What if someone told you that you didn’t need to look any further than your existing client base to create a niche that will deliver robust commissions, repeat business, and the ability to dictate your business — all while increasing your value to preferred suppliers?
Creating groups for cruise travel is certainly not new, but it’s still an unexplored path that many travel advisors are not tapping into.
The benefits of selling group cruises are many, so Travel Market Report decided to create a roadmap for any travel professional who is considering adding this specialty to their agency business.
Use your existing contacts.
Unlike the need to develop expertise for a destination or specific market like wellness or adventure travel, there is no true learning curve to be mastered in order to become a cruise group specialist — that is, if you’re already selling cruises.
The first place to start looking for business is your existing clientele. Find out what organizations they belong to. Do they golf at the local country club?
Once you’ve queried enough of your clients, it will be easier to narrow down where to focus your energy. After you’ve established which cruise to market, consider how you will sell it and stick to your approach. For example, if you’re going after expedition cruisers, your theme should be adventure and bucket-list journeys. The goal here is not lying on a beach, so make sure you are selling what you’re delivering.
Make a connection that leads to repeat business.
“Groups are about creating a connection,” said Chip Barker, owner of Oceans and Lands Custom Travel Planners in Jacksonville, Florida.
Barker has a game plan that he sets in motion for every group he creates that begins with inviting everyone on his group to a Facebook group page he has created just for them. “I put tips and teasers out there for months at a time and give them an opportunity to connect before we travel.”
And the connections continue with meet-and-greet cocktail parties that Barker hosts prior to departure so everyone can get to know one another. “You can go on a cruise and go your own way or you can make a connection that enhances their vacation,” he said. “So often my group travelers become friends on Facebook, and the next thing you know, they are calling me to travel together.”
Define who qualifies for group travel.
Multigenerational families are becoming the latest and greatest way to generate a group booking. Consider this: For each client you have, they have a generation above or behind them that is looking to make memories. What better way to connect them than with a cruise together?
And don’t forget to tap into church groups, book clubs, and even funeral homes that offer group travel to widows and widowers. The option to create groups for travelers with similar interests or circumstances makes this niche one of the easiest and quickest business routes to explore. And travel advisors who do so say that you won’t be disappointed.
Do what you know.
While it’s true that group business has its advantages in volume, putting together groups can require some work. That being the case, travel advisors that Travel Market Report spoke with encouraged fellow agents to work with the cruise lines they are already comfortable with, eliminating the need to re-learn anything in the midst of what could be a complicated sale.
“Organizing and getting the groups together can be quite a bit of work on their own. For example, I only send out documents for land and high-end cruise bookings. People that do documents for all of their clients already will have a head start on the organization and ‘paperwork’ side of the group business,” said Trapper Martin, Dream Vacations franchise owner and vacation specialist in Belle Isle, Florida.
Stress your expertise.
When trying to book new group business, look for characteristics you hold that set you apart from other travel advisors. This comes down to qualifying the correct group for the right trip and setting the expectations for what they are going to experience. “Quite often you will have groups that have done lots of Caribbean as FITs, for example, so they might be trying a new line or new part of the world. Putting their mind at ease that you know the product and destination is key,” said Martin.
Be a strong group leader.
Traveling with your cruise group is a preference, but can also be a great way to ensure things go well on board. It also allows you to experience a new ship and build relationships with the groups departments of ships as well as the shore side. The more you are involved, the more likely you will be successful building groups.
“Hosting can be fun or it can be a nightmare, but set expectations for why you are hosting and what you will be able to do for them onboard. Not every single thing you have control over, so don’t overpromise to set yourself up to underdeliver,” said Martin.
The bottom line to cruise group sales is focusing on landing a few solid ones. And if all goes well, odds are you will have referrals and repeat business not far behind.