerary that doesn't have the name appeal to sell out in the marketplace. When we have a tour product that we know is great, but are worried that it won't sell, it's a perfect candidate for a Mystery Tour. Passengers are surprised by where they go and what they see and come home with excitement about a destination they may have never even known existed. Mystery tours need to walk the balance of being a little unusual and something most people haven't already done, while still being appealing to the general population—it's not the time for a niche idea! That's the balance that makes finding a great mystery tour itinerary such a challenge. If DMO's can help cultivate those spectacular hidden gems that hold a wide appeal, that will set them up perfectly to be a mystery tour destination."
—Michelle Tupman, Great Canadian Holidays

Offer an incentive to be featured.
Just like food distributors offer incentives to be carried in a grocery store aisle, you could offer an incentive to a tour operator that would feature your area as a Mystery Tour. Could you offer a step-on guide for the day for free if they book a tour? Maybe a small gift when they check in to the hotel on the first evening? Can a town dignitary show up for a wine and cheese reception?

ACTION STEPS TO TAKE
Reach out to your regional or State DMO and ask for help developing a mystery tour for your region, or a few for your state.

Do you keep in contact with your database of operators? Send them a group email and offer an incentive for any tour operator that includes you in a mystery tour. As you can see from above, it makes sense to be a part of a Mystery Tour when it's a new product for a tour operator.


Written by Sally Davis Berry.

This article was republished with permission and originally appeared on Sally Davis Berry.


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