TravelAge West recently chatted with Mike Schields, managing director of groups and emerging markets for the Globus Family of Brands, about emerging trends and the increase in the group travel business, as well as tips and tools for agents looking to sell more group travel.
What trends are you seeing in large and group travel?
When it comes to travel, there’s always a pre-9/11 and post-9/11 world to take into account. Back in 2003, our group travel numbers comprised less than 9 percent of business. We were definitely doing more individual travel as opposed to groups. Now, in 2010 and 2011, our numbers are well north of 15 percent. Another trend worth noting is that, in the past, our older clients relied on meeting others on the trip; these days, younger people want to go on trips with a tighter group of people with whom they share similar interests.
What factors do you think have been responsible for the increase in business?
Definitely the fragmentation of the consumer and market into all the different niches and categories of travel — there are just so many different styles now available, including river cruising, food and wine, art and history and religious travel. All these categories have really fueled the growth of group travel. In the past, these categories were very fringe, which didn’t truly enable the market to grow. Another significant factor is that, now, people are more willing to explore their interests. The perception in the past was that group travel meant group-style travel. Now, group travel consists of people who are independent, but who want to share experiences with close family and friends. That’s the direction we see the market going.
How has Globus renewed it’s commitment to group business? What enhancements can agents expect?
We’ve really refined our group market by boosting internal training with a combination of sales messaging, group messaging and targeting particular niches and categories. We want to develop marketing pieces that help travel agents successfully promote groups, so agents are given presentation materials and opportunities to sell their destination in order to generate excitement from the group. Agents can expect a new development in tools for feedback as well. We’ve created an evaluation form for agents to complete before finalizing which asks questions such as ‘How did we do?’ or ‘What can do better?’ We want to make it easier for the agent by giving them all the information they need. That’s all part of the renewed effort.
How are you specifically marketing group travel? What tools are you offering agents?
Each of our four different brands: Globus, Cosmos, Monograms and Avalon Waterways targets a different category of the market. Within those brands are specific subcategories for consumers and groups to find the particular niche they can choose to explore. What we’re trying to do is get agents to find out their area of expertise and focus on that area. We then provide tools, resources, product suggestions and product customization opportunities that target that area of expertise to help agents drive sales. Agents have to realize that the days when they put out an ad for a particular destination with a rate and itinerary are over. There needs to be a higher level of connection with groups — we help facilitate that with presentations, marketing materials and advice.
What can consumers expect?
Because groups aren’t always an easy and simple project to tackle, we’re also focusing on improved response time and especially flexibility. Groups and consumers can expect to be treated as a unique entity. Unlike individual bookings, group bookings have to cater to a larger number of wants and needs. We find it important to offer everyone choices and selections as well as to let them know all the information in advance.
How does Globus distinguish a small group from a large group?
It’s really more noticeable when we talk about our exotic destinations such as Africa, Asia and South America, which usually have more adventure-focused itineraries. It’s very rare to get a group of more than 40 people to those destinations. Larger groups normally travel to North American or European destinations.
Are there benefits of traveling in a small group as opposed to traveling in a large group?
I think it really depends on the destination and category. Small groups are great because it feels more personal and it can be customized to people’s specific needs. That’s the trend. On the other hand, a larger group might be better for religious travel. A river cruise is another style in which a large group might be better because everyone can do different things — there’s a lot of activity offered onboard and the ship is moving to new ports everyday — but the group is still able to stay cohesive.
How are agents making group travel more personalized when it comes to the larger numbers?
There are actually plenty of options that exist to meet a group’s preferences, and we always make sure that we tell agents of those opportunities, especially since the trend is that tours are becoming more personalized. Agents and groups always have the opportunity to customize groups to their own size preference. Someone with a group, say as small as 20, can opt for their own private coach that does not mix in any other passengers. Also, groups don’t always have to go on escorted tours. We offer various independent programs on Monograms in which a group of 15 friends and family members can explore on their own, meeting their own personal travel needs.
What are some of the most popular destinations for group travel?
Percentage wise, river cruising on Avalon Waterways is our highest selling product. The National Park trip is another highly utilized group and destination program, as well as the destinations of Italy, Israel and Greece.