It’s no secret that people love to be around charismatic people. Many travel agents tap into this dynamic by working with “pied pipers” to build interest in group trips, and lead them as well.
“You’re looking for someone who has a passion for their hobby, a consumer interest, someone popular in a group, like an association,” said Stuart Cohen, chief motivation officer and founder of Group Boot Camp & Resort for a Day, Memphis, Tennessee.
The right individual for your next group trip also could be someone who is the center of a family who might be celebrating a patriarch’s milestone or a couple’s 50th wedding anniversary, and they are trying to figure out a way to make the celebration momentous.
“You need to first get up, get out of your office, and meet people everywhere. And after you learn about them and their motivations, tell them how you solve problems,” said Cohen. “Build that network. You are a problem solver.”
Cohen thinks local photographers who share their work through social media to promote their hobby might be a great avenue for travel agents.
“A lot of photographers will have a large following on social, and you can see the kinds of places they like to travel to, and the subjects they like to photograph. They might be interested in leading a group where they can visit a destination, and teach others how to photograph like they do.”
A longtime corporate sales and client management executive, Gomez has been hosting tours for friends and family to events like baseball and football games for more than 30 years. For sporting event trips, his groups have ranged as high as 65-70 guests.
More recently, he launched a series of exclusive small group photography trips, including one to the Yosemite National Park's annual Fire Falls phenomenon, and he currently is organizing a group to photograph grizzlies in the wilds of Alaska.
“It’s something I want to do because I enjoy it,” said Gomez.
Gomez has become so popular on Facebook group pages, that his followers have worked with him to propose group trips to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day, Jazz Fest in New Orleans and Oktoberfest in Munich.
“If someone comes up with an idea, we put it together,” he said.
Don’t sacrifice logistics for charm
But just because someone has the ability to sell out a trip, that doesn’t mean they can deliver the goods with the logistics that make a trip run smoothly. “They may not see themselves as a group leader, and that could lead to problems for your group when they embark,” Cohen said.
“If they are a chef, they are going to do their chef stuff incredibly well. If they are an author, they will tell great stories about books and authors in the destination. What they probably have no idea about is working with the transport company getting everyone to the sights, making sure everyone boards the river cruise on time, dealing with issues for the guests’ hotel rooms,” Cohen said.
If the pied piper cannot handle those responsibilities, those issues will fall to you, Cohen says. “You need someone with an agent’s service mentality, able to work behind the scenes, think one step ahead, so everything runs smoothly. When it comes to groups, a lot can go wrong.”
“There could be issues with illnesses, people with disabilities. The more people you have, the more likely someone will have an issue during the trip. If you’re not there to make it go away, you will be blamed,” Cohen said.
Gomez agrees, and with 30-plus years’ experience managing logistics, he goes on all of his trips to ensure they work smoothly.
“On my Alaska grizzly trip, for example, we have two small water taxis my guests have to take because we go out deep into the wild. I want to be there to make sure all of that goes perfectly,” he said.
Gomez also has meticulously scoped out photography vantage points, so that his guests will be in the right spot, at the right time, to capture the photos he has displayed both on his social media feeds, and at his website.
“Knowing where the moon will rise over Emerald Bay (in Lake Tahoe), so they can get it just as it peaks over the tea house. That’s the value I add for a real enthusiast. They’re going to have the best chance possible for that shot,” he said.
To cap off their excursions, Gomez brings a screen and projector for his guests to load up their shots, and discuss photography at night.
Having a vested interest
Cohen also cautions travel agents about giving up too much of their income and suppliers’ group travel benefits as incentives to the pied piper.
“If they have demands that could make it unprofitable for you, like free airfare, or hotel rooms, be cautious,” he said. “Part of your success is finding out what’s in it for them. Agents tend to believe it is free travel. Never assume that. You can offer it, they will take it, and later they may ask for more, and before you know it, you’re losing money.”
Once you both agree to terms, “get it all in writing,” Cohen said. “The mark of a great group leader is being selfless, and working with you to take part of your collective income and baking in something as an incentive for the group like a cocktail party on the final night, or an arrival gift. You need to be vested in success together.”