Groups are the Key to Profitability
By: Sandy Saburn, CTIE

Anyone who has been in travel for more than a minute has heard something like, “Groups are the key to profitability”. It is true that you can make a lot of money with groups. I’ve seen agents make more from one group than they did all the rest of their bookings for that year combined. It isn’t usual to have 5-figure and even 6-figure commission checks from groups. It happens more than you think!

Knowing how beneficial groups can be to your business is one thing – knowing where to start is another. The best place to begin is understanding that there are two ways to do groups, and one is significantly more profitable than the other.

The first way to approach groups is to find an itinerary or trip you like, block space, and attempt to fill it. That’s the hard way to fill a group and it is far less profitable than the second way.

The second way – which is far more profitable – takes the focus off you filling the group and instead you find someone who can fill it for you.

What you want is a pied piper. Sure, travel agents can be pied pipers, but I think we can all agree that Beyonce, Dolly Parton, or Tom Hanks would have more draw than your average travel agent! These celebrities have their own communities who follow them, love them, and would gladly pay to spend time with them.

Of course, you aren’t likely to get any of those celebrities to sign up to a host a trip (if you do, please let me know!), but there are people and organizations around you that you can work with. Arts organizations, non-profits, clubs, people who engage in similar hobbies (knitting groups are huge), sports fans, and almost any other type of “affinity” you can think of are all possibilities.

Your goal is to find someone people want to follow and build a group around them. Your role is to handle all the “things” that go along with planning a group trip so they can just look like rock stars.

The place to start is finding the right group leader. It’s not as hard as you might think! Here are some tips to help you start making a list of possible groups:

  1. Think about organizations you know and love. It doesn’t matter if they are local or if you even know anyone in the group. Just start with that list.
  2. What do you love to do? Hobbies, collections, sports, and anything people spend their free time on could be a source of a group.
  3. What are some local businesses you know and love? Restaurants, wineries, pubs, craft brewers, craft shops – any of these can be a starting place.

Try to come up with at least 50 options, then start researching. Research is key because you want to know a lot about these organizations and the leaders you are going to approach. Remember, just because an organization or business advertises a lot doesn’t mean they have a loyal following. There needs to be an engaged community, not just name recognition.

Now is the PERFECT time to be doing this because you have time and groups take time to plan. That’s the biggest downside to groups: the ramp-up time. I

t’s Rare that you can secure group space with a supplier on short notice. It also is beneficial to have time so those who want to join can make at least one payment rather than just paying in full and immediately being in penalties. All that means you need to plan groups pretty far out – sometimes a year, 18 months, two years, or more.

And that’s how the downside becomes a positive. Thanks to COVID people are more comfortable planning farther out than they typically would. (One bright spot in the current state of the world.) Travelers want to have something to look forward to but recognize it needs to be down the road. A group is the perfect solution.

All this means that NOW is a great time to make connections with affinity groups to plan for travel in 2021, 2022, or even 2023.

There is a lot more than just finding the right group leader, but I hope this helps get you started. Groups are a lot of work and they have a longer timeline than individual bookings, but when you get those big (5- and 6-figure) commission checks, it is worth it!