Carnival Cruise Lines vice president, group sales and administration Cherie Weinstein says group business is still a part of the market that is moving and advises agents to focus on special interest areas that can be sold now.
Weinstein said agents can use the gift of time in a slow market to make a plan of attack for new group possibilities, including clients that haven’t booked lately but are in agency databases. "Group business is longterm business," she said. "And you can make a custom opportunity for people with common passions to travel together - that’s what makes affinity groups successful."
One area that yields success even in difficult times is religious travel. Weinstein, who recently attended the World Religious travel Expo, commented, “While the faith-based market was always there, I didn’t realize how it was growing. There is so much possibility for cruising, even full-ship charter. Groups may bring goods from their church to local churches or share a service with a local congregation; ministers may make presentations, therapists can give marital enrichment lectures within the group’s faith.” She said research indicates that those who choose faith-based travel have a higher income than the norm and are well educated. They are looking for a 50/50 balance between religious content and fun. “And – very important – 35 percent of people looking for religious travel look to travel agents,” Weinstein added.
Another area for groups is sailings built around charitable donations, where passengers can feel that they are helping others while having a holiday. "Fundraiser cruises should be very easy to put together in these days," she added. "Nearly every institution is looking for donations and can provide consumer enrichment for a good cause."
She suggested that agents can, if they choose, forego the group amenities and use their points to buy the rate down from already aggressive group rates when dealing with families. "Family reunions are still hanging in there," she added. "They may step down to a shorter cruise but what we don’t want is to see them change to land-based gatherings."
She urged agents to use Carnival Connections with their groups so they can communicate before and after cruises and to take advantage of the services of BDMs in sales and networking.