A family member recently approached me about a group cruise. Thankfully, working with family isn’t an issue for me, but I have heard the horror stories. Anyway, we have a lot of milestones in the family coming up in 2017. So a group cruise is in order, and the family member in question knows better than to try and do it all herself. So she called me.
Lining up the family members to book has not been the issue. It’s the friends she’s invited to join us. Immediately she was asked (which meant she then asked me), why should we bother booking with a group? Can’t we just book the cruise ourselves? How would you answer that question?
It never fails that you will run into people wanting to join the group fun, but avoid giving you the business. And it is vital that you educate your group leaders on all of the ins-and-outs of doing any type of group on cruises or at land-based resorts.
As a travel agent, obviously, you lose commission on any bookings that book outside of the group with someone else. And you don’t want to set a precedent that you’ll allow people to book elsewhere and deny you compensation; in essence having you work for free.
Group Leader Benefits
It always depends on the group leader, the type of group, and what they want to get out of the group cruise. For something simple like a family milestone celebration, there really aren’t any group leader benefits (she wants to share the TC benefits with everyone in the group). But for a larger group, the group leader can get TC credits, and they can add a mark-up to the cruise fare. Mark-ups are a HUGE benefit for group leaders, especially those that do seminars or special events onboard that may incur extra costs. Or a speaker might simply want financial compensation beyond a “free” room on the cruise.
When someone decides to book the cruise independently, they affect the group leader’s benefits. It doesn’t matter if they book direct with the cruise line, with an OTA or their local travel agent, they will not count towards any TC credits and the group leader cannot add a mark-up to their booking.
The Individual’s Benefits
Of course any group amenities you have, like onboard credit or a bottle of wine in the stateroom, will not be included if they book outside of the group.
However, if there are additional group-exclusive activities included, the group leader needs to be firm and truly make the activities exclusive to those that book into his/her group. It may be difficult to tell friends and family that they can’t come to the group cocktail party, but that is exactly what they have to do.
One purpose of creating groups is to make them unique and unshoppable. In many cases, we can lock in lower cruise fares, saving them money. Of course where a mark-up is added they may not see a savings, but they’ll still see a value. They may be paying the same price, or more, than an individual booking, but they get the group extras (onboard credit, private events, etc.). As an example, I have a group for hockey fans. The price is higher than booking individually, but the group exclusive events included 2 cocktail parties and events with the VIPs in the group (Q&A sessions, photo & autograph sessions, etc.). If they book independently, they won’t have the credentials to get into any of those events. So they might have saved money, but what use will it be for them to be on the same cruise if they can’t attend any of the VIP events or get the gifts?
One last thought: As travel professionals, don’t take it personally if a “good client” suddenly goes on a vacation that they didn’t book with you. You should investigate why (to make sure it’s not personal), but you might find out that they had to book with another travel agent in order to get into a specific group (like a family milestone celebration).
If a client comes to you saying they found a special group they want to join, but they want you to book it, reach out to the agency handling the group. It never hurts to ask if they work with other agents, maybe paying a nominal referral fee. Many agencies will say no, but you’ll occasionally find one that will say yes.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, 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.