Americans like to travel for sports activities and events, whether they are destination marathons, college football games or themed events created by travel suppliers. Intrepid travel agents are tapping into this lucrative market by either selling packages and programs offered by third parties, or developing their own group specialties.
“Many ‘healthy’ groups are taking their offers to new heights by offering a package to marathons or walks for non-profits. I’ve even had a health club take a group on a cruise with an active itinerary planned for each day—with spa treatments too,” said Tricia Peacock, owner of Peacock Travel Group, Little Rock, AR.
Andrew H. Weinzoff, CEO and co-founder of AlumRide, a startup that books college sports group tours, cited the “incredible brand loyalty” of university alumni and college football fans. “When your alma mater or favorite team is having a winning season, groups of fans will pay top dollar for travel to feel like they’re supporting the school program,” Weinzoff said.
AlumRide is finalizing plans for its website to accommodate travel agent bookings at commissionable rates.
Provident Travel Agency in Cincinnati recently took 97 Cincinnati Bengals fans to London to tour and cheer on their team against the Washington Redskins at London’s famous Wembley Stadium. The five-night package, which cost $2,995 per person, included a London city tour, pub lunch, tour of Windsor and optional Channel Tunnel train ride to Paris.
Provident, which is wholly owned by AAA, has built a strong following in the Cincinnati sports world, so for Group & Incentive travel director Herb Reisenfeld, the idea of a trip to London was a natural. Reisenfeld was only expecting about 60 travelers to book with him when he put the idea together. He ended up filling two coach buses.
Provident Travel is known for sports tours. It’s organized a group called the Cincinnati Red Rooters, which includes trips to Spring Training, and also offers a popular Baseball All-Star Cruise.
Seek out different active lifestyle affinity groups
Colleges are an incredibly strong affinity group. Provident has sports travel programs with the University of Cincinnati and Xavier.
AlumRide, a new travel startup, offers travel packages with roundtrip transportation, hotel accommodations and game tickets with several large universities and their alumni associations. The company recently launched “Tailgate Party & Bus Trip” packages, which alumni and friends can book as individuals or groups.
Similarly, Peacock Travel has built a strong following with sports-minded travelers and those with active lifestyles. “We do a lot of dive groups. We work with the dive master to put together trips,” Tricia Peacock said. Sometimes Peacock works with her all-inclusive partners, like Sandals Resorts, to offer packages for dive shops and clubs.
Peacock has built the business through creative sales techniques. “Some people have to have the picture painted for them. There is a lot to be said for planting the idea with someone like a dance studio owner,” she said.
Peacock also has found her cruise-line partners helpful in building her active lifestyle niche. “We have smaller groups who want to build a trip around the Celebrity Cruises Zumba classes,” she said. “The cruise lines are very proactive to listen to what our groups want, and make a week of healthy sailing.”
In an average year, Peacock books groups of bowlers to two to three tournaments in Reno, NV. “I have a lot of women who are members of teams and they will make a mini vacation, tying in a side trip to Lake Tahoe,” she said. Groups range in size from 8 to 50. “We get them a good group rate for the hotels, and organize shipping their bowling equipment.”
“Pied pipers” are your tour directors
Peacock advises agents to find tour leaders to accompany the group on the trip and take care of customer service on location. “It’s work to make group travel go smoothly. There are so many moving parts,” she said. Even if you or someone on your staff doesn’t have a natural inclination toward the group trip’s lifestyle, you can still put together groups by finding someone to act as a “pied piper.”
“It’s typically an instructor or someone who is big on the sport. You can always find a dive shop owner or diving instructor, a dance studio instructor,” to go along, she said. “You’re looking for a person who can work with people, express a passion and lead a group. I probably have seven or eight pied pipers now. We debrief when they come back, and you find out something else you can throw in for the next trip, or a new destination. You don’t want to go back to the same place every time.”
As she talked about how building a group business has made a huge difference to her sales and profits, Peacock noted that “there is a lot to be said for thinking outside of the box. If I were still doing business the way I was 10 years ago, I wouldn’t be here.”