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Affinity Travel: No Ethics Scandal, Just a Money Grab

Posted on July 8th, 2017 in Journalism, Marketing, Publishing, Travel with 0 Comments

The only thing unusual about this story is that The New York Times is involved, offering The Washington Post a chance to score some points in their rivalry.

Many so-called affinity groups – colleges, professional associations, private clubs – offer their members curated travel opportunities such as the one in this article. But the packaging is deceptive. These over-the-top itineraries are crated by travel vendors and peddled to affinity groups as branding opportunities.

I receive the brochures all the time from my college’s alumni association and, as a former longtime volunteer, I’m hip to the script.

Either specifically or implicitly, each travel package pitches:

  • Exclusivity – Trips tend to require several weeks and thousands of dollars per person, meaning that only wealthy retirees can spare the time and expense.
  • Affinity – Buyers are lead to believe they will share some personal background with their fellow travelers, but the same trip can be branded for several different groups. (Pity the Duke or Stanford alums who find themselves on the same tour as Michigan grads.)
  • Access – Packages tend to be themed, with the tour operators comping spots for “experts” from each participating institution.

Behind the window dressing, these are expensive but generic travel packages that offer high margins for tour operators. Everything is sticker price, which usually is more than the sum of the parts. They are pedaled to affinity groups that are perceived to have wealthy members. It’s not surprising that New York Times readers eventually would be targeted.

Affinity groups willing to pimp out their mailing lists receive a percentage for each booking they yield, and often a free trip for a staffer to act as a sort of concierge for members on the trip.

Want to see for yourself? Ask your affinity group about shorter, more affordable travel opportunities. You’ll hear crickets chirping. Those would require time and effort to organize, market and stage, and the group would have to take on the task because the vendors aren’t interested in chump change.

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Stu Robinson does writing, editing, media relations and social media through his business, Phoenix-based Lightbulb Communications.

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