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Travel agents are more relevant than ever, but many may not be aware of one of today’s biggest missed sales opportunities — hassle-free group travel. According to Steve Born, vice president of marketing for Globus Family of Brands, a new wave of group travel clients is emerging and agents who are not actively marketing to them are missing out.
Emerging Group Tour Market
“We started out looking at our own performance and the fact that Globus has been on the uptick,” said Born. “In the last three year period, Globus sales have increased by 48 percent.”
Globus has seen momentum in touring driven, in part, by an emerging market of what the company calls “new adopters” — 40 to 50 year olds who are interested in touring because it is a simple answer to a complex travel landscape. In group touring, these new adpoters — over thirty percent of Globus’ travelers in the last few years — see a way to remove all of the hassles that are typically associated with international travel to unfamiliar destinations.
Born added that these new adopters are choosing the category of touring for the first time because their time is more precious, their money is more valuable and, when they travel internationally, they want to do it in a way that makes the most of their time and money. According to Born, the functional benefits of touring are motivating this new group tour market.
Travel Agent Awareness
“We saw our sales rise, which spurred us to do research on our new adopters and, while we were really excited and encouraged by what we were hearing, we realized that this perception of touring is not what’s believed in the mind of the typical travel agent,” said Born.
Misperceptions that agents may have about group touring include that it is a niche product and that it appeals only to much older clients and those who are interested in the softer side of touring. Other misconceptions include that tours do not offer clients private time or flexibility at a destination.
“A classic misconception is that touring is too structured and that guests won’t have an opportunity to personalize their trips,” said Born. “However, touring makes the most of guests’ time and leaves them with more free time.”
Globus’ new feature, MyGlobus, allows clients to choose from available optional excursions, add-on components and more before their trip.
“MyGlobus is part of the welcome mat to the new generation of group tourists,” said Born.
According to Born, if group tour sales are at a loss, it’s not because the traveler is harboring a bias against group touring. Agents, not clients, are the target audience of Globus’ newly launched misconception campaign called “Think Again.”
“In a given month, there are more than 131 million Google searches in the U.S. for touring — the opportunity gap we identified is that people are looking for group tours, but the agents aren’t looking for them,” said Born. “Many agents don’t realize that there’s this huge potential out there for this market, which is looking for the agents’ product — which happens to be among their most easy and profitable to book.”
Group Travel Sales Tips
Still, for agents who are curious about the best ways to discuss group tours with agents, Born has ideas.
“I’d start with the features of touring,” said Born. “The lead in is the hassle-free nature of the product.”
Born added that the prospects won’t necessarily be intimately familiar with all the details of escorted touring, but that they will be very familiar with the benefits of having transportation and logistics taken care of, sightseeing included, hotels specifically chosen for being in the heart of the action and a tour director who makes sure nothing is missed. Born added that since the hassle-free components are comparable to cruising, agents can sell group tours similarly to the way in which they sell cruising.
From what he has seen, Born said that agents who are successful at selling group travel are those who are proactive and are marketing to the 40 to 50 year old segment. They don’t wait for the phone to ring or for the customer to come to them — they reach into their database and identify their customers who are in the 40 to 50 year range who are purchasing relatively high-end travel — those who may have purchased Caribbean cruises for their family or an all-inclusive resort, for example.
“This audience is vastly under served in terms of being marketed to by travel agents, specifically about touring,” said Born.
Born stressed the importance of maintaining an online presence.
“Agents must be engaged in the online marketplace because that’s where clients are searching. Regionally, within their cities and networks, travel agents have a real search advantage,” said Born. “Agents should not be nervous — focusing as a regional specialist will help them put the best foot forward.”
Born noted that Google is the best place to start and that agents should take advantage of online directory advertising. He also advised that agents should present their product, not just their agency.
Travel Agent Power
Many consumers are searching “group travel” online, but that doesn’t mean that these prospective clients are satisfied with research alone, and that’s where Born sees the agent’s value.
“They are out looking for personal expertise beyond what they find in the 15 million listings for Italy vacations when they search Google,” said Born. “Clients are looking for a human — someone who has experience, who has been there, who has referred travelers before and who they can go to again if they have questions.”
Clients are typically searching how to get to a destination and, in a lot of cases, multiple destinations that they’re not familiar with for a first-time multi-country trip. Online research does not replace the agent, who provides booking support to make sure that they make no missteps along the way.
“It’s not at all dissimilar to other professionals who they have in their lives — from their investment bankers and managers to their interior designers and their real estate agents,” said Born. “Once consumers find the solution that offers real-world expertise, then they go back to that solution. If they can find a human being, it’s like an oasis.”