It was 2004 when I stumbled into my travel career. I started by taking travel courses through a California community college, and a lot of material was covered. I learned how to build FIT itineraries (and what FIT means), about various destinations, cruises, all-inclusive resorts, etc. But what about groups? Nada. Zilch. Zip. Nothing. My group training has come over the years from CLIA, trade shows, suppliers, and trial and error . Since 2004 I think I’ve become fairly adept at groups, especially cruise groups. As a result I launched a new website (a new niche) in 2011: Kick Butt Events & Groups .
As part of my 2012 Marketing Plan I am focusing more on groups, especially those which support charitable organizations. Specifically, my goal is to secure four new cruise groups in 2012. They may not sail this year, but the goal is to have them secured and booking for a 2012 or 2013 sail date.
Over the years I have noticed quite a few travel agents avoid groups; maybe they are interested but don’t know how to go about building their group business. My goal for the TRO Travel Agent Diaries will be to document my work in selling group travel. So follow me down the rabbit hole into the mysterious world of group travel, and let’s see where the white rabbit leads us.
The first step in group business is finding pied pipers. A pied piper is simply someone that will expose your group to their personal network or organization and be the “cheerleader”, if you will. I’m doing this through a variety of local networking groups and letting everyone know that my focus is to create unique group travel experiences as charity fundraisers. I started this marketing push at the networking meetings back in November 2011. As a result I currently have three groups that I am actively pursuing.
The first is a small local non-profit organization, Vision for Chile. I will be meeting with the Head Visionary next week to introduce him to the concept of using travel (specifically group travel) as a viable means to raise much needed funds. A mutual friend made the initial introduction, which made the initial pitch much easier. We’ve already had a phone conversation, and he’s intrigued. And most importantly for me, he admitted he never thought that travel could be used as a fundraiser.
The second group is also local–The Battle of Franklin Trust. Here I did not have a personal introduction, so it took a bit longer to get their attention and my foot in the door, but I made it. I have already spoken with the Chief Operating Officer, who has given his blessing to the idea of doing a group cruise. Next step is to work with their Development Director to hammer out the details.
And finally, the third group is actually a collaboration of three travel agencies in three different states. For this group we are the pied pipers and will be working together to promote and sell the group. It will also be for a non-profit organization, and we are currently working on securing a charity to receive the proceeds.
Next time you hear from me I will hopefully have one or more of these groups deposited and moving forward. In the meantime, do you have questions about organizing group cruises, or how to find potential pied pipers? Leave a comment here, and let’s have a conversation as we traipse through Wonderland together.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships N Trips Travel as well as niche operations trading as Kick Butt Vacations, focused on college students; Kick Butt Events focusing on fundraising; and Your Kiwi Specialist specializing in anything New Zealand. You can reach Susan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.