There are very few travel consultants I meet that don’t have a desire to either book or travel with groups. And why wouldn’t you? They are lucrative and can satisfy your never ending appetite for travel.
However, putting together groups and filling them are two very different things. In my own experience, I spent many, many weeks putting together groups that never traveled because I failed at filling them. All that time, energy and effort was lost. Eventually, I did put together and fill my very own group and it was awesome. That’s my group in the photo above visiting the Cape of Good Hope, the most South-Western point on the continent of Africa. But I learned the hard way what it takes to fill a group.
I’ve noticed that many travel professionals have very little understanding of how to fill a group. There is 1 critical tool that must exist before even beginning to fill a group. Without this tool, the likelihood of filling your group is as good as getting struck by lightening. With this tool, it’s not guaranteed that you will fill your group, but it raises your chances exponentially. That tool is called a “platform.”
What is a Platform?
A platform is an engaged following. A platform can be physical or it can be virtual. In essence it’s the sum of your e-mail list, Facebook Fans, Twitter Followers, LinkedIn connections, etc, etc. But it’s not just the sum of these. It’s the engagement with these that’s of value. If you have an e-mail list with 3,000 contacts, but only send the e-mails created by your consortia loaded with supplier specific information, your engagement with that list may not be that strong, which weakens the power of your platform.
On the other hand, you might have an e-mail list of 300 contacts, but since you are connecting with them regularly (weekly) and sharing your own personal great tips, many of them have a well established connection with you and feel like a “follower.” If you invite them to a local event, they are much more likely to say “yes” because of their regular engagement with you.
Why is a Platform Important?
If you want to fill a group, you MUST have a platform. Without the platform, there is no added incentive to join you on your group than to choose any other travel experience available to them.
Building your platform takes time. Some people are natural “platform” builders and some are not. In other words, some people are community builders and some aren’t. You don’t have to be a natural platform builder to use this tool. But it’s important that you identify which you are.
If you ARE a natural platform or community builder, then focus first on building your community, NOT on putting together your groups. For example, maybe you have desire to put together group cruises for families that homeschool. You have a passion for homeschooling and feel there is a lack of community for this group. Instead of trying to put together a homeschool cruise, start with creating a community for homeschool families locally. Maybe you create a group or society for homeschool families that offers regular events and other things that are missing for them. Once you have established a community, then you can take it to the next level and offer travel experiences for the community.
If you are NOT a natural community builder, that’s OK. You don’t need to be. You just have to find the natural community builders in your target market and partner with them. For example, I have witnessed a Cruise Planners agent, Angela DeDomenico, fill hundreds of cabins every year on a Beatles Tribute cruise, catered to die-hard Beatles fans. In essence, Angela found a community that was already hanging out together and partnered with their community leaders.
So the moral of the story is that if you want to fill groups, you MUST have an engaged platform. It does not have to be yours, and if you don’t have one, you can partner with leaders who do.
Ask yourself if you are a natural community builder. If you are, put plans in place to build your community, like hosting local events, or building a great Facebook Fan page presence. If you are not a natural community builder, begin to identify the natural leaders of the community that contains your ideal prospects. Once you have them, take the steps to propose a group journey. Either way, you will be on the right path to filling groups.