In the current economy sitting in the office and waiting for the phone to ring is about as effective as turning over rocks to look for new business. In order to be successful, travel agents need to hunt for business and find ways to work smarter, not harder. Increasing your group business can be the answer. But many agents don’t know where to look for viable groups.
Travel agents are literally surrounded by a gold mine of potential groups. But you need to leave your office to seek them out. Remember there are always some do’s and don’ts.
First the Don’ts
- DON’T wait for groups to find you. Most groups aren’t aware of the travel opportunities available to them, so they’ll never come looking for you.
- DON’T approach groups unprepared.
- DON’T pitch a proposal to a group of 6 people and assume they’ll fill 30 staterooms. A lot of group members will express interest in traveling, but typically 10% or fewer will actually follow through with a booking. Why not bring together several smaller groups into a single travel group? For example, bring together several Mahjong groups for a Mahjong group cruise.
- DON’T randomly approach strangers on the street. You might scare them.
And now for the Do’s:
- DO proactively seek out and target groups in your area, then educate them about the group travel opportunities that are available to them.
- DO research the group and approach them with a proposal in hand. Don’t overwhelm them with too many options (keep it to 3 or fewer options).
- DO target organized groups in your community.
Now that you know the Do’s and Don’ts of groups you need to go find them.
Churches, Temples, Mosques, and Synagogues. Religious organizations offer a wealth of natural group opportunities including group cruises, weekend retreats, mission trips, and faith-based pilgrimages. Start with your own place of worship and gauge the interest in a group trip (where, when, how long, etc.). If your church isn’t large enough to support a group trip then consider reaching out to other churches in the area. Reach out to them through your own pastor, or through friends and neighbors.
Schools. Consider approaching local schools from elementary to universities, both public and private. Go beyond class reunions (but don’t ignore them!). If the school has groups that travel, like the choir or marching band, talk to the teacher in charge of those student groups. Or how about talking to a history teacher about taking students and parents to Washington, D.C., the state capitol, the Alamo, or a Civil War site? Or maybe a drama teacher would be interested in escorting a group to New York City for a long weekend to see some Broadway shows. Maybe a university archaeology professor would lead a group of alumni to Egypt, or to visit Mayan ruins in Central America. And don’t skip the language professors – maybe a French professor could escort a group of current students as well as alumni to France during a school break.
Local community groups. You might be surprised at what local organizations might be interested in travelling together:
• Mahjong or Bunko groups
• Historical societies (maybe the Daughters of the American Revolution would like to visit some revolutionary battle sites)
• Civic groups (Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, Optimists, etc.)
• Women’s associations
• Scrapbookers or quilters
• Bird watchers
• Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts
• Retirement home residents
• Red Hat Society (they are notorious for traveling en masse)
Local businesses. Pied pipers can be found in many local businesses. You can build a group cruise around a local chef, author or musician. If you have a local winery, how about having the owner escort a group through the wine regions of France and Italy? What about contacting a local jeweler about escorting a group to St. Thomas to purchase loose gems. The bonus for the jeweler is that he could set the stones for the clients when they return. Group travel can be used to promote a variety of local businesses.
A local financial planner could conduct retirement planning workshops or a CPA could hold tax planning seminars on a group cruise (during the days at sea). Other prospects? How about having a lawyer to speak about estate planning and wealth preservation? What about arranging for continuing education onboard a cruise ship for business professionals (doctors, nurses, lawyers, CPAs, etc.)?
If you don’t personally know a lawyer, CPA, jeweler, or financial planner, ask friends and neighbors for referrals, or as a last resort open up your local yellow pages. Ultimately a travel agent is only limited by their own imagination – think outside of the box!
(Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Brentwood, Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvacations.com) she focuses on travel for 18 to 23 year olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209).