Selling group travel is one of the best ways to scale your travel business with minimal effort. Adding just a few travel groups to your normal travel business forecast each year can really accelerate your profits. I know some travel advisors who only book groups because they are so lucrative.
The first step is to find your group. Check out, 5 Insider Ways to Find Affinity Travel Groups to get started.
As with anything, it can be daunting when you begin. You’ve heard the expression…
“It’s like herding cats!”
It can seem like that if you don’t have systems in place. This “How-To” guide will walk you through some of the top things to keep in mind as you launch your group travel fiefdom.
Choose group itineraries within your niche
Choosing to stay within your niche as you start selling groups is sound advice. There are so many moving parts to booking group travel that I would keep to a destination that you know well. You can always expand later.
Find reputable suppliers
If I was just getting my feet wet with booking group travel, I would stick with a supplier in North America that specialized in group bookings. All cruise lines have affinity group departments. However, if you are looking to build an itinerary for a speciality group, look for a company that has a groups-only division.
You’ll want to look for a company that has been around for a while. One where you can build a relationship with their group representative and one that has a 24/7 support system.
I recommend sending out an RFP for your group to at least three separate companies and then interviewing each to find the best fit. The booking process for groups is a long one, so you’ll want to find someone with whom you gel and who has a calm demeanour.
While price is an important factor, in my experience, when it comes to group travel, you get what you pay for. A good group representative that you trust and you know will go to bat for you if necessary is equal to the value of finding a great hairstylist. You know what I’m talkin’ about.
Once you have a few groups under your belt, I’d suggest sourcing your own contacts. A good starting point would be to attend one of the big travel shows such as World Travel Market, ITB or similar. Alternatively, attend one of the smaller shows where top tour operators within your niche congregate.
The apple vs. the orange
Once you receive your group quotes from suppliers, you’ll notice they will all look quite different. Be sure that you are fairly comparing the quotes from each company. Here’s a list of some of the things you’ll want to take into account:
- How long can you hold space with or without deposit
- What is the deposit and is it refundable. At what point is it non-refundable?
- What are the payment terms
- What is the per person cost
- # of FOCs (see below) per group members
- Do they have round-the-clock support
- What are all the inclusions
I have yet to find a supplier that isn’t equally motivated to sell group travel. It’s a great business model, so don’t just take an opening bid as being set in stone. If it’s a question of one or two points separating competing suppliers from each other, you can always ask for more favourable terms – and you’ll most likely get what you want.
The devil is in the details
A successful group travel advisor has to be organized and luckily, there are a ton of tools to keep you on track. If you belong to a host agency, they may have their own tech tools you can use. I have always used Google docs. You can send out forms via Google docs to collect client information.
You’ll want to keep information such as dietary requirements, medical notes, passport names and numbers, birthdays, – (in case any should fall within the dates of travel) all in one place.
Set expectations with the group leader early
Save yourself bottles of Tylenol by clearly laying down your expectations of the group leader.
Typically, but not always, the group leader is expected to market the group to their following. In return for doing so, their travel costs are covered FOC.
There is no hard and fast rule on what role a group leader should take. In many cases, the group leader will handle the marketing and the coordination of the group. Depending on the calibre of the leader you have, they may not want that responsibility but someone has to do it and I highly recommend that person isn’t you.
Get this wrong, and you won’t need a fancy hairstylist because you won’t have any hair left. If it makes sense financially, you can always add in a cost for a group coordinator to help you. However as you are starting out, I would suggest the group leader takes on these responsibilities. As you get more comfortable selling groups, you can always hire a VA (virtual assistant) to help out.
At the very least, be sure to map out your expectations with the group leader verbally and then follow up with what was agreed on in writing. You’re welcome.
Book well in advance
It’s going to take a few weeks of communication with a supplier before you settle on the best itinerary for your group. It just does. Once the planning phase is complete, you’ll want enough time to market the group.
Especially if this is a first-time group that doesn’t already travel together regularly. The idea will need time to germinate. 18 months of planning is a good rule of thumb.
It’s time to market
Often, the group leader will do much of the work in coordinating and finding group members to travel but that doesn’t mean that you should completely move to the backseat. If you are working with a Facebook group, you’ll want to go live to answer any questions.
And even if you didn’t find your group through Facebook, I would still highly recommend that you create a Facebook group specifically for this travel group.
You may also want to offer a number of webinars via Zoom to walk the group through the details of the tour. Some suppliers will offer this service but if you are booking travel inside of your niche, then I really do think you need to take the stage on these presentations and showcase yourself as the expert.
You can use Canva.com to create jaw-dropping presentations to wow the audience.
Start small, go slow and then grow
As mentioned earlier, booking group travel can seem complicated when you are getting started. That’s why I recommend that you start small and grow this side of your business as you get more comfortable.
Once you do the initial work in setting up your systems, you can replicate the model over and over. Why not? Selling a yoga meditation group to Bali through one wellness influencer could easily be copied and promoted to another wellness influencer. Rinse and repeat…as they say.
Become a crock-pot
The best group advisors treat their groups like a delicious, simmering harvest stew, adding spices along the way to bring out the best flavour. That’s another reason why starting small is a good idea. A perfect group requires consistent attention to keep the interest piqued.
Once a member signs on, I’d tag them inside your email service provider and then build out an email sequence that drips out teasers and content weekly or bi-weekly until the date of departure. Remember, once you build out the sequence, you can put it on auto-pilot.
You could do a countdown to departure. You could recommend books to read on the destination, offer packing tips or travel trivia.
Consider additional revenue streams by becoming an affiliate seller for synergistic travel products that would accentuate the experience for your group members. I go much deeper into the world of affiliate marketing in my upcoming course. For now, if you are interested to learn more, you can book an appointment with me below. I’ll walk you through the process.
Offer a full-service group experience
When it comes to selling group travel, I say, “in for a penny, in for a pound.” The more seamless you make the booking experience for your group members, the more you’ll be remembered. For example, booking group air can be challenging. Sometimes rules for group air don’t even make sense and you might be tempted to let members book their air travel independently. Don’t.
There are benefits to booking group air with the groups department of an airline but they aren’t financial. Group air is often priced higher than individual airline tickets but you’ll get the advantage of your group travelling together. In addition, there is more flexibility in payment terms when it comes to securing group air seats
Keep in mind you can book up to 9 people on a PNR. It might make sense to divide your group into smaller sub-groups to take advantage of lower seat costs. But more than two sub-groups and most airlines will raise a flag and automatically cancel your group – resulting in you going the group air route whether you want to or not.
And be sure to take advantage of offering group insurance as well. All of these extras not only make the booking experience easier for your client but you’ll end up with multiple streams of revenue.
Take advantage of the travel high – strike when the iron is hot
Selling group travel has many benefits. Not only can you take all your planning and preparation and repackage it to a new group, but you can also take your existing group and offer up the next adventure before they unpack. You don’t have to have all the details mapped out but if you at least have an outline of the next trip ready to go.
You’d be surprised by how many will sign up immediately to secure their space. They are still riding the travel high. It’s the perfect time to get them to commit to the next destination.
Exceed expectations and deliver a WOW factor
Finding groups is often the most challenging part. It takes a while to gain the know/like and trust factor with your group leader. But once you have it….ah….you can ride the momentum wave. And you’ll do this by exceeding expectations.
The most successful group advisors are masters at this. You’ll want to build a few surprises into the tour that will leave the members amazed. It could be a special dinner, an activity, a souvenir or all of the above. The key is that you exceed the travellers’ expectations.
It’s amazing how even the smallest gestures leave an indelible positive impression. The more thoughtful the surprise, the deeper the connection you’ll build with the group members.
Having a welcome home gift for the group leader is a nice touch too. The cost to retain a client is always far less than the cost of obtaining a new client.
Marketing travel groups help grow your email list
Finally, a spill-off advantage to marketing groups is that it’s a great way to grow your email list. If your group leader has a large following, with the correct offer, you can entice them to join your email list. Even if they don’t all end up booking with you.
Not to mention those that do travel may come back to you for their non-group travel requests.
The best bit about selling group travel is that once you’ve mastered the finer details, you’ve laid the groundwork and set up systems to run on auto-pilot, you can scale and catapult your business easily into the 6-figure stratosphere.
And we like that!
Again, if you missed my earlier article, you can find it here: 5 Insider Ways to Find Affinity Travel Groups.
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