Written By: Tom Ogg
Selling river cruise groups makes a ton of sense. Most river cruise lines see 5 cabins as a group and getting 10 people to book a special river cruise is a pretty doable task. Most lines will award you on Tour conductor pass (free pass) for 9 paid cabins which makes selling groups a very attractive business to be in. In addition to the T.C. they will offer a price incentive (usually per cabin) and also special amenities if the group meets a minimum size.
Given that the river cruise line pays a full commission on all aspects of the cruise, selling river cruise groups can be very rewarding personally and financially. An example of the tremendous commission selling river cruise groups is AMA’s group policies. They pay an 18% commission on all groups and also offer one T.C. for 9 paid group members. I would partner with AMA right now as that is such a generous offer.
The very nature of river cruises lend themselves to group travel, as all accommodations, dining, entertainment, activities and in some cases beverages are included. It is a great vacation for seniors, mature families, friends and affinity groups.
The passenger satisfaction level for river cruises guarantees that many of the operational challenges found selling other types of cruises are minimized by selling focusing on river cruise groups. And, by traveling with a group of friends or associates makes the experience even that much more rewarding.
Develop a River Cruise Group Concept
While arranging one-off river cruise groups can be rewarding, developing a concept that will allow you to operate the same river cruise group over and over again makes a ton of sense. It removes much of the operational stress that arranging 12 different departures to 12 different destination on numerous river cruise lines. It also allows you to fine tune your operations by using the same river cruise line and ship repetitively.
You should make the river cruise experience exclusive to you alone by adding amenities and experiences that are unique, rewarding and that add value. By focusing on creating this unique experience you also start developing a themed, or niche product that can be marketed openly without the fear of price matching.
Develop a River Cruise Group Plan
As in any business effort, having a solid and well thought out business and marketing plan is essential for success. You plan should explore all aspects of who, what, when, where, how and why?
Who are you going to market to and what are you going to sell? When are you going to start moving river cruise groups and where are you going to market them? How are you going to market and why would your potential group members buy from you?
Avoid the huge business plan development software programs in favor of just writing your own business plan to meet your specific plans and objectives. However, you should evolve it enough so that you can share it with potential river cruise line partners so that you can assure them that your ideas and plans are built on solid ground.
Develop a River Cruise Group Partner
Once you have your concept clearly thought out and expressed in a realistic business and marketing plan it is time to try and locate the best partner to work with. What itinerary (s) do you want? What amenities does the ship need to offer your group? What other aspects are you looking for? All of this will help lead you to your new potential partner. Od course, commission, amenities, tour conductor passes and marketing support will all play a part ion the negotiations.
Once you have elected a river cruise partner you should make a long term commitment to the relationship and not let small things bother you. They are risking inventory based on their belief in your ability to sell it and the last thing they are looking for is an unfaithful partner. supplier relationships are critical to your success and violating the relationship for short term profit will damage a long term relationship.
River Cruise Group Packaging
While the typical river cruise includes just about everything anyone would want on a cruise, to make it unique and difficult to price shop you may wish to add custom elements to the cruise that focus on the specific niche that you are focused on. Unique shore excursions, meetings, seminars, on board activities and other activities or inclusions will not only make your group offering difficult to shop, but also make the cruise focused on your niche.
River Cruise Group Costing
The only thing that is consistent with river cruise groups is that there is going to be something that goes wrong. Every costing should have a “Slush Fund” that exists for the express purpose of protecting your profit. When something unexpected happens to your group you shouldn’t have to reach into your own pocket (profit) to resolve it. There should be funds in your group “Slush Fund” for such situations.
Remember that there are going to be elements beyond the cruise itself that will make up the total group movement. Air, Transfers, pre and post hotels and other inclusions and special events. You should also consider the variable marketing costs incurred marketing the group. The best way to accomplish a relevant costing is to net out all of the elements that make up the group and then add your profit. This is the way to protect your profit and make your river cruise group successful.
River Cruise Group Pied Pipers
With the generous Tour Conductor passes that the river cruise lines offer, marketing through pied pipers makes a ton of sense. Many of the cruise lines offer 1 T.C. for every 9 paid passengers. This means that if a pied piper sells 9 cabins, he or she will travel in their own cabin for free with a guest. This is an extremely motivating offer for group organizers. And, don’t forget that this also applies to families and others that are traveling together.
You should invest in a river cruise group agreement for pied pipers. The agreements should include the parties to the agreement, contact information, a thorough description of the river cruise and inclusions, the group leader’s deposit, the option payments and final payment, a description of the terms of cancellation or failure to perform,the group leader’s responsibilities, the agency’s responsibilities, the group leader’s remuneration, the group review dates and the regular legal mumble jumble.
Your River Cruise Group Presentation
A good amount of thought should go into developing your river cruise group presentation. Are you going to print a brochure? Use digital or video content? Are you going to use social media for your groups? Are you going to develop a special website for your groups? Are you going to advertise in niche media? The truth is that you should do all of the above.
Depending on the niche you are going to focus on, you should prepare your presentation to be consistent with offerings the niche is comfortable with. If you are selling primarily to seniors, then a printed brochure is important. If you are selling to millennials then a digital presentation is important. Once you focus your efforts it should be come obvious which presentation elements you should use.
Marketing Your River Cruise Croups
Many of the tactics we have already explored in previous chapters will work wonderfully in selling river cruise groups, seminars are certainly one of the best ways to go. You may also try boosting Facebook post focused right on your target market. Ads featuring a seminar where folks can find out how to take a river cruise for free in your local community will work wonders.
If your community has a local newspaper, try taking out an ad featuring the same seminar and also see if you can get some editorial support from the newspaper regarding the opportunity to earn a free river cruise by inviting friends and family to cruise with you. Just about everyone knows 9 people that they could talk into vacationing with them, so everyone is a potential group cruise leader.
“Become a Group Leader and Travel for Free” is always a great seminar title that draws likely candidates as does “River Cruising 101, Everything You Need to Know” Make your marketing efforts focused and engaging and you might be in a position to choose from a number of potential group leaders to get the cream of the crop.
To Escort, or Not to Escort
This should be part of developing your river cruise concept and business plan. By escorting a river cruise group you add value in a number of ways. If you use group leaders and pied pipers they will generally escort the group and you should have an “Escort Dos and Don’ts” manual to help them act in a professional and effective manner. Give them specific tasks and direction on what to do and how to deal with things that may occur. Set boundaries on what they are expected to do and what they should not do.
If you elect to escort the group be sure to tout your value add contributions. Are you trained in first aid and CPR? Do your speak multiple languages? Are you completely familiar with the cruise ship and ports? What other advantages are the group members going to derive from you being the escort? Escorting your groups offers you several advantages. You will certainly develop close relationships with all the group members and that will translate into them becoming repetitive group members in the future. It also presents the opportunity to turn the group members into future group leaders. Finally, as the group escort you can control the lever of satisfaction each group member experiences.
I hope that you see the many advantages of selling river cruise groups and that you integrate them into your overall river cruise specialist business.