Last week, I was commenting on a Facebook post that an agent had made about group travel. Several agents were chiming in with some tips on how to best get group business and I realized that group travel, by its nature, is very exclusionary.
But not in a bad way. Mike Marchev has said for a long time that people want to do business with people they like and with people like them. It’s a pretty simple concept. You are not going to buy a car from a salesman that is a jerk.
Likewise, we all have that friend who is a jerk. For whatever reason, we maintain that friendship, usually at arm’s length. But we are not rushing out the door to see if he wants to go on a week long vacation with you. Once a week for three hours at trivia listening to his political opinions is enough.
And groups are exactly like this. And, here was my takeaway from that Facebook conversation. Group members must have some commonalities. And they must like the person doing the organizing—be it the agent or a pied piper.
Again, pretty simple. But many do not realize that and will try to barge in and sell a group based on cost, freebies, or other perks, that quite simply do not matter to the travelers.
I learned that lesson when I had storefront agencies. A friend was a member of “the lifestyle”—ok she was a swinger (don’t judge). But she had booked into a group going to Hedo III for a week. I was intrigued (again, don’t judge) and found out that the booking agency was an off-the radar agency in super rural Pennsylvania. She let me know that the group usually sells out in about a week and then she gave me the kicker—they take over the resort! I asked my friend for the name of the group contact thinking I might be able to get a piece of the business. I researched him and found that we were from the same area growing up, we went to the same university. I figured I had a great shot….NOPE! While we had a great rapport and still keep in touch today, the fact was that the group held their common interest as a priority and they would only do business with people that also held that interest. The agency owner’s were part of “the lifestyle” too. Lesson learned.
If you re looking to get into group business, cold calling is NOT the way to go. People want to do business with people that they like and are like them. Does anyone recall when the MLMs were big and their focus was on groups? Remember how the mantra was to go out and cold call because groups were everywhere? One infamous MLM actually encouraged their “agents” to solicit groups on cruise ships while they were participating in FAMS! Well, where are those MLMs now?
My advice is to look internally to yourself and your staff (if you have one). You cannot fake enthusiasm. Are you into bowling, music, books, sports, etc? What are your interests? Find some established groups (MeetUp) and join. Become involved. Play the long game and then (and this is important) make the suggestion—NOT a pitch. I bet you will be surprised at the results.
Here’s an example. You enjoy reading. Join a book club. General conversation will ensure and people will know that you sell travel. Some may book with you—some may not. Maybe you read a Harry Potter book and discuss it. Mention that the film locations are spectacular. When they ask if you have been—set the hook. “No, but some clients have been and I saw their photos. Hey, why don’t we go and check it out?”
Another one with not so much investment. You are a member of the local garden club. You admire the beauty of the plants and flowers. Propose a bus trip (assuming you are northeast US) to the Philadelphia Flower Show. Set the stage. Get them thinking.
In both examples, you never asked for money. You never tried to sell a trip. You planted a seed and it sprouted. Arrange a good trip and the next one is easy. The Philadelphia Flower Show morphs into the Chelsea Flower show in the UK. An Agatha Christie book discussion might morph into a trip on the Venice-Simpleton Orient Express. The possibilities are endless!
Yes it takes time. Yes it takes effort. But with time and effort come results. Good results. Forego the cold calling and leave that to politicians and roof repair companies that come knocking on your door. Find your passions and interests and cultivate from the ground up.