Previously, I have explored different aspects of group cruises including how to price them properly and how to find group business. Continuing in that series, one of the best ways to generate interest for your group cruise is to host a themed group cruise night.
Essentially, a group cruise night is an event you host to generate interest in your group and to obtain deposits for the sailing. The goal for the event is to collect as many deposits as you can for the group and your success or failure yardstick should be based on that. Yet, there is a lot that you can do right, and wrong, on a group cruise event night.
In considering a group cruise night it is important to consider the type of group you wish to promote. Will a cruise night be beneficial enough to the group sales to justify the costs and time necessary to host the event? For a specially themed group, like a culinary cruise or one heavily promoted to members of a social club like Rotary, it most likely would. A smaller group might not benefit from a dedicated event night, but perhaps would work better as a part of a larger event like a club meeting or family reunion gathering. Be careful about hosting a group cruise night for every group that you do – the event nights take time and an investment of money to pull off, and it is very easy to go overboard with things so much that you negate some or all of the profit you would earn from the group.
It is important to realize that there is one purpose to a group cruise night: to collect deposits for your group. All of your activities should have this end goal in mind. It is too easy to lose sight of this goal. Every activity planned for the event, even the location of the event, should serve to put people into an “I’m excited to cruise!” mood, and you should be prepared to sign them up for the cruise and take their deposits that evening.
Here are some general tips for your group cruise night:
- Reserve your group space: Have your group space blocked with the cruise line, and make sure you understand fully the rates and policies that apply to your group. If possible, take advantage of any special promotions the cruise line may offer to help you secure group deposits. For instance, Princess Cruises will schedule a cruise sale that allows for lower deposits than usual. Arrange for special benefits for depositing on the cruise night itself – for instance, signing up on the cruise night will mean not only do you get a reduced deposit, but you also get a free travel tote bag with your agency logo.
- Send out invitations: Most likely, you are hosting this group cruise with a targeted audience in mind (a social club or other organization, fans of a local chef) so your invitation list should be tailored to that audience. Send out invitations by email, social media, postcard, whatever works for your area and your audience. Invite them to bring guests along if they wish – with group cruises, the more the merrier!
- Location: Choose a location that allows you to host the number of people you expect to attend. A general rule of thumb is to expect 20% of your guest list to not attend. You can use community meeting rooms available through your city or town or a local business (such as a bank) may have something. Restaurants and cafes may also have party rooms available, but those sometimes come with a rental fee or a guarantee to purchase a set amount of food and drink from the restaurant. If you plan to provide food and drink, this might be a cost effective way to do so.
- Events: Arrange for a TV and DVD player so you can show videos of the cruise line and cruise destination, and perhaps a slideshow of previous cruises; include video testimonials from previous cruisers if possible. Afterwards, have a brief talk about the cruise, how it relates to your audience, and invite them to go on the cruise. Having a question-and-answer session is always beneficial, especially if you have a lot of first-time cruisers in your group.
- Accept deposits! Have forms pre-printed ahead of time to capture guest information required by the cruise line. Accept deposit payments, and be sure to register the guest with the cruise line the very next day.
- Follow-up: Follow-up after an event night like this is extremely important. Send a personalized thank you to each person who deposits, if possible, along with an invoice showing their deposit payment. Stay in constant communication with them about their cruise by sending them destination reports and other information that would benefit them.
One last thing to check on: some localities have rules governing public events like a cruise night. If you serve alcohol, you may be required to charge admission to the event. Also, if you are incurring costs for the event (such as room rental fees, or catering costs), you may want to charge admission to cover those costs or build those costs into your group cruise pricing.
Hosting a group cruise night can be a lot of fun and can help kick-start your group event in a really big way. Prior planning is a requirement to ensuring you have the most successful event you possibly can without losing your shirt. For those of you who have run successful group cruise events, what other advice do you have?
Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS is a six-year industry veteran and owner of Exclusive Events At Sea and Journeys By Steve, based in Springfield, MO. In addition to producing special events on board cruise ships, he specializes in escorted tours of Europe and the Holy Land and culinary-themed travel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his websites at http://www.JourneysBySteve.com and http://www.ExclusiveEventsAtSea.com