There cannot be many operators in the leisure and tourism sector that do not crave the custom of more coach parties and organised groups. They fill the destination, venue or hotel. They spend money in the restaurants and shops and are usually easy to process as a single booking. Even better, they tend to pre-book guaranteeing future income come rain or shine and allow easier staffing and stock decisions to be made for particular days. And if you get in with the right tour operator there’ll be groups on tap. What’s not to like?
Over 7,000 groups in the UK alone
Worryingly, few organisations hoping to attract leisure groups know much about them, who they are or what they want. Older leisure hands remember the days when whole companies would close down before descending on seaside resorts for the entire week. Similarly, they’ll recall the ‘wheelspinners’ (groups of daytrippers who didn’t care where they were going as long as the wheels were spinning). Those days have gone and the market has changed. What hasn’t changed is the demand and competition for group business.
Visits and revenue provided by organised groups is still lucrative but highly fragmented. It is estimated there are around 7,000 organised groups (of ten or more people travelling together) in the UK with a smaller number of visiting groups from overseas. The types of group vary enormously, from affluent American baby boomers on tours and cruises to the local scout group’s annual trip to the zoo.
What should I do to attract groups?
Astoundingly, most organisations, whilst they do a lot to communicate and publicise their destinations and venues to groups, do actually very little to make themselves attractive or relevant to those same groups. They’ll appoint a groups’ coordinator, mail to lists of group organisers, exhibit at groups’ fairs, offer special groups’ rates, advertise in and send press releases to the travel trade media and so on. In essence, they’re pinning their hopes on the untested assumption they have a product with ‘group’ appeal. The alarm bells should already be ringing if you’re not picking up some group business on the back of your regular marketing. Proactive group organisers don’t wait for you to contact them.
Be honest – how great is your venue for groups?
Before you attempt to market yourself to groups do a little audit. What exactly is the experience you offer groups and is it any good? Which kinds of groups might like it and why? List the benefits different kinds of groups might get from a visit with you. Invite representatives of relevant groups, tour and coach operators to give you an unbiased honest assessment. Basically, make sure you have a viable groups’ product before you invest in specific marketing to them.
Discounts or premium pricing?
Crucially, make sure groups are actually good for your business! Is it worth upsetting your best customers in attempting to attract heavily discounted groups of schoolchildren or language students? Consider the discount you’re offering. If you have finite capacity then filling your venue in advance at discounted group rates lowers total revenue and there may be less spent pro rata on food, drink and retail items. Conversely, some sell-out theatre shows can charge groups a premium because members get to sit together. Work out the optimum proportion of business provided by organised groups. Note that some seaside destinations see almost 50% of visitors arrive in organised groups, compared to most visitor attractions that can expect groups to represent no more than 10% of total revenue.
Top ways to attract groups:
1. Ask locally active group organisers what you should do to make your venue attractive to groups
2. Identify and schmooze named group organisers to build awareness, confidence & trust in your offer
3. Offer free familiarisation visits for legitimate group organisers, coach & tour operators
4. Provide 10 – 20% group discounts (except where you have limited capacity – when you can charge groups a premium!)
5. Offer free coach parking or a voucher for the nearest coach parking facility
6. Give free entry or tickets for the group leader and treat them like royalty in front of their charges
7. Create dedicated online and offline groups’ marketing materials packed with testimonials
8. Provide separate fast-track entry and provide a short but enthusiastic welcome speech
9. Make regular sales visits to the principal tour and coach operators active in bringing groups to your area
10. Accept company vouchers as payment for groups on entry and offer operators commission on high volumes
Group Travel Organisers Association
Group Travel Organiser