Written By: Tom Ogg
As we have seen with selling travel groups by using group leaders and pied pipers, the way to go is to focus on a very narrow niche where finding potential group leaders is relatively easy. But, what if you have a level of expertise in a niche and would like to operate your own affinity travel events with you as the group leader?
Selling affinity groups directly to clients can be a rich and rewarding business. Especially if you have a level of expertise that people will pay to access. On many occasions the travel program is incidental to the decision to join and participate in the overall event.
As an example, Gerry Lopez, “Mr. Pipeline” is a legendary icon in the surfing community. Gerry hosts a 3-day event for stand up paddlers in Punta Mita several times a year. His program features surfing with Gerry, having a breakfast yoga session daily and a night of “story telling” where Gerry shares his rich history surfing as a pioneer around the world. The cost is $995.00 per person and that does not include transportation, accommodations or most meals. Every departure sells out instantly upon announcement that it is available.
The beauty of selling affinity groups is that if you have chosen a successful group niche you can operate the same movement over and over again thereby reducing operational cost while increasing operation yield. It is not uncommon that have internal yields of 25 to 40% in a unique niche.
Since the dynamics of operating your own affinity group travel event is basically the same as if you were using a group leader we won’t go into the operations, costing and marketing of them in this chapter. The only thing that changes is that instead of your group leader handling the sales details, you will be.
So here are just some of the niches that lend themselves to a rewarding group business: Adventure, Alumni, Antiques, Art and Museum, Authors and Experts, Automobile and Motorcycle, Biking, Business and Networking, Cannabis, Celebrity, Christmas, Comedy and Magic, Craft Beer, Crafting of all types, Dance, Destination Weddings, Educational and Professional, Extreme Sports, Family and Multi-Generational, Financial and Investing, Fishing, Fitness, Foodies and Cooking, Fund Raising, Gambling, Girls Only, Golf, History, Holiday, LGBT, Lifestyle, Music of all kinds, Mystery, Nature, Photography, Political, Recovery, Religious, Running, Shopping, Singles, Special Needs, Sport Fans, Sports of all kinds, Volunteerism, Wellness and Wine.
As you can see, there is no limit to the specific niches that one can focus on for affinity group opportunities. Here are some key considerations that will help you along the way to success.
On Your Marks, Get Ready, Fail: Travel Professionals new to operating and marketing affinity groups tend to fail with their first few groups as they learn the ropes. Failure can occur by choosing too broad a niche, not having focused marketing and not having specific elements that potential group members will gravitate to.
Don’t be discouraged by your initial failures as this is how you learn the affinity group business and there is no short cut. Think about the baseball player that strikes out 10 times in a row before he hits that grand slam home run. Failures are the price of success.
You should have an exit plan for the group that fails. The most important thing is not to burn anyone in the process. If you have to cancel, immediately refund all of the deposits you have collected and refund them cheerfully and with an incentive to book again on the next group movement. Your reputation depends on how well you manage failure to launch.
Capitalize Your Learning Curve: Realize that you may lose money before you make any and plan for it. Never try to market an affinity group using the funds generated by the group’s deposits and final payments. The best thing that can happen is that you will have clients mad at you and suing you in small claims court. The worst is that your get on the evening’s news being arraigned for fraud.
Trust Yourself: Even if your state does not require you to maintain a trust account for your groups, do it anyway. All deposits and final payments should be deposited in a “Client Security Trust Account” and held there until disbursed to the appropriate suppliers. Using trust accounts for specific groups is the way to go to insure your group members that they funds are safe and sound.
Price is Not a Motivator: There are many reasons people like to travel in groups and price is not an important factor. People travel in groups to maximize their vacation time by having everything already taken care of. There is less stress to deal with and more comfortable leisure time. And, niche groups means that everyone on the group shares a common interest which creates the opportunity to make new acquaintances and possible lifetime friendships.
The more complex the group travel experience, the move people flock to affinity groups. They can share first time experiences with others with the same interests while at the same time enjoy the security, efficiency and knowledge that makes group travel so enjoyable.
One of the biggest mistakes travel professionals make when getting into the affinity group business is to focus on price. Instead, focus on value and price becomes a non-issue. Traveling with an escort that takes care of all the problems and hiccups that occur during the normal course of travel is invaluable to many people. When you add in that the escort will be there to make sure everyone is having a successful vacation is even more important.
Complexity = Profits: One of the advantages of marketing affinity groups is they often are made up of specialty sightseeing, events and activities that make the itinerary completely unique and focused. This allows you to package unique features that are not available anywhere else. This also makes it very difficult for potential group members to shop your offering with other travel agents or tour operators.
It is always true that the more complex an affinity group is, the higher the potential internal yield it will accommodate. Including unique once-in-a-lifetime events is the way to create substantial demand for your group offering. If you are using commodity components in your packaging such as a cruise or resort, always downplay their contribution to the experience by making it clear that the cruise is simply incidental, but that the unique activities taking place on and off the ship or resort are what the experience is all about.
Be Narrow Minded: The narrower the niche that you are producing groups for the better. By focusing on a very narrow niche you make the marketing task extremely easy. As an example, if you want to do dance cruises, what kind of dance cruises? “I am going to do dance cruises for widowed ladies between 65 to 75 years old who love to dance, but do not have partners.” is a very specific niche and one that would be very easy to market to.
If you charged the ladies a premium because they could enjoy unlimited dancing with the gentlemen hosts that you also bring on the cruise it would meet the needs of everyone involved. Throw in the fact that the escort will be versed in CPR and first aid, multi-lingual and quite capable of making sure any problems are handled and you have a sure winner.
Go Big: When you finally hit that magic moment when you have a winner on your hands, think large and don’t be afraid to make some serious money. One of the most attractive things about moving affinity groups is that they are very scalable. Once you have that perfect itinerary and the market looking for more, unleash your productivity and soak up as much profit as you possibly can. One tour company has operated the exact same itinerary twice a week, ever week for the last decade and there is no sign of slowing whatsoever.