How to attract more group business
By Shebby Lee
I was recently asked by The Insider to share some tips on how to attract group business to an attraction or service. This is an age-old question that is still alive and kicking and being asked by ABA members. So, here are some pointers from an industry veteran (who used to be in your shoes).
For starters, let’s assume you have a business that already exists. It may or may not be tourism-based, but it is helpful to have an established business before taking the leap into a new and unfamiliar market. Before you start drawing up business plans and marketing campaigns, though, you can save yourself a lot of grief by making time for a little self-analysis.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Why do you want to cater to groups in the first place?
- Is your service or attraction capable of handling large groups?
- What is your current clientele? (If it is mostly families or bikers, it might not necessarily be a good fit.)
- Is your primary motivation to increase revenue? (If you are a hotel or attraction that only wants to boost visitation during the off-season, you may have trouble convincing prospects that you are truly group-friendly.)
OK, let’s say you nodded in the affirmative to all of the above. Now on to the nitty gritty:
Do some research and find out if another company already provides your service. Find out who the competition is and if there is room for more than one such supplier in your community.
Changing tried-and-true itineraries costs tour operators time and money, so you need to give the client a reason to change an itinerary he or she is already happy with. For example, at last year’s ABA Annual Meeting & Marketplace in Cleveland, I met with a supplier who knew about me, but I had never met him or heard about his Flagstaff steak house. He offered me a considerably reduced rate for a special dinner and he promised to meet my group (who happened to be high school students) at the front door on horseback. Do you think I took him up on this? You betcha! And I’ve already rebooked for 2018!
Contact other attractions and tourism businesses in your community/region that are already doing business with groups and ask for their advice. Offer to partner with them on packages (there’s strength in numbers). You are in the hospitality industry—an industry that is used to being helpful and cooperative—so take advantage of opportunities to work together.
Be willing to offer group rates. No, scratch that. You must offer group rates to get this business.
Develop a long-range marketing strategy and follow through! Ask your DMOs for lists of motorcoach companies already touring or passing through your area and add them to your mailing list. Call each and every one of them! Perhaps they don’t even know you are there! But don’t expect them to automatically add you to an itinerary they have been using for years (and that already works for them). You have to give them a reason to change.
Now that you are on your way to getting more group business:
- Don’t expect to go to one conference (or run one group promotion campaign) and realize instant results. This is a long-term commitment.
- Keep in touch with your CVB and regional and state travel industry reps. Make sure they are up to date on what you offer and know your current group rates. Participate in cooperative advertising opportunities. You’ll save money and develop advocates within your localized tourism industry.
- Be patient. Keep your ear to the ground so you’ll be ready when an opportunity for new business presents itself.
If you show sincere interest in enhancing the tour operators’ tour program and make yourself helpful and available, busy tour planners will be delighted to work with you.
Historian and writer Shebby Lee owns Shebby Lee Tours Inc. of Rapid City, S.D. Her tours focus on the history and cultural heritage of the West. To contact Lee, visit www.shebbyleetours.com.