Chasing down each and every travel lead individually is not a good strategy for success. It is far too time-consuming, often with diminishing returns. Instead, many travel advisors have found selling group travel to be a profitable market segment, bringing in far more revenue for the time invested, as well as a steady stream of repeat business.
Why selling group travel works
Kim Goldstein, president and travel consultant, Journeys Travel Inc., told Travel Market Report why selling group travel is a smart move for travel advisors: “Group travel is a great way to focus on one segment of the travel business and perfect your process. It can also be very profitable if you have an efficient way of servicing all of the bookings and maximizing your time.”
Furthermore, she said, “You will be able to build stronger relationships with your hotel partners as you increase your bookings with them, in addition to receiving a higher commission percentage with your preferred tour operator as your volume increases.”
For those who are new to the industry, it can be daunting to imagine how they will manage a large number of group reservations all at any one time. However, “that notion couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Will Medina, president, Destination Weddings Expert, LLC.
“With the proper systems and strategy, group travel can be a smooth and seamless process. Identifying the perfect property for the group, negotiating the contract, and communicating the terms are the basis of each group. From there, you can trust your systems to keep those reservations coming in, keep the guests informed, and keep you ahead of your deadlines. Groups are the easiest way to work smarter, not harder.”
Likewise, James Berglie, president, Be All Inclusive, comments: “Of course I'm biased, but I believe in many ways choosing to specialize in groups is actually much simpler than my colleagues selling FIT. While yes, my liability is much higher, I'm able to focus on helping our clients find the perfect resort for their event and in working with just one group leader, once we narrow down the best option for their event, the reservations all flow in quite easily after that, making it a smooth and efficient process as opposed to attempting to go over the entire qualification process with each and every FIT guest.”
Lifestyle marketing nurtures prospects
Marketing strategies for selling groups are often distinct from those used when promoting travel to individuals.
“Our marketing strategies in the destination weddings market are quite different than our colleagues in the FIT space,” explains Berglie. “We don’t focus on product marketing, but instead we focus on lifestyle marketing. Realizing we need to gain traction with our clients well before they are even engaged, our focus is to find the followers who love the beach lifestyle before they are engaged, then nurture that relationship, letting them know what we do with our weddings, but not overwhelming them with non-stop wedding content as they may not be in that stage of their life yet.
“Heck, they may not even be able to afford a vacation yet, so we don’t focus our marketing on ‘selling’ them, but instead we focus it on capturing them as followers/fans. As we appear in their feeds throughout the years, and eventually they get engaged, we will already be positioned in their network as the experts on destination weddings. So it's just a natural transition for them to reach out when they are ready.”
Following suit, Medina’s advice for successfully selling groups is to “nurture, nurture, nurture! We believe in staying top of my mind in our ideal client and group’s minds by ensuring we are nurturing them with all of the necessary information to make an informed decision before the sale and then to stay engaged with us all the way through their travel.”
He goes on to explain: “Group travel is not a ‘set it and forget it’ strategy. Whether manually or through automation, it’s so important to deploy marketing strategies that keep the conversion moving all the way from the top of the funnel, past the bottom of the funnel, and through travel.”
Medina’s top marketing strategy centers around social media engagement, especially in niche groups on Facebook and Instagram; and leading every interaction to a virtual consultation via Zoom to qualify the client and discuss the travel offers and process.
Tips from the experts
Here are some tips to keep in mind when selling group travel, straight from the travel advisors quoted here, all of whom have achieved impressive success in this niche.
- Take the time to really understand the group contract before you start speaking with prospective groups. Set your terms to protect you so that you’re not faced with a large penalty due to an error.
- Do not waive from the terms of the group contract that you created. Take what the tour operator sends and add to it, in order to protect your agency.
- Make payment dates earlier than needed as a buffer to ensure that you do not get too close to a cancellation/attrition deadline.
- Don’t try to do it all yourself. Use your systems. Use your tools. Use the strategies that agents before you have used for years to ensure that deadlines don’t get missed and all guests feel that they are the one-and-only.
- Don’t bog yourself down with the minutiae of the day-to-day. Rather, keep your eye on the larger picture of all the moving pieces within your business.
- Get really cozy with the needs of your ideal clients, instead of focusing on posting and promoting deals. Explain your value and help them see how you are the right person to manage the logistics, which will save them time and money.
- Partner with a mentor or a travel agency that can teach you the correct way of managing a group.
- Use your preferred tour operator to help guide you through the process, most of which offer training to teach you the group process.
If not now, when?
Group travel is back in a big way. Weddings are booked two and three years out again. Families are traveling in groups to make up for time lost during the pandemic. Even Corporate America has returned to running in-person events. This is a good time to enter this lucrative segment of the travel industry.
“Go for it!” says Medina. “Group travel is one of the most profitable niches in the travel industry, and it is an extremely scalable business model. We love selling group travel. Both for the profitability aspect, and also because of the joy I get from seeing families travel together, oftentimes for the first time, and creating those everlasting memories. So if you have the knowledge, and the right systems in place to protect your business, groups will help you build a great business with referrals that will keep coming back to you for years to come.”
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