September means it’s time to plan the next season’s baseball trips, and this makes Sports Travel and Tours President Jay Smith feel like he’s assembling a giant jigsaw puzzle. With so many factors that come into play, Jay’s work is no simple science.
“It’s not as easy as just picking games and developing an itinerary,” Jay says. “First and foremost, you need to understand what travelers are interested in and figure out how to give them what they want.”
According to Jay, the goal for so many of his clients is to travel to the 30 major league baseball stadiums in the country, thereby becoming a member of Sports Travel and Tours’ Stadium Hall of Fame. To ensure that baseball fans get to enjoy as many stadiums as possible during their vacation time, maximizing their efforts to reach the Hall of Fame goal, trips are kept centralized to one region of the country.
“These trips maximize travelers’ time regionally and flow in an order that ensures each team will be playing at their home stadium,” Jay says. “In order to make it work, all the teams need to have a home game during a 10-day or even a week’s span of time. For that reason, it’s not always easy to get the trips to flow right, and we have to make them a bit different every year to accommodate.”
Planning trips begins in September because that’s when the major league game schedules—with dates only, not game times—become available for the following spring. Jay uses what is released to create a master spread sheet to guide his thinking.
“Some real educated guessing on game time is involved,” Jay says, noting that to create a trip, he must be able to calculate travel time from one tour point to the next, which means figuring out roughly when games will begin and end. This is where Jay’s knowledge and decades-worth of experience becomes key.
“Weekday games are almost always held at night, but it’s harder to predict game times on Thursdays and weekends,” he says. “What I do is look at where the following day’s game is going to take place and, based on how long it would take for the team to travel and rest up, I can surmise if the next game will be a day or night game.”
When planning his 75 to 100 initial itineraries, Jay also avoids planning trips in April, early May and September because northern cities are typically experiencing colder weather, and school also is in session, so families are less likely to travel. He also considers the home team’s opponents, choosing the stronger opponents to attract attention from sports fans.
Jay also pays close attention to such details as hotels and side tour opportunities. “We try hard to stay in downtown areas in full-service hotels, for the most part,” Jay says. “Location is a key part of promoting flexibility and free time within programs. When people do have time to explore, we want them to be right there in the meat of the city. We make it easy and hassle-free to fit some fun activities in there.”
It is not until January that Jay can finalize the 20 or so trip options that Sports Travel and Tours will offer as that is when the game times are released. Jay quickly assesses his predictions, makes adjustments where necessary and releases the firm’s annual brochure in late January or February. Then begins the task of marketing the adventures.
Jay says roughly 12 or 14 of the 20 annual trips are what he thinks of as “major trips”—such as the West Coast Express, Central Express and the East Coast Classic—while many others are what Jay likes to call “splinter trips” or “sub-trips,” composed of a few days only from the front or back end of these longer trip.
Jay continues to receive positive responses from travelers who are impressed by his well thought out itineraries. It would seem he has a knack for bringing all of the puzzle pieces together.
“I recently got a note from a regular traveler who said, ‘Your trips just keep getting better and better. You just keep improving year in and year out,’” Jay says. “Feedback like that is just so great to hear.”