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
The following link is to survey that I put out in October 11, 2017 to gather information from people who were interested:
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.
- 10% were from past wargame tour members (this is our fifth such specialized tour) and so 90% were new to the concept.
- 74% said either Yes or Probably to whether they wanted to go, 22% answered Maybe and 4% Definitely Not.
- 74% said that they would help get the word out about the tour and 26% said they wouldn’t.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 55% gave suggestions or comments, 45% skipped the solicitation.
- 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.
- 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.