Your Travel Agency

Grow Your Business when you Specialize in Group Business


Written By: Craig Satterfield, The Cruise Scholar



We all know or have read over and over again that the real way to make money in the travel business is by selling a high percentage of groups.  It is so easy to put this on the back burner as clients call for quotes, one after another, and either buy from your or they don’t.  A lot of time is spent trying to make a sale on a one by one basis.  You know the definition of insanity and if you don’t have some groups in your portfolio or have plans to develop them then you know the answer to this question.


Look at some of the top producing agencies in this country.  What sets them apart is the fact that they actively pursue and market groups.  Group business is valuable not just for the commissions they earn, but for other reasons too.  Clients that travel in one of your groups have some of the highest percentage of references and referrals.  Their satisfaction is what they want to share with their friends and family.  This is what you need to continue to build your brand.  You want more cooperation with your vendors?  How do you do that?  Tell them that you are committed to the group business and you want to work with them to plan, market and operate groups on a regular basis.  That will get their attention.


Every vendor recognizes the value and profitability of agents that promote groups and they will help you tap into the market faster this way than any other.  Your success depends on producing at least 35-40% of your business selling groups.  How can you refuse the possibility of override commissions, adding profitable value added packages to make your groups unique, tour conductor credits and the exposure of your brand?


The creation and management of group space is so much easier today than it was in the past.  Blocking group space on cruise lines is as easy as logging into their booking engines on line.  Everything is there from group pricing, how many cabins it takes to earn a tour conductor and group amenity points to either offer to your group members as gifts or pocket as bonus commissions.  All the financial requirements and recall dates are at your fingertips as soon as you confirm the group contract.  I have always felt that if you can stay off the phone when booking either individual or group business, you leave it open for a call from a new or returning client.


Now that I have your attention, here are some more reasons why group business is THE way to go for growing profits:


Offering a group to a destination will open clients that may be hesitant about traveling alone.  There is safety in numbers in many travelers’ minds.  This reason alone could create a strong demand for the groups you are marketing.


Your groups could attract first time cruisers or travelers.  People who might not travel will be more likely to do so if they are traveling with friends or others with similar interests.


Your repeat clients will have a new reason to book with you again.  A new and exciting travel idea will get them excited to book.  It also reminds them of the excellent experience they had with your services the last time they traveled.


People know that if they book early and travel in a group, they are most likely to get the best pricing.


Groups are easier to sell since you have help.  If you are working with a pied piper, his main job is to excite his flock about the trip and encourage them to book.  They are not agents and their job is to promote the idea of traveling as a group and let you take care of the rest.


Group packages are much harder to price shop.  On line agencies don’t generally offer a custom designed travel experience.  The extras that you include in your groups set you apart from the basic trip and as a result are impossible to shop.  If a competitor is offering a basic package and yours includes many more important and exclusive benefits, you basically have no competition in the marketplace.


Selling groups save you time and allows you to “work smarter not harder.”  Once you have developed and started marketing the group, you can sell into it over and over again instead of inventing the wheel each time a client calls.


The percentage referrals skyrocket when a friend tells another friend about the trip they are taking and you get a call from that friend wanting to go too.


There is a great opportunity to build profits by adding on to existing groups with business or first class airfare, pre or post tour land arrangements and additional tours.


Your commitment to group business can attract the attention of other group leaders who are excited about doing the same thing with their organizations.


Even if 25% of your business is group business, you can raise your profit by more than 50%!


So now you want to start doing groups.  That’s great.  Now is where the hard part comes in.  If it was that easy everybody would do it.


First you want to determine the type of groups you want to market.  They are broken down into general categories.


An affinity group is your best bet for success.  These are people with common interests, either motivated by a theme, traveling with family and friends or part of an organization.  This type of group has the potential of making you the most money.  Everybody travels together on the same departure and once you have formed the group you just add people that want to go.


A speculative group is the hardest for success.  This is when you book a group departure and offer it out to the general population.  It is almost impossible to find enough people that are willing to travel at the exact same time unless they are tied together as an affinity.  Speculative groups can be valuable if you are trying to build a brand with a specific destination or niche and want to identify yourself with a specific type of travel.  You may expect just a few people to take the multiple dates you have to offer.  Speculative groups can be booked for a series of dates without an upfront deposit to help you be competitive in your market for popular destinations and departures.


Affinity groups/special interests has grown in popularity over the years.  These are formed for people that have a common interest such as music cruises, wine, a World event, groups of collectors, hobbyists, family reunions, foodies and dozens more.  This group again has real potential in operating with large amounts of people with the potential of making it a yearly or seasonal repeat.


Don’t forget groups that attend conferences, seminars or educational organizations.  These have a tremendous amount of potential to become reoccurring groups.  Seminars at sea have continued to be one of the most popular types of affinity groups.


So how do I find the people that want to do groups with me?  You might be very surprised to find that some of the best people for this are those that you already know….your own clientele.


Review your corporate clients and target the executives that very well might like group options from you.  See which of your clients work for medium and large corporations; belong to social clubs, fraternities, religious groups, sports groups, or charitable organizations.


Ask friends and family.  Yeah I know your own family can be a source of aggravation when it comes to your involvement in planning their travel.  You know them the best and could use their influence in gaining access to organizations they might belong to.


What about people you know?  Not all people that you associate with are clients.  Remind them that you specialize in groups.  They may see you in an entirely different light and have some ideas to help you.


What groups do you belong to?  Do they know you specialize in groups and not just a person to ask if you can find them a cheap airline ticket?


Read the newspapers and business magazines in your area.  See what businesses are doing.  Don’t forget the social clubs and other organizations that get together on a regular basis.


Learn more about businesses in your area thru the Chamber of Commerce and other business related organizations.  Knowledge is power as Auntie Mame used to say!


With all of this information it should get you thinking about how you can play a part in a group travel plan bringing success not only to the groups but to your business. Think positive that people are interested in what you are doing.  After all everybody likes talking about travel.


Create a plan during your brainstorming.  Some of the ideas may not be what you really want to do.  Swallow your pride and get down to work.  What I am talking about is cold calling.  Nobody wants or likes to do that.  We all hate people that call us out of the blue.  But your situation is very different since you are a real person, part of the community and want to share your services with the rest of locals.  Don’t try and sell anything.  Just call to introduce yourself and if you get interest make an appointment to see the potential client.  What have you got to loose, nothing, and everything to gain.


Develop an email list of people that are interested in either being involved in a group or traveling in one.  Keep them informed of what you are planning.  Ask for suggestions too.


Get involved with a trade show or business mixer.  This is a good place to build your professional image and find leads to develop.  Try building group leads by participating in shopping mall shows.  I remember doing one several years ago.  I was able to arrange for a free cruise giveaway and had more than 3000 entries.  Each entry form had a short questionnaire and it included a question regarding group travel.  I was able to close 6 groups from that mall weekend.


Now that you have a group lead, how do you set it in stone?  Unlike an individual booking, groups require some sort of written proposal.  That makes things crystal clear on who is responsible for what and how the whole thing goes down.  This is necessary to define the details of the offer, establish your credibility that you can actually deliver the group arrangements and assume the close.


Make an appointment to see the group leader to close the deal.  Go to the meeting with a specific objective in mind.  You might not get the final word in the first meeting but you should be well on your way to closing the group.  Be informal and friendly.  Mention a mutual friend or something that ties you to the group.  Stress the benefits of traveling as a group.  Show all of the benefits that his group will have. Be sure to take notes to show that you are interested in his concerns.  It is also a way to make sure you have his thoughts, questions and ideas if you have to get back to him.  Ask if he has any questions and expect that there could be some objections to the whole idea.  Don’t let this sway you.  Your professionalism will stand out and show that you are ready to deal with any and all questions or concerns about doing a group.


If you can’t answer all the specific questions at the first meeting, be sure to get back to the group leader promptly with the answers.  This continues to strengthen your professionalism and he will be impressed with you.


Remember to discuss how the group could be marketed.  Find out the best way that the members of the group will respond best when you are ready to present the travel offer. See about doing a direct mail to the group’s list, or an email blast from the pied piper.  There is a much bigger chance that they will open it from him than from you until you are known.  You should plan to put the travel information on the group’s website, Facebook or set up a website just for the group.


Create a travel flyer and make arrangements to speak at one of the scheduled meetings.  Some potential group members react to different types of marketing.  Make sure you have several options and try as many as you can.


Make more marketing plans after the deal is closed.  On the subject of a get together, why not plan a good old traditional travel or cruise night.  Be ready to take reservations right then and there.  Try to arrange for a reduction in the normal deposit for this special group, again setting it apart from the competition.  Make sure that the group leader, or pied piper is actively involved in the travel night since many people will sign up because he is going.  Be creative with the menu and decorations for the event.  Show your enthusiasm and that you are involved in making the group a success.


So you are ready to get involved in group business.  Hopefully this will give you some encouragement to get going right away.  As I said before, if it was that easy everybody would do it.  The benefits in your profit and brand identity are well worth the effort and energy involved in becoming a group specialist.  The hard work you do in the beginning will pay off your years to come.