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 2019 tour that is being planned, please click here.

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 1990. After the public relief at the war’s end in early 1990 (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. 1990 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. Meanwhile, another offshoot popped out of the ground. 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. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. UPDATE 2019’s tour is being planned, 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.