Group travel: the pleasure and pitfalls

As an independent travel advisor, you are probably looking for multiple strands of revenue. Repeat business. New business. Niche business. Group business.

The thought of sending off large numbers of clients on lucrative group trips, where you can make significant revenue, plus get to use your creative expertise (and maybe even be the escort) is very tempting.  However the reality is that groups can be tough, frustrating, demoralizing and hugely time-consuming.

The best rule of thumb is to think small. Start with a conservative number – say, 10 or 12 – then add capacity if it starts to take off.  All too often, home-based agents, thrilled to hear ‘Oh, I’d love to do that! Count me in!’, build in over-capacity at a lower price, which is not realistic. Think of how many destination weddings start with 80 wildly enthusiastic friends and family, then somehow shrivel down to 20 once the deposit is due!

Also, start cautiously with an existing tour, cruise or departure before you begin spinning your wheels putting together a custom itinerary which is not going to go.

Consider the many special interest opportunities out there and spread your net wider geographically than you have in the past. Putting together a group based on a culinary cruise? How many cooking schools are there in your province, and will they consider promoting your departure? What niche websites or publications can you advertise in?

A workable idea is to have a few customized elements of an existing departure to make your group ‘special’, such as a dedicated shore excursion. Start promoting just one, then add others to keep your promotions fresh and interesting.

Speaking of partnerships, don’t forget that many suppliers offer free marketing tools.  These include the Globus family of brands, for example, who work with many home-based agents each year. “We offer a wide range of tools including a group planner and group timeline, plus your BDM can help with personalized flyers,” says Antonella Santia, director of operations & administration at Globus.

Above all, don’t lose focus on your group because you get caught up in the day to day of today’s inquiries and next week’s e-docs. You have to continually spend time each week nurturing and building up this group. Persistence will pay off!