Inviting Participants

Specialty coffee buyers visit the communities and estates in coffee-producing nations, known within the industry as coffee origin tours. This five-part online guide describes the purpose for hosting a coffee origin tour, and outlines steps to organize one successfully.

Part 3: Inviting Participants

Many travelers may express interest in participating in an origin tour. Some may be professional green coffee buyers representing importing companies or roasters seeking new sources of supply. Others may be coffee retailers that want to learn more about how and where coffee is grown. Others still may be consumer coffee enthusiasts in search of an ecotourism holiday. Each will have different goals for participating in a tour. Defining the trip’s goals is critical to communicate effectively and avoid disappointment.

Selecting a Coffee Origin Tour Audience

Tours may be private, with invitation-only participation, or open to the public as an advertised event. Private tours offer the most control over the guest list of travelers. They are less likely to be for-profit activities. The goal of a private tour is trade. The cost of the activity is often shared between the traveler and the host. Or, it is sometimes sponsored in total by the host as an investment in the business relationship.

Private tour hosts may invite:

  • Specific individuals who are essential or potential new customers for the host or origin.
  • A range of employees from one specific company to broaden organizational knowledge of the producing origin.
  • Roasting and retail end-users of green coffee who share buying relationships or buy coffee through one importer.
  • Representatives from companies in high-value consuming regions of the world or targeted markets for green coffee sales or
  • Anyone else who is influential in advancing the host’s interests.

Public tours may be open for participation from any interested party. These are sometimes for-profit activities for the trip organizer, charging a fee for each traveler. Control of the guest list for a publicly advertised tour is limited but can be targeted to audience segments, for example, by:

  • Selecting specific outlets to advertise the event (coffee trade media or regionally-focused publications).
  • Through targeted keyword advertising on search engines or social media or
  • Foreign language advertising targeting regional buyers. (e.g., only Japanese, Korean, or Mandarin speakers if seeking marketing exposure in Asian coffee markets)

The broader public announcements are made about the trip, the larger your potential group of travelers. At the same time, there is less control over the makeup of that group. Inviting a large group of less relevant travelers may be counterproductive to the host’s goals.

Job Function and Role on the Tour

The traveler’s job role and the company’s function are crucial considerations when developing an invitation list. Invite those who perform a role that compliments your goals for the event. Directors of coffee or green coffee buyers are an obvious company function relevant to coffee sellers’ interests. Other personnel may assist by specifying buying activity from a new region or creating new consumer products.
Reputation is a guidepost of credibility in the coffee industry. Including distinguished industry personalities on a tour may strengthen the brand image of an origin. It may also increase the effectiveness of the tour as a marketing activity. Invite leaders the industry looks to for guidance. Consider visible heads of respected coffee businesses, coffee champions of competitions, and volunteer leadership (e.g., SCA Roasters Guild, Sustainability Council).

Costs and Fees

There is no one way that all origin tours are funded, and the host maintains total flexibility on the best way to finance each element of a trip. The following three origin trip fee structures are expected within the coffee industry, but the host may adopt any that best suits its purpose. Regardless of the structure selected, it is important to communicate which expenses each party is responsible for paying and when.

Customary Fee Structure

Customarily, origin trip costs are shared between seller and buyer. Sellers (e.g., export associations, private estates, producer groups, exporter/importers, or auction events) prepay the cost of in-country accommodations, meals, and ground transportation at the host’s expense. The traveler (buyer) is responsible for paying for their airfare to a designated international airport within the host country.
In-country costs are included for prospective buyers both as a courtesy and as a matter of convenience. When transporting groups of travelers, the time necessary to pay for hotels, meals, or transportation quickly multiplies, so advance arrangement is recommended.
It is common for in-country travel costs to be supported by sponsors. Sponsors may be local private businesses, outside donor aid organizations, or the government.

Development Aid Fee Structure

International airfare may be paid by the host organization when the origin is underdeveloped. This structure is found where the export country has limited immediate commercial appeal for international visitors. It may also occur when visitors are asked to perform significant services (e.g., lead training courses) benefitting the host origin on the trip. The host may include a per diem for unreimbursed travel expenses and an honorarium as compensation for the work performed. The government or donor organizations provide funding for these aid activities. A return on the investment comes from new economic activity or skills that improve competitiveness.

Traveler-paid Fee Structure (For-Profit Event)

When the origin tour is being run as a for-profit activity or intended to benefit the host organization (i.e., charitable contribution), travelers may be asked to pay a lump sum fee to the host before travel. They are also responsible for making international travel arrangements. The fee includes costs for all domestic travel (ground transportation, domestic flights), meals, and lodging. Sometimes, an additional portion is also intended as profit for the organizer. The host entity will act as a tour guide, organizing and leading all elements of the trip.
An event entirely funded by visitors may sound appealing but consider a possible negative impact on future business. Indeed, green coffee buyers are not motivated by the promise of cost reimbursement to travel. However, a traveler-funded trip is open to more participants to maximize income. This means precious time invested into conducting the tour may be spent catering to tourists rather than industry professionals.
When determining the fee structure, always consider the questions mentioned at the beginning of this article: “Who is our ideal customer,” and “How is success measured for this activity,” as guides to aid in the decision.

Group Balance

Job function and company suitability as a customer is not the only factor when deciding who to invite on a tour. Consider that during the trip, ten individuals will be traveling in close contact for a week or more and very far from home. We are all human, and when placed under stress, lacking sleep and food, we may become emotional or confrontational. To mitigate potential conflicts between travelers, pay attention to the balance of each group. Strive to achieve balance among the group by gender, geography or culture, and language. When possible, social or business interests. Avoid enrolling one single traveler isolated from the rest. If the situation arises, ensure the group leader facilitates their interaction with the rest. Remember that a coffee origin tour aims to provide a positive experience. Social interaction with other group members is a large part of that experience.

coffee origin tour group photo

Origin tour travelers pose for a photo before departing

Invitations, Promotion, Advertisements

New events need long lead times of notice to attract participation. Invitations to participate in a coffee origin tour should be sent at least three months before the first travel date. Experienced green coffee buyers and other coffee industry professionals plan busy travel schedules a year in advance. Adding a new origin or travel activity to a full annual itinerary requires effort and careful planning. To build awareness of an upcoming activity, consider announcing its dates or the intent to conduct the trip a year or more in advance. This may be done before a final itinerary is set.

Personal Invitations

Personal, direct, and relevant invitations are the most effective. Determine the goals of your trip with a basic understanding of the coffee-buying community. Next, select individuals who may benefit from participation in the event. Write by email or call them to describe the coffee origin tour plan (as best known) and determine interest as a possible participant. This is also an excellent opportunity to ask for referrals to others that may be appropriate to join. For example, if inviting a green coffee importer, ask which company’s clients may be suitable to join.

Targeted Mailings

Email invitations may be sent to customer lists or those who have expressed interest in the past to reach a larger relevant audience. Lists may include other members of professional organizations, like the SCA Roasters’ Guild. To avoid sending unwanted commercial solicitations (spam), email lists should be selected carefully and reviewed to determine suitability. As with the above personal invitations, the goal is to invite those with a relevant interest in the event. If uncertain about any recipient on the list, exclude them.

Trade Media Advertisements

Paid advertisements in print trade publications like Roast MagazineSTiRFresh CupGlobal Coffee Report, or online publications Daily Coffee News or Perfect Daily Grind will help raise awareness among a larger audience of industry professionals. This approach is optimal when the origin seeks access to a new geographic market or niche. For best results, print artwork should be prepared at least three months before the publication date. Significant planning is required. Electronic advertisements are a good alternative when the available time for implementation is short or if changes to published details are expected. Consider involving your advertising partner as a sponsor of the event. This may be done by providing the publication with complimentary participation or exclusive information in exchange for coverage of the activity.

Social Media

Social media offers a low-cost way of reaching a global audience instantly and with greater depth than print media. However, these messages may reach a wider audience of consumers than is appropriate to invite. Sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter allow the origin host to announce trip plans. Also, post stories and updates from the event to build a global following. They also engage a broad audience year-round as part of the origin’s more extensive marketing and communications plan.

Media Participants

Media tours designed for promotional purposes are commonplace in the public relations trade. Including a trade journalist allows the stories of a small group of coffee professionals to be shared industry-wide. The specialty coffee industry has few trade media outlets to choose from.
Travel sponsorship for one or two trade journalists is far less expensive than any comparable amount of advertising. Being editorial articles, some control of content may be lost, but gains in the credibility of content written offset these. The host should agree on the terms of an editorial article (editing / final approval, photos, word count, and publish issue/date) when securing the journalist to take part. Trade publications have flexibility on these terms: consumer media or established news media, less so.

Next: Part 4: Coffee Origin Tour Itinerary