Fill in a survey on Wargamers Battlefield tour to Europe 2018

Just 10 quick questions that should take about a minute. Tell us about your preferences and suggestions. Just click on this link:

http://mailchi.mp/dd6366ada099/wargamers-tour-2018-survey-european-battlefields

Answering the survey gives us valuable feedback. You need not give us any contact information but can subscribe to hear more by email. So you can see if the tour appeals to you.

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WargamerTour.com 2018

I have assembled on another military history tour of particular interest to wargamers and military history buffs (and this time we have heard some wives and girlfriends are going to be coming along!) Group size will be smaller than most tours, do not delay.

Tour information can be found at (click) WargamerTour.com

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The following link is to survey that I put out in October 11, 2017 to gather information from people who were interested:

Click here if you would like to hear more and answer a quick 10-question survey to help us plan next year’s tour.

This was done via free accounts in MailChimp to send notice of the survey (link in previous paragraph starting Click here) and SurveyMonkey to gather the responses. I sent out 45 targeted emails and posted mentions in two Facebook groups that I have been active in (about 3000 wargamers in total). I did not “link drop” to hit and run groups that I had no connection with. Of the 45 emails I sent, 29 (64%) opened the email and 10 (33%) of those clicked on the survey link.

Within 25 days (Oct. 14 to November 7), I had 49 surveys filled out. The first 3 days saw 39 (80%) responses. Then 10 more the next 4 days. Then a couple of zero days then 2 days with 1 each, a 2 week dry spell and 2 more, the last of 49.

Because of the survey, I ended up with 24 net, new contacts for a total of 69 in my email list. I say net because these are the deliverable addresses. Mail Chimp found 5 initially then 1 more for 6 total of 75 were inactive and “greyed” them out. Email addresses must “expire” faster than home addresses!

It can be seen that the 10 of 45 targeted email recipients took the survey and 39 of the Facebook groups filled out the bulk of the surveys. Perhaps a few less than 39 because there may have been either group referring the survey link to friends so the “referral” count is unknown.

One guy took the trouble to say that he had absolutely no interest in the tour but my survey was really badly designed! Unfortunately, he did not leave an email address so I could agree with him. But we all have to start somewhere. And maybe he’s expert on making surveys and I could hire him but c’est la guerre. 

On the other hand, I got a guy who was not interested this time but had been with us in 2003 and he wrote a nice testimonial and was glad to help spread the word:

“Was on your 2003 tour. Definitely will recommend this tour to others. Well worth whatever the cost will be. I’m 80 now and just finished a similar 14 day tour in Poland, father’s birthplace.” – Dave Nelson WYWAE tour member (which I asked if I could use it on the website alongside a picture of him that I showed him).

The survey helped me choose between the two dates that I thought would be the most interesting to my fellow wargamers. Some people indicated that they wanted to receive notice of the tour but a significant proportion did not provide an email or phone even though they expressed interest.

Results of the survey:

Ten questions are the maximum for a free survey. Fewer might have been better.

  1. 10% were from past wargame tour members (this is our fifth such specialized tour) and so 90% were new to the concept.
  2. 74% said either Yes or Probably to whether they wanted to go, 22% answered Maybe and 4% Definitely Not.
  3. 74% said that they would help get the word out about the tour and 26% said they wouldn’t.
  4. 75% said they either preferred the May date or were okay with both May and July, 53% said that they either preferred the July date or were okay with both May and July, while 4% said they were not interested in either date. This totaled over 100% because of the 31% that were counted twice because they okay with both dates.
  5. I essentially asked the 2nd question in a different manner, asking for a rating of “interest level” and the top 2 of 5 levels were only 39% this time.
  6. Asked about the specific type of wargame that they were interested in and each type was given an above average rating varying minimally, from 3.87 to 4.20 (out of 6 at highest). This question was probably poorly designed and might have better if I asked them to rank the games rather rate their interest. Or it just shows that the group was fairly open to different game types. This surprised me a bit.
  7. Asked about the sort of rooming arrangements that they would want based on their likely roommates: 35% a single room, 23% would want a roommate assigned (because no roommate and didn’t want to pay the “single room supplement”), 46% wanted a double room or one with 2 twin beds to go with someone already known to them, 8% for a triple room (which was surprisingly high) and 8% were unsure.
  8. 55% gave suggestions or comments, 45% skipped the solicitation.
  9. 70% gave a way to contact them, 30% did not. Of those that gave any contact, all gave their email address, 57% gave their phone number, 57% gave a postal address and 89% gave at least a first name.
  10. 54% gave a count of who else might be interested (which was zero for some) and 46% did not answer.

Here are ways to improve the survey:

  • Handle the game choices differently. Probably ranking them 1-9 (or whatever) and enter a zero if not interested at all.
  • Use some programming logic so if they were definitely not interested, skip all the questions but comments/suggestions and an optional email address.
  • Only ask the “interest level” question once.
  • Cut out as many other questions as possible, I think 3-5 questions might get more responses.

If you were a survey respondent, thanks! Otherwise I hope this helps you make your only specialty survey.

So what happened next?

I built the tour based on what I had learned, Which meant checking the route both directions for pro & con, choosing what could be visited with times/admissions researched, studied timing for travel, lunches and visits. Plus hotel preferences and asked a receptive operator to shop the hotels and motor coach based on the mileage and driving time involved (very strict in Europe and verified by an unhackable on-coach clock). Then I built the 10 page flier and a website with booking engine …all in 3 weeks that incorporated Thanksgiving (which Europe doesn’t have so it only affected me). Which is a record but I did a fair amount of research and planning done before this.

Another Mail Chimp e-mail blast

I should first mention that I like Mail Chimp because they have any easy way to make a nice email (having some graphic skills is a must here though), gives the recipient an easy way to unsubscribe from their list (required by law, last I heard), is trusted by e-mail vendors to not send spam (so don’t spam or Mail Chimp will throw you and your bananas out on the street), avoid having to use BCC which many e-mail vendors is an automatic one way trip to recipients’ Junk Mail folder.

On November 28 (Tuesday after Thanksgiving at 10 AM—I looked up the best moment in the week to send an email) sent another Mail Chimp campaign to 70 in my email list. I did not immediately post to the Facebook groups or forums that I am active on. I wanted to let the core customers and prospects to have first dibs. I was going to wait several days but found that the tour’s website was being shared by recipients fairly quickly so moved up my plan and in two days started posting around. Bookings came in the first week and the second week has started with a bang too. So it’s looking like it could be sold out before New Years. Of the 70, 44 (65%) opened the email and 9 (22%) of those clicked the More Information button.

So bookings start

After all this, will anyone want to go?! The following may not be a typical response but of great test of a front-loaded project. I say front-loaded because a tremendous amount of time was put in before the tour was announced, probably more than usual on custom tours. Then the big difference is that when the actual bookings came in there was very little phone and no walk-in contact, With a nation-wide audience after all, it’s unlikely anyone will walk in! Some of the contacts emailed, others Facebook Messengered (if that’s a word). But no one booked “cold” (yet) without some sort of initial contact. Robots have still not taken over the multi-week, custom tour business! Just helped it be more efficient—which keeps the price more reasonable.

Of those who have booked so far, in round terms 40% have come from the announcement mailing, another 40% referred by those announcement recipients and 20% from Facebook group or referral. This split is likely to change as more bookings arrive… and increase referrals or new sources.

Another big difference is that the customers could “pull the trigger” by just clicking on a button that securely took their credit card (even I can never see the number etc. as it is “tokenized”) when they were ready whether that be 6:00 AM, 8:00 PM or 1:00 AM—when our office is not open. Although a few got unexpectedly immediate responses from me since I never close, well, except when I’m asleep.

Once people start booking what can still go wrong?

If too many people book and you are “free-selling” (just taking bookings without reference to space you are holding, is called in the travel industry “free sale”), then you could easily oversell the tour or certain key components. This is bad! We don’t want even one disappointed or unhappy customer after being told “sorry, that tour you ‘booked’, is full after all.” That’s the flip side of not enough customers: too many customers for places to put them. Probably won’t try to go with you again and will tell their friends. And in special interest markets, the word can travel fast, bad words especially.

So the nice thing about the booking engine website* is that it controls the inventory of rooms and coach seats. We limit the number of seats sold to 26 to make the tour a more private experience with lots of open seats to spread out if some want two seats to sprawl in. But a concern I have is the limited number of single rooms, versus twin or triple. Unlike America where all rooms are typically alike (two queen sized beds), there are three different room types: true single rooms with a bed that will fit one person, “twins” with 2 twin-sized beds for 2, a room with 1 double bed or a triple which is really a family room with a double bed and a single bed—so not for 3 guys. The booking engine tracks this and will not oversell any type. We may be able to get the hotel to swap around later if we need a different mix of types and they have what’s needed.

The other complication is that a single guy could book and have three different intentions for two different room occupancy types: a single room for himself only, request to share a room with another single guy or advise that a friend will be booking to share with him separately. So we needed a Roommate Choice “radio button” to alert us to which was his case.

Tour’s own Domain versus being one on a list

Note that I bought a domain WargamerTour.com which I thought was generic enough to use in future years. Then I had that domain point at the tour’s page on the travel agency’s website. I feel that the simpler, germane URL might be more apt to be shared and clicked than an unfamiliar travel agency name.

There’s more to it than this of course (insurances, arrival/departure planning, E&O, thinking about options for non-gamers) but I’ve run on long enough.

– Bill Owen

*incidentally there are many different such Tour Booking engine sites, each with their own trade-offs. I cannot recommend one size to fit all. Each is designed for a particular part of the travel industry with varying levels of tech background required to implement them. But I’d be glad to help you figure out how your needs are special and possibly unique to you.

Special Interests: Military History Tours

If you are interested in the 2018 tour that is being planned, please scroll down to the map just below the numbered list section.

After working with tour groups for 17 years, I began to see that there was more to a successful group departure than a popular leader and affinity between the members. Those were important but another factor became clear: shared interests. I probably got this idea from a great travel catalog of Special Interest tour operators that listed adventure, sports, cuisine, cooking, wine and what seemed like a kaleidoscope array of specialized interests.

To test this out in 1989, I chose my interest in wargames and admittedly it was pretty narrowly-specialized: military history and famous battlefields. I contacted the most famous wargame designer from about 1972-1982, James F. Dunnigan and not only was he willing to try it, he had just again started editing his original magazine, Strategy & Tactics. This meant that I had an advertising vehicle at favorable rates (remember this was before the internet and to communicate, he talked me into signing up for new-fangled “e-mail” via AOL. He suggested the tour name, Millennium of Mayhem since it could cover almost thousand years of military history from William the Conqueror at Hastings in 1066 to present.

Backing up a bit, I had “sold” him on the idea by speaking his language: I had made a ‘wargame’ where the object was to design a tour of battlefields and museum-filled towns rating each major battlefield by Historical Importance and What There Is To See There. The tour coach playing piece moved on the game map between battlefields utilizing certain rules about how many things one could comfortably see in a day.

The way to win the game was to design an itinerary that gained the most point ratings totals in the least amount of time. So I sent a rulebook, colored map, playing pieces (the rated objectives that you would collect on the route) and a pad of tour-design sheets… with several sheets filled in with sketch maps. I don’t know that he set up the game but his being a game designer, he could see the parameters of tour design. To date, he had never thought about taking a tour and said he really only thought of travel in terms of business trips and a resort getaway. So this may have helped him visualize how a tour was not just grey-haired people seeing ordinary tourist sites.

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The master sketch map of WarTour showing various itineraries using highlight markers.

So once we had established an itinerary, I put together a 2-page black & white flier with new Desktop Publishing for the May 1990 departure. Things were going okay until the lead-up to the First Gulf War caused a general fear of foreign travel. Rather than give up, we postponed the tour until September 1991. After the public relief at the war’s end in early 1991 (with Kuwait liberated), we got to booking again. One tour member joined us from Saudi Arabia which was further east of the tour area than we were west of the UK! A fellow historian and game designer, Al Nofi, joined the tour also; he expressed interest while on the coach to leading tours himself and certainly I noted that!

 

While on board the motor coach we even took a day while driving along to play wargames and even design a game about the Dissolution of the Soviet Union which was gaining momentum every day that passed.

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The more polished version of the game designed en route while history was being made as communism was collapsing, now entitled Saving The Soviet Union—an impossible task? Play it and see.

It was not a large group but we had proved that even a narrowly specialized tour with a well-known leader could work. As to nuts and bolts, we utilized American Express’ DSM, Destination Services Management, in London to arrange the ground operations. That company is no longer around but the staff opened a new company after American Express closed the division.

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My buddy, Bob Bledsaw (left), won the Napoleon at Waterloo contest.

I went on to produce some more tours with the battlefield theme:

  1. 1991 Millennium of Mayhem, mentioned above.
  2. 1997 Tanks for the Memories where the tour members got to drive actual battle tanks in England and went to a wargame convention, Triples, in Sheffield, England.
  3. 2003 WYWAE: Wargame Your Way Across Europe was another title suggested by Dunnigan as we included a large miniature wargame table in the back of the bus—not sure one can do that now that passengers are required to wear seat belts! About the only thing that went wrong is that they printed the map (at bottom) on the tour T-Shirts sideways!
  4. In 2010 Tour of Battle with Al Nofi in France and Belgium (an itinerary map is found below this list). We covered a number of periods of military history.
  5. Then, the following year 2011’s Civil War Train had historian Al Nofi providing historical commentary about the American Civil War while all travelers slept in restored sleeper cars from the 1940s and 1950s—en route and in the train station. I figured this concept had a strong pair of interests. The nostalgia of old trains, particularly for Illinoisans and the Civil War as evidenced by the popularity of the Ken Burns documentary series were married. This was a unique opportunity to ride in old trains with fine dining and free-flowing adult beverages. The cars were pulled behind scheduled Amtrak services and the cars unhooked to park in the station “yard” from which chartered motor coaches would take us to sites. After everything was together and the flier nearly done, I realized that it was the Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the start of the Civil War. (Map is the second one found below this list.) So from 2012-2015 we covered 4 more years of private train trips to Civil War sites based on the 150th anniversary of various battles.
  6. In 2012 we took a great loop down on the City of New Orleans where we visited the namesake’s site of the decisive battle of the War of the 1812 over to Atlanta, up to Washington DC and back west. With broader history, we renamed it to History Train which also covered the battle of Yorktown, the end of the Revolutionary War. Incidentally I dreamed up this giant loop for the first, 1991 tour’s leader but he rejected it so I kept it the idea in mind for 21 years until I found the chartered rail option that would make it work. Right before the rail journey
  7. 2013 Washington DC & Williamsburg, Virginia were where the train was parked in the station.
  8. 2014 Philadelphia and Boston were the hits on this itinerary. Not just battlefields or museums, we included social history, and of course old train stops.
  9. For 2015’s History Train we managed to hire the retired Chief of US Army History as our private guide for the battle of Richmond and Appomattox!
  10. We skipped a year and then in 2017 having finished with Civil War battles’ 150th anniversaries, History Train still found plenty to see and do in San Antonio (the Alamo) for Cinco de Mayo and New Orleans (plantations and the National WWII Museum). So by traveling with and listening to the many repeat travelers, we evolved the features to cater to their interests.
  11. Meanwhile, another offshoot popped out of the ground. Over ten years, 2005-2015, a wargamer asked me if I could arrange his Napoleonic re-enactor group’s air fare and land arrangements as they participated in four 200th anniversary demonstrations of Napoleon’s battles throughout Europe. They started with Austerlitz, Czech Republic in 2005 then Germany’s Jena-Auerstadt in 2005, Leipzig 2013 and culminated with Waterloo, Belgium in 2015. Between hotel stays, the 21e Régiment d’Infanterie de Ligne, 3e Compagnie had a truly land tour. These guys were “under canvas” for an “intense” experience between their skirmishes with real muskets (thankfully firing blanks). For Jena, the day before travel the Dutch government made new rules requirin paper certificates for each traveler to allow their muskets to be carried in gun cases in the baggage compartment. This require fast action and forwarding on scans to each traveler spread around the USA. I will save the story about the officer’s sword for when you call.
  12. 2018 is a work in progress and called Wargamers Battlefield. The basic, planning map (with stops and features subject to change) is shown immediately below the next paragraph). For more about the tour, click here.

So 13 more custom tours grew out of this unusually specialized tour! The individuals who traveled with these groups could have done something similar on their own but they would not had the ease, savings and camaraderie of traveling with like-minded people. I would guess that for many these were very memorable experiences that they might not have dreamed they’d get to do otherwise.

A testimonial from the unit leader of the re-enactors:

“They listen to your wants and desires and follow through.  Totally professional but friendly all the way.” – Michael Mathews, Sous-Officier, 21e Régiment d’Infanterie de Ligne, 3e Compagnie

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21e Régiment d’Infanterie at Austerlitz 2005. And to think that the they sleep in tents on the “battle” days!

2018 Tour

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2010’s Tour of Battle featured wargames on the coach and at local clubs in Europe
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2011’s Civil War Train feature a private train made up several vintage, restored cars from the 1940s and 1950s. This took painstaking tour design because Amtrak is nearly impossible to work with and always has surprises for you. Notice how the train picked up people at numerous stations along the way. The year we made the grand loop, via New Orleans, Atlanta and Washington DC, I said that each mile further from home we got, we also got one mile closer to home!
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A very ambitious itinerary including two mid-tour flights (Rome-Luxembourg & Paris-London) and the t-shirt maker turned it counter clockwise so phrase at right here would read “correctly”! Our Italian wargamer host, Arturo, provided us an expert guiding of military sites, seven games to choose from and real Italian pizza
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On our Tanks For The Memories tour, Nick Moran accelerated his Chieftain tank into a giant mud puddle. Mark and Mitch jumped aboard to see if he was drowning in the resulting wall of mud but after wiping the mud out of eyes, his smile remained. Later on, after serving in the army, Nick became a military expert for a computer game company and his screen name is The Chieftain.

 

“Was on your 2003 tour. Definitely will recommend this tour to others. Well worth whatever the cost will be. I’m 80 now and just finished a similar 14 day tour in Poland, father’s birthplace.” – Dave Nelson WYWAE tourmember (shown below at left, with John Holtz at right), riding a halftrack in Belgium


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While at Poteau, Belgium we arranged for a ride in a German World War II half-track which the guys  liked. One guy was disabled and didn’t think we’d let him join the tour. I said “Why not? As long as you have someone to push your wheelchair and help you, welcome aboard.” He let me know a few years ago, that he is completely disabled now and so glad he got to go. Another tour member died the following year at a pretty young age; one should not put things off.

 

Travel is more than where you go but also where “from”

Living in South America, I have learned more about diversity. It may be natural to think of yourself as average or normal. But I have come to recognize how different each of us is. Partly the diversity of the locals here struck me but also the expats who have moved here. The expats come from many places and have many different points of view. When you live in the USA, I tended to gravitate to people who thought like me and shared my interests. Here I have come to appreciate people that I really didn’t agree with. After all, if I avoided different people here, I’d have no one to associate with! And really, my views have broadened too.

Naturally we think about destinations, but “from” matters too.

When people think of travel, they naturally think about destinations. And yet some think of the mode of travel (cruises, resorts, adventure) first; so the “how” is more important than the “where” and that preference is developed from their hometown experience and referrals. Even those who are destination-oriented have a lot of considerations that an agent may take for granted about “time to the gateway airport”, assumptions about their preference of level of quality, pacing, and style. Having managed three offices in Central Illinois (Springfield, Decatur and Champaign) that were less than an hour apart, the closest gateway airport’s proximity varied completely (St. Louis, Indianapolis and Chicago, and occasionally four hometown airports including Bloomington). Our choice of airline had to vary based on where we thought the nucleus was. Later on our agencies were part of a larger consortium of multi-state offices, so the “from” became more challenging. Hawaii seemed close to West Coast agencies but Caribbean far—the reverse of Illinois’ view. So if you have a desire to grow beyond your own backyard, where your customers are from becomes a great challenge. Back in your local area, finding a motor coach to serve several departure points just a 100 miles apart can be a challenge.

Selling the right trip to the “right people” & the art of coming together

The interests and mindsets of Central Illinois and Chicago may vary too and your mind is really where you start from. Two mindsets on the same coach may not be on the same wavelength. Some people are very welcoming to diversity and others uncomfortable with it. The best tour leaders work at getting all on their side so the group can be a unit rather than splintered factions. These arts of leadership deserve their own blog post! For now, I can say that if people see you working on their behalf and caring for them, they will tend to hang on to you over petty issues.

All on the same flight or are many departure flights straggling in?

Another way that the “from” becomes an important consideration is comparing a group that all starts on the same flight versus various parties arriving on many flights over the course of numerous hours. The former can all board the same coach and be taken a few hours to their first hotel (with a suitable break, perhaps for breakfast if an early arriving flight). But the latter parties are more likely to need to stay in the city of arrival or the earliest flight(s) given something to do besides sit on a coach at the airport waiting for the rest. And if a flight is to arrive very late in the day, consider putting them up at an airport hotel instead and pick them up en route with the early flight arrivals. Finally, what happens if any of these flights are delayed? You need a contingency plan for that because a transfer coach may not be able to wait more than the, say, three hours they were booked for (that coach is probably already booked to head on to another job that afternoon). It might be wise to book that coach for the whole day and use it for sightseeing for the first flight(s) and go back to pick up the delayed passengers.

Contingency planning continues with having Skype or an international phone

Being a good trouble-shooter who can “think on your feet” is important but better to have contingency plans. And a phone to call home and brainstorm when the leader needs to! And that is better done at the point of need than to hear about it when the leader reports, “I didn’t know what to do; so we sat.”

Every journey begins with a single step

Confucius say “Three people come down the road. Certainly I will learn something from one of them.”

This aphorism indicates that one might learn something from more than the rare guru. And importantly, you will “certainly” learn if you are open to it.

I hope that my blog may give you some good ideas or learn how to avoid pitfalls. Having had 45 years to learn how to do (and not do) tour groups I may have some worthwhile suggestions and points to ponder. And if something sounds obvious, then that may help you feel more confident about what you already think.

Even when something is outside your interest, you never know how you might come to use it later. It’s worth being aware of more than your immediate focus. For example, I have come to realize how diverse the travel industry is. For example, for tens of thousands of travel agents their business is sending people somewhere. But have you ever though about another tens of thousands who receive those people? And not necessarily Inbound, Destination Service Management or Receptive Operators—these tend to be packagers and operate the tours or events that hometown agents book. I’m talking now about people who specialize in various styles of sightseeing, activities, and adventures. There’s a narrow focus on travel that deals in volumes of people and repeated events. Very different than the lesser numbers of people and custom planning that most hometown travels perform.

Then pull back the zoom and get eve a wider view. There is an interesting blog that is not travel-related but speaks to what bits of what we do as entrepreneurs. One I want to mention now is the Wizard Of Ads who writes a free Monday Morning Memo email that you can sign up for here (just enter your email address and click the Subscribe button).

The Wizard, Roy Williams, started out as a radio salesman and has since broadened his interest into other media and when each may have its place. Excellence in writing is the common thread in media and he frequently focuses on fine details breaking down elements of persuasive writing and branding (more than a logo). Incidentally, he uses some basic themes like the Three Wise Men (Wise-ards=wizards, see) and sees Don Quixote as a sort of small business person who envisions an “impossible dreams” so he will slip in promotions about courses at his “Wizard Academy is a school for entrepreneurs who have Quixote’s ability to see beauty that no one else can see.”