We were so excited about Valerie Gossett's group booking advice in our earlier article that we decided to feature her here on travel Agent Chatter! Owner of 6M agency, Premier Resources Travel Group, Valerie is a sales-V.P.-turned-travel-professional who averages about thirty groups a year. It's no surprise that a successful career in sales translates well into a travel agent career. Her theory is that if you're not booking groups you're leaving $40,000 dollars on the table each year. My interview with her features some shiny pearls of wisdom when it comes to marketing, how she broke into groups (and what groups she decided not to pursue), tips on finding and booking groups, plus a warm fuzzy that will bring tears to your eyes.
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Find a Travel Niche: A Step-by-Step Guide: Valerie offers some great thoughts on finding a travel niche! Want some more guidance on finding your own? Look no further!
5 Steps to Finding Groups: Valerie is a groups expert, and this TAC isn't her first appearance on HAR! Check out more group booking wisdom from her and other phenomenal groups agents here!
HAR Events Calendar: Events like Cruise World and Cruise360 can really help agents develop group business! Check our events calendar to see which conferences make the most sense for you.
Valerie's 2020 Boot Camps: Find Valerie on Facebook to stay tuned about her 2020 Boot Camps that will help you boost your group business!
Less Annoying: Check out Valerie's (aptly-named) CRM of choice here!
Steph: [00:00:47] You're listening to Travel Agent Chatter Vol. 10. Today we're taking a deep dive into groups with Valerie Gossett the owner of Premier resources travel group. Hello again to all our regulars and welcome to you first timers travel agent chatter is an audio series produced by the team here at host agency reviews. A quick recap the show notes and a transcription can be found at HostAgencyReviews.Com/TAC. I wanted to thank a few of our listeners that took the time to leave reviews for us on iTunes. Bliss Vacations, Sailing Hedgehog and Travel with Nikki who had this to say, "I've been loving listening to TAC. Steph has done a great job at finding wonderful travel advisors to interview. I've been in the industry for nine years and I've learned something new from each podcast. Guest as an advisor who works solo it's great to have TAC as a way to learn what others are doing in the industry. There are so many sides to being a travel pro and I feel like TAC is my twenty side dice." Well thank you Nikki. Buffy, and Sailing Hedgehog for the wonderfully kind reviews by the way. We officially have our first review on stitcher thanks to Nikki.
Now let's get on to the show.
Steph: Well here we are again. Hello everyone. This is Steph Lee the founder of Host Agency Reviews and your host for today's episode and today's show is all about groups we're chatting with Valerie Gossett, a sales-V.P.-turned-travel-professional who sells around two million dollars annually and averages about thirty groups a year. Her theory is that if you're not booking groups you're leaving $40,000 dollars on the table each year.
Today we're going to talk about how she not only managed to book a 196-person groups sailing this spring, but how the group sold out in four weeks. We'll talk about her most successful marketing techniques, how she stays organized and what to look for in group contracts. So if you're looking to break into group groups or you're currently selling groups and want to up your game, have a pen and paper handy because this episode is loaded with great tips. And if you can't catch everything you're not. You can visit HostAgencyReviews.Com/TAC And click on Volume 10 to find a full transcript and the show notes from today. So let's quickly lay out the itinerary for you. Today there's going to be four segments. The first is beginnings. Then we'll move into group philosophy land versus Cruise groups and we'll wrap it up with our warm fuzzy segment. I hope you're all ready because it's time to jump into another episode of T AC so Valerie. Welcome to travel agent chatter.
Valerie: [00:03:54] Well thank you so much Steph. I know. I'm really looking forward to that. I love talking about it.
Steph: [00:04:01] I love talking to you about group. So this is just perfect. Well let's see. So I mentioned to every—Well I mentioned earlier for all of you listeners that Val was a former V.P. of sales, which of course pairs nicely with the transition to a career as a travel agent since it's mostly sales. But what I didn't tell you was that before her V.P. of sales job, Valerie was a teacher and was in middle school that you taught Valerie. Yeah. OK.
Valerie: [00:04:33] One middle school for approximately four years and then I went from them to corporate. All right. So.
Steph: [00:04:42] I have to tell you, when I was talking with Valerie cracked me up because she was saying how because of her teaching career she had a strong training background. So when she eventually moved into the travel industry she started taking some courses really getting her learning on. And Valerie. I'm not sure what else to call this but binge learning. But how many certifications did you have underneath your belt by the time you finished?
Valerie: [00:05:11] Well you know, and I did it all rather quickly because I do believe in training since I'm an educator at heart, and I had one hundred and fifty—you know—certifications within my first year, and I just I wanted to learn a little bit about everything to be a little bit more well-rounded and I mixed that up with marketing as well. So as I got a client who wanted to go someplace I knew nothing about, well that was the next course I took.
So it worked out really well.
Steph: [00:05:43] Yes. So. So we've solidified that you've done your part. When you joined the travel industry and had a very very strong educational foundation.
Steph: [00:05:53] Did you start out doing groups right away?
Valerie: [00:05:58] You know, I did actually because I got into a fundraising group. And you know just when I got into travel I just started letting people that I knew if they had any trips they were planning in the next six months to a year to let me know . . . that I was becoming certified as a travel agent. And through that I knew a few people who were with organizations, and they asked me to put together some fundraising groups for them like the Rotary Club, and a cancer foundation and whatnot. So I did start early on getting into groups.
Steph: [00:06:37] And when we had talked earlier, you had mentioned—that was fundraising groups—that you you started there but that's not a path you went down. Why did you decide that that wasn't the best fit for you. What did you learn from that?
Valerie: [00:06:54] Well not not every organization will take a cruise year after year after year. And also they will have an agreement that you sign for them just stating that you will not contact their vendors if they're in supporters and the people within their organization that they can contact you. But you are not to reach out to them. So you can't put them on your email newsletter. You can't do any of that really. So if you really wanted to grow your business in other ways that might be a small little piece of it. But that was not going to be a way to to grow like I wanted us to grow. You know today we're a six million dollar agency and I could not have done that if I would have just concentrated on fundraising groups.
Steph: [00:07:47] And in case people aren't familiar with like cruise fundraising groups did you just really quickly go over how that's different than regular groups sure.
Valerie: [00:07:59] Typically the mass market cruise lines will have a program for a fundraising cruise that you put together. You need an organization that has a 501c3. They do have to produce that and you have to send it before final payment to the corporate offices of that cruise line for them to get the money that's raised. And they usually have a match program. When you do a group a cruise group, there's usually GAP points. And those are points that you can use to purchase things, whether it be a cocktail hour or onboard credit or something like that. So in this case what those points would purchase is money to go towards the organization and they usually do a match. So the cruise is a little bit more—Because if if you're matching twenty five dollars and the cruise line is giving twenty five—then that's going to raise the price of the cruise per person twenty five dollars. So at the end after you send that 501c3 in and after final payment when everything's finalized about 30 days after they get back that the group gets back, that's when a check will come to you that you will present to the organization that will be in their name and then you can go have a meeting with their group and present it to them. So most of the mass market cruise lines do have a program like this already set up.
Steph: [00:09:25] Perfect. Thank you for running over that. So I think one of the most difficult things about booking groups especially if you haven't . . . Well I guess just for anyone when you're starting to get into groups whether you're experienced or not is the time that passes between when you start promoting the group until you actually are getting paid. It can really make it difficult for an agent.
So how far in advance do you usually start setting up your groups like when do you set aside the group space?
Valerie: [00:10:04] I usually start looking a year and a half ahead of time. So it takes you a few years to get into a rhythm in terms of, you know receiving money. If you're going to really concentrate on groups you're you're obviously going to do other things as well. You're not going to just do groups because that way you'll have money coming in intermittently in between when your groups come in.
So if you start this in the first couple of years in your career, then you're going to look at year year and a half out. Because with if you do cruise they have—now Norwegian is backed it up to over 120 days before sailing for the final payment–so you know we want you want the people that you're promoting this to to have time to pay on it because you can set up a payment plan and that's another very popular way to get more people on the sailing. So if you start a year and a half out, you do have time for them to pay a little bit every month or every quarter and it doesn't come as a shock to them. Then at the end like, "oh no I have to pay $2,000?" Or whatever that amount may be.
So start a year and a half out, and then let's say you're going to start with two to three groups a year. What you do this year, in terms of what's coming in from that group because you get paid typically after they return . . . you did a year year and a half ago. So if if what you're setting up now that's going to be what you get paid next year. So if you continually do it and it grows, then that's how you can determine what your salary or what your income is going to be from groups. And you have a rhythm to it and some of the groups will repeat it. It depends. It might be a group that travels together every single year and they might mix it up.
They might do land, they might do an all inclusive, they might do Europe, a river cruise or an ocean vessel. So you could have a good variety there and then that way you know this is money I can count on.
Steph: [00:12:10] You as mentioned when we spoken that you look at groups as your salary and you look at your individual customers they may be booking a custom FIT as paying the bills on a month-to-month basis, which is I think a great way to look at things.
Valerie: [00:12:32] Absolutely. So If you break it down like that—and keep in mind, my background I you know I've dealt with budget business plans and and whatnot for hundreds of sales people—So, you know shat we did was we broke everything down. So and you can back into your numbers. So if somebody comes to me and they say I need to make $4,000 a month. Well we can back into those numbers and we can do that very easily with groups and say OK then you need this many groups going forward. Let's start this you know next year. You know focusing on getting them pulled back this year let's market them in the next year you'll see that kind of income come through. So you can you can really sit down and determine, OK I want $25,000 from my group business or I want 50 or I want 100 once you're more experienced at this and you have some momentum going. But I do that my my group that's my salary. So that's something I know I can count on. And then I do have a lot of individual bookings that I make. Some of my clients are very last minute and you know like right now it's wave season I'm underwater like a lot of agents are and this is really good business coming in right now, on I mean to the tune of maybe you know an extra $500 to $2,000 on a daily basis. So this does pay the bills. And by that I mean your E&O insurance your office supplies you know any your CRM system. So that's how you can budget for those things as well.
Steph: [00:14:12] Yeah. It's It's a nice mixture to help with the cash flow problem that comes from having to start working a year or to a year and a half before you're actually paid.
Valerie: [00:14:24] Exactly, and when you when you first become a travel agent and—you know it is a typically a straight commission position depending on what agency you go with—then you know you're going to figure it's going to take you really a year or two to find out what your niche really is, and to get your client's help to start using you and then determine your plan.
Steph: [00:14:50] Yes I agree. So. Well talking about. So now you've got 15 years under your belt and you can look back if you were to give some advice to agents looking to start booking groups or to agents who are struggling with their group business and saying this is not working for them . . . for me. What would you say is the key to success What should they be focusing on?
Valerie: [00:15:15] You know I would really say don't get caught up in a vendor telling you, "oh go to dive group. Go to golfs. Group go to this group. Or that kind of group." If you're not interested in that that type of activity.
So if you were not a golfer, a you approach a golf pro and you don't speak the same language and you don't have that connection.
Steph: [00:15:41] That would be me. I feel like, "is the football when you like throw it at kickoff when your golfing?"
Valerie: [00:15:50] Right. So You may not be very successful. They will not take you seriously.
"Work within your scope first, and you will be far more successful. "
So I . . . I do not dive. OK. So I know that that is something I'm not going to walk into a dive shop and you know I and I can sell it all day long. But that is not something I will go after immediately. OK. I would I would probably look for an agent who has that background and let them handle that. You know that piece but I would say look within your circle of what you do outside of the home and outside of your travel industry business. And if you're into yoga, approach the yoga instructor. If you do pottery or craft you know think about incorporating that into maybe going someplace in Mexico where you know you can go to and have live demonstrations that actually take part in those things. Especially cooking if you love cooking, that's an ideal thing to do. Put together a—a land trip and go ahead and do that, or on a cruise when you stop in Cozumel. You can actually go into a person's home. They take you to the market and they will teach you how to cook authentic Mexican food. So . . . So it's right there. you just have to look within your own circle and not say, "oh I'm going to work with seniors" and then you really don't have patience for seniors. So work within your scope first, and you will be far more successful.
Steph: [00:17:22] I agree, and for those listening we have a great exercise that walks you through . . . going through your hobbies and what you're passionate about as well as thinking and helping you kind of visualize who your circles are. We'll put the link in the show notes to our finding a niche article and we'll also link to our articles on booking groups with some resources. Which Valerie I think you're . . . actually we reference you in one of those articles so we'll link to those in the show notes.
So one of the other things we chatted on was not only do you need to make sure that you're passionate about it and—that the groups that you're working with, you know something about—but we talked about making sure to pick the right itinerary and that it's something unique Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Valerie: [00:18:17] Sure absolutely. Now. And I'm going to add to that a little bit to not only the right itinerary, but the right time of year. So if you if you know that you have clients that like to go away for New Year's Eve, then that's good to start looking at a year year and a half ahead of time, and whether it be a cruise and pulling that space, or maybe in one of the islands and in working with a resort and getting a contracted space and pulling something back. If those are the type of clients you have they'd like to go out they like to party and now they've started traveling during those time periods.
So think about who you're working with already. And, you know if there's a particular time of year that they prefer to travel then that's where you're going to go to look, but also look at unique itineraries. Don't always choose the Caribbean. Or don't you know don't always choose Mexico or Jamaica necessarily. Think about other locations that might be different and unique. We put together . . . we have been one of my agents put together a Norway to Iceland ocean cruise on Viking and they aren't places—
[00:19:35] Yeah, she's in London right now with a whole group of people. I have another agent who put together Ireland because she had one person interested so she got some you know group space from a tour operator—we worked on that together and finding the right tour operator—and she now has 20 people going and she's going to actually be on the tour herself and lead the tour.
So you know think of think that your clients are to the level where they want something out of the ordinary, something different. And that's when my clients are—a lot of my clients have been with me for 15 years and they've sailed the Caribbean, they've done the Panama Canal. Most of them have done Alaska and now they want something different and unique.
Steph: [00:20:22] Yes.
Valerie: [00:20:23] And so it's up to me to to look and see what's out there so I can put it in front of them and and really provide experiences for them.
Steph: [00:20:32] Well well this is the perfect segue way [00:20:34] into our next segment 1 which is what we're talking about the right itinerary. And you found the perfect itinerary. This is I think this is the topic everyone is waiting to hear about your 196 passenger cruise this May. Which ship is on—ship is it on. And how in the world did you sell out your group in just four short weeks?
Valerie: [00:21:00] Well I'll I will tell you that. So what I do is I always look for unique itineraries. I look for ships that are doing something different than the norm. So here Royal Caribbean has their mega ship and most of them do 7 night eastern and western Caribbean. Once In a while they'll go to Europe. But for the most part that's what they do. Well I found that they were moving the Harmony of the Seas from Fort Lauderdale to Port Canaveral. And when they did that, they broke it up into two, three-night cruises. Well one of those three night cruises ended up being a Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night. Coming back on Sunday morning which happened to be Mother's Day morning. What a nice Mother's Day gift.
I mean really this, this could be a little family getaway away or a girlfriend and getaway, or send mom on a cruise on you know a magnificent ship you know such as the Harmony. So this this gives my clients a chance to experience a mega ship at a lower price point. So I knew what—This is what I call a winner when I see something that I know is going to go over really well, my agents will tell you, "oh Valerie will say that's a winner." So I put it together. I got some groups space an I only held 16 cabins, and so I got some group space and I just started putting it out there to everybody I knew. And I did that via e-mail and Facebook and Instagram and then I network . . . I belong to networking groups, so I brought it with me there. Even at bridal shows. I took it with me to bridal shows because this could be a great bachelorette getaway.
So I told everybody I knew and got a couple of my agents involved as well. They wanted to take part. And before you know in four weeks we had but now 100 cabins booked another and this was like a year and a half out, and it's coming up this May. And I'd say about five, six months ago the ship was totally sold out. Since then they've opened up a little bit. Someone must have been holding group space that they couldn't sell on let go and, oh I'll tell you I had my eye on it. I took them right up.
Steph: [00:23:24] That's fantastic.
Valerie: [00:23:29] So even though it had sold out. And even though you know I at that point I was getting together a waiting list for the ship in case there were any cancellations or any other space came available . . . at our great prices that we had a year and a half ago. Because they've doubled since then.
Steph: [00:23:50] So yeah. That's it. Sure sure. I was blown out of the water whan you gave the price for a balcony.
Valerie: [00:24:01] Yes. On the harmony even though it was just three nights a balcony, with port charges for two people was $976 six dollars with $100 dollars onboard credit.
Steph: [00:24:14] It's insane.
Valerie: [00:24:16] I know. And that was my original price thing. Who wouldn't want that, right?
But we sold a lot of inside for, you know $757, and you know we really have a variety of cabins including suites that, you know, people went ahead and booked with us. So the prices were just phenomenal. I mean I when when the prices came back again after the ship sold out and then there was some more inventory a balcony then was over $2,000. So we really got in at the right time.
Steph: [00:24:52] Yes. So. So now you've you've had a few cancellations now that you're getting closer to that day but those sold out. In a matter of hours, right?
Valerie: [00:25:03] Oh there they're gone. All I do is make a couple of phone calls. They're gone. So it's because I was able to keep my original pricing on them. So you know with that being said you know and there are no more inside and ocean view available at all.They are very limited on balconies at this point, so you'd have to go into a junior suite. And, so my price when I call and it's filled at $975 for about eight or $850 for an inside cabin people are like, "Oh of course I want to go."
Steph: [00:25:37] Yeah. If they compare it online, "How is she getting this? It's a miracle."
Valerie: [00:25:44] Oh it really is unbelievable. We ended up with over twelve tour conductors on this one.
Steph: [00:25:51] Wow. So you. So when you re-booking someone even though the prices are so much higher now for a balcony you don't mark it up. What's your strategy behind that.
Valerie: [00:26:05] Well I know that this particular sailing people are you cannot see and experience this whole ship in three nights. You can't do it. It's not possible. Even on a seven night cruise on a mega ship, you really need another seven days to fully experience the ship. So I know that of those 196 when we get on that ship that they're going to say that same thing and they will be in the next cruise, they'll they'll be in that office a few of them booking a seven night cruise for the future.
So that's my strategy. Get them on the ship at a phenomenal price. OK. And then they'll see what maybe I can do for them in the future—and you know keep my eye out for them ahead of time—and I you know, and I'm also training my clients to book a year year and a half out because those truly are the best prices that you'll ever see in the cruise industry is a year year and a half out. Once it's six months and the prices have already gone up and people don't realize what they were before. So it's getting your clients to know that about you that when you put something out there like you know we just had one come out the other day and it's you know the Mardi Gras and it's like, "Hey you know here's the ship. We got pricing we can book now. And by the way I have eight groups. Do you want to see my pricing on any of them." So you know people get used to that from you. So my clients will want to sail on this. A Lot of my clients go out of Port Canaveral. That's their preferred port. And this gives them a little bit of a taste so they want to go back and fully experience the rest of the shows and the ship.
Steph: [00:27:47] And just to let everyone know salaries Valerie's agency is out of Jacksonville. So Port Canaveral is is that the closest port to you.
Valerie: [00:27:58] Well it's, well, it's the closest port that has a variety of cruise lines. So back then they'll just have one ship and it's a very small older Carnival ship. So most of my clients, to get a variety, they will go out of Port Canaveral which is only two and a half hours away.
Steph: [00:28:17] Well. So. I'd like you to share the story. It, it again cracked me up when you were telling me about how you were training your clients to book a year to a year and a half in advance and how you were tracking the prices to show them.
Valerie: [00:28:34] Well you know a lot of us have these last minute people who think we're going to get a great deal. And I I really wanted to show them that you know that's just not the case anymore. So you're going to, you know what you give up on availability, you really don't gain in pricing.
So what I did is I started a few years ago, I started tracking it. And specifically for those clients that booked last minute with me—and my clients are very loyal to me and they book with me year after year after year and probably four times during the year if they're cruising. So what I did was I just I made a chart and I live in Excel. Anyway I love Excel spreadsheets. So I just put it together in Excel and I just started tracking like a couple of cruise lines and the pricing when they first hit, and then what happened at the—let's say when they first came out a year and a half ago and then what happened at the year mark and then what happened at the six month mark and then the two month mark and then right before sailing so they could see the increases along the way. And when I actually put that in front of them in black and white, they're like, "oh my gosh I am I'm paying a lot more aren't I?"
Steph: [00:29:48] Yep.
Valerie: [00:29:48] And it's like yes you are.
Steph: [00:29:52] Yeah. It's the teacher that shining through.
Valerie: [00:29:56] You know what really is.You know I can't get away from that. I mean I just you know whether I'm I'm helping my agents and teaching them these things or I'm helping my clients, you know discover the world and also save money at the same time. It's, it's Really a part of who I am.
Steph: [00:30:15] Well let's switch gears a little bit and move in to the practicalities. So do you mind if we chat a little bit on how you do your bookings? OK. So we won't ask for any trade secrets, but we already know that having the right itinerary is really important. And I think one of the other keys to success—and I guess this is more if an agent is doing an affinity group—but it's having the right group lead. And since they're the ones that that tie the group together, they can really make or break things. So what are the traits that you look for in group leaders to ensure that your groups are successful?
Valerie: [00:31:00] Well whether it be an organization you're working with or just an individual who wants to go on a cruise and you know you think that they can help bring other people on that cruise with them . . . You want to look for people who have a network of friends who they do things with. And also they're the ones that their friends look up to as far as setting the tone of what they're going to do. So this is the person who would say, "Hey this weekend we're going to X Y Z. We're going to go to Daytona. You know and let's listen to this band." And so they are already in that role. And people follow them. And so when they are going to go on a cruise, you know incentivize them a little bit with that tour conductor or something of that nature, split a an agreement together. That's just states in writing—and both of you sign it—that "if you bring this many people to me and we get this many cabins and they do not cancel before final payment that this is what I can do for you." So that way they're incentivized to do a little bit more. I, you know, I find people who—if it's a promotional sailing that I put together that if I have that right person, I will get my eight cabins and more on on a cruise. And if it's a land trip like let's say in Mexico we have Unico, and they have spa packages that are included and you just pay 20% so of what that rack rate would be for that package. So you know a girls getaway and everyone's into yoga and you go, and or a spa retreat, and you go to this particular all inclusive. People follow that one person and so you know you're going to be successful right there because you have that person there. If you find out that that is not the right person. Well you have that agreement in place. So if they did not hold up their end of the bargain and bring you X number of cabins or X number of people for you know a land trip then you don't incentivize them because that's all spelled out in your agreement.
Steph: [00:33:19] And letting them know that it needs to be done by a certain date. Otherwise they really may change the ability for people to be next to the group the main group in the resort might change
Valerie: [00:33:34] Right. So You're going to have, you know if everyone wants to be around each other whether it's at the resort you want to be in a certain section,, everyone wants swim up so you can be right next to each other or everyone wants that beach view. You know that's important because there's only so many of those.
And if you have contracted group space then you know you only have so many at that price and you have a certain deadline where you have to give back that space, otherwise you're going to be buying it yourself. So and on a cruise the same thing, you're going to have a certain cabin type that are on certain decks in certain locations and those prices and that inventory is only good for so long.
So then you you have to give it up and that's very important to put in that agreement that you know based on availability pricing can change at any time until these deposits are placed.
Steph: [00:34:29] Well well why we're on the topic of contracts let's chat on the things that agents should be looking for in their group contracts. You said when we spoke that you look for— When you're looking at the contract you're looking for what's going to tie your hands and what's going to hurt your agency.
So what are you, what specific things are you looking for when one comes across your desk?
Valerie: [00:34:55] Well if we're if we're talking land groups or tour operators, then what I'm looking at is how much money—if it's contracted space—how much money do we have to put down per room or per person? What is the attrition percentage? So how many people—after deposits are placed—how many people can cancel? And I go and then we're not responsible for that space any longer. It's you know it could be 10% it could be 20%t it depends on the resort and the tour operator. And then to what are those charges? And are those are those penalties, are they within line? Or are there other group resorts that don't require that. Or is it negotiable? So what I mean by negotiable, is you have to look at the time of year as well, if it's in the down time—typically the summer and fall—is the down time in the islands, And so that might be a time when you can negotiate some of these things. Whereas, if you're looking at the winter months, that's high time in the islands. So there is going to be very little room there because they're going to sell out with or without your group.
And so those are some of the things that can hurt your agency. So, I also look and see what can help us. And let's talk about this Ireland group for a moment. We looked at three different tour operators. One of them wanted a deposit per person for that group for us to hold that price in that space. And then there were all sorts of penalties. Well, we went to three different tour operators and looked at the contracts and then the one we ended up going with did not require any money down. We had a certain amount of time to sell our space. And then if space was still available we could add on in increments of eight or 16. After that point. So we started with 16 and we added on to to get to a higher number and they completely sold out and were coming to us because we had two spots left that we were about to sell and they were coming to us seeing if we would release it because they started a waiting list already and we said, "no we're getting names and money tonight!" So, so that, they really help agencies and they want agencies to, you know, have as much time as possible with very little money invested to go ahead and and get on one of your guaranteed tours. So that's what you have to look at.
Steph: [00:37:35] Yeah. So so making sure to look at what happens if you want more space and if you do want more space. is it at current rates you have or is it a higher rate? Yes. Those are all great things.
Valerie: [00:37:50] And one other thing too is if the rates lower on the property . . . so you have your group rate—if this is a contracted space—So you have your group rate let's say for an all inclusive. And let's say you're able to keep them for three months. Well what happens if you find out during that time period that the rates have lowered? You have to find out from that resort and tour operator if you're able to change those rates. Oftentimes a tour operator will say you can do it one time and that's it.
OK. But some of them will tell you no absolutely not. Some resorts themselves will say no you can't change your rates even though they're higher. Sorry.
Steph: [00:38:36] So do you look for that in the contract to have that in writing that you can.
Valerie: [00:38:40] I do.
Steph: [00:38:41] OK.
Valerie: [00:38:42] I do, yeah.
Steph: [00:38:43] And when you spoke about negotiating contracts, what are some examples of things, when it's the proper season, that you ask for and things that you negotiate.
Valerie: [00:38:59] Well I've negotiated the amount of dollars per room. I've negotiated that down and then I've negotiated an extra 30 minutes for the deejay to play. I've negotiated a, a an entertainment venue be added for the group. And again it depends how big your group is too. Because the bigger your group, the more room you have to negotiate. If you just have a small little group then that doesn't really help them that much. But if you're helping build their resort and you have a good number then again you have more room to negotiate.
Steph: [00:39:40] Are you able to negotiate things like amenities? The amount of money you need down to hold a certain number of rooms? Or types of room types that are included?
Valerie: [00:39:53] And low season yes, and high season no. So not likely.
Steph: [00:39:58] Yeah. So when we're looking at—because you book both land and sea groups, however what's the difference between the two? Are There any big differences.
Valerie: [00:40:14] There are actually there. You know it was your land groups because air is typically involved if you're going to one of the islands. So now you have to factor in air and are you going to get—you have to decide, are you going to go after group air? Or are you going to do individual air? So that sometimes is a part of the contract to some—sometimes when you get contracted space for land you factor in group air and then you have to be leaving out of the same gateway. And there's there's all types of requirements that you have to meet.
So, when you do your cruise line you know there are differences within the cruise lines themselves. Some what you hold space for 60 days for a group. Some what you hold it up to 120 days before you sail. So if you pull it back a year and a half, you have a long time that you can keep that space before it's reviewed. And you know if you go over a certain number with cruises like if you go over 16 cabins, then typically you put money down on its deposit group. If you just hold 16 cabins then you don't have to put money down. The one exception is Carnival, and they will tell you your max of what you can hold on that group. Sometimes it's 50 sometimes it's 32 sometimes it's 8. It depends how well it's already selling, and they will take it back after 60 days. If you don't if you don't sell into your group at 60 days and secure that space, then they'll take the group back or they'll take the rooms back. So a lot of differences, and so I would say you know don't learn everything all at once. Concentrate on one segment or one vendor or one tour operator first. Learn that. Learn the ins and outs with that entity, okay with that vendor, and then go on to another vendor. But it's hard to go out there and just your head will spin if you try to learn them all at one time. So add them to your business your group business one by one after you experience it and after you know you know a little bit more about how they work.
Steph: [00:42:28] And speaking of educating yourself, what types of resources are available for agents that are looking to learn more about the world of groups.
Valerie: [00:42:42] Every single cruise line, and every single for operator, and most of your resorts—your larger ones—have a group department and they do webinars, and they do trainings. And we all have business development managers who oftentimes they're in our markets or close to a market where we are and they do all this training.
CLIA, the Cruise Line Industry Association, they have a wonderful training on groups and how to get groups and, you know, how to—how to grow your group business. Sandals: They have a webinar coming up on February 12th about growing your groups.
So, it's out there. You just have to make sure that whatever you want to sell, that you you let your BDM know what you want to learn. And then they will help connect you know to the right trainings.
Steph: [00:43:38] Yes.
Valerie: [00:43:38] And also a resource as well are your travel forms. You know that the travel form SMG group, they have a family forum that just happened in January at Moon Palace in Jamaica. I was there, I had four classes that I taught on groups. They have one coming up in Vegas. They have the romance travel forum, and then the international forum in Mexico in October. So look at all of these conferences as well, and you don't have to go to all of them, but maybe choose one a year to go to. And, you know, they might have not only sessions on groups, but they may have other sessions that pique your interest as well.
Steph: [00:44:20] Yes exactly. And going to the events so CLIA Cruise 360—that's their event that CLIA puts on—that's a great place for people that kind of want to do everything in one shot because it has all of their training on groups and other things with cruises and then they have a bunch of ships that are in port so you can do ship inspections on multiple cruise ships, which is really nice instead of having to just do one at a time and spend all this money and time. We have a link that I'll put in the show and show notes to the clip. Cruise 360 and that will be on our events calendar. So if you're not familiar with HAR events calendar, it's at HostAgencyReviews.Com/Events. And then you can go in there and you can see webinars, there'll be ship inspections, there's FAM trips, there's trade shows. And one more type of training Valerie I want to bring up is next year you'll be launching some type of training for booking groups. Correct?
Valerie: [00:45:32] Well yes. On next year and 2020 I am launching some boot camps, and it's going to include groups—Group Training. It's also going to include a host of other things for agents who are growing their business with independent contractors. I'm doing a session on that. I have a great process, and I think you know I, I'd like to share that with others who might be struggling or wanting to grow and they don't know how. So we're going to be putting that together and information will be forthcoming on that. Absolutely.
Steph: [00:46:07] Great. We'll put a link in the show notes to that training if anyone's interested. So. Well there's so much to cover and so little time so. Let's move into the next section because I want to make sure we have enough time to cover marketing and communications. So Valerie what's the most effective way you found to market your groups.
Valerie: [00:46:31] I use a variety of methods. So I do network quite a bit. So I'm in the community. I go out into the community and I put it in everybody's hands. I make flyers. So I don't necessarily have the pricing on my flyer. I try to entice them with where they're going, with you know what they're going to . . . some of the activities that we're going to have the destination things of that nature if it's a cruise ship maybe I've picked a particular one because of the ship itself. So I'll highlight some of those things. And if it's an all inclusive or Europe then I'll you know entice them with you know some of the activities that we're going to do while we're there.
And then I will also I . . . I will do a Facebook group and just for that event and I will invite everybody who's following me to you know to look at that page and see if this is something they're interested in. And I keep a lot of referrals. I've built my whole business based on referrals. So usually if one of my followers or clients sees it and they're not interested, they send it to their friends. And I ask them to do that as well. You know that that's very much appreciated if they do that. And then also I'm, you know, I give I give talks in the community as well. I do things at the library. So I might have a night where I just highlight that particular getaway, that function. If it's Italy I might have it at an Italian restaurant, and I will you know I use different sources of advertising and to get the word out. So, you know that helps me as well and I get people there who may have an interest and and you know and then we talk about—and I might have the vendor there with me or we might have a big TV there where the vendor is you know broadcasting live from where they are.
So I, I try to get them to feel like they're where we are going in the destination so they can feel it at that moment. But I also do a lot of webinars. So, and again I involve my vendor my BDM my business development manager in that. And I tell my clients, "You know sit back in your home put your feet up get a glass of wine or a glass of iced tea and relax. Let me take you away, you know for 45 minutes," and so you know with that comes quite a bit of follow up. So when somebody registers for something that you've put together, whether it's in person or a webinar, you've got to confirm with them the night before, then you have to confirm with them the morning of because life happens.
Maybe their son Johnny comes home with a big project, and then they totally forget about the event that night, whether it be a webinar or a meet an in-person presentation. And then the day after—24 hours after, no later—follow up with them see what they thought. Because that's when you're going to get the most amount of bookings. Right after while they're still thinking about it. If you wait too long it's history in their mind, and their memories, it's history.
Steph: [00:49:43] Mm Hmmm, and you—Go ahead.
Valerie: [00:49:47] No. That's 24 hours after that, it's just so important to follow up. And I find a lot of agents they're scared to use the phone anymore. And it may be because rejection, and may be because they feel pushy. But when somebody has registered to be a part of something. To me, that shows interest.
And I would feel very appreciative if I had stuff happen and then I got a call for something I registered for and it's like, "Oh okay now remember tonight you know you you wanted to hear this." And it's like, "Oh my gosh I almost forgot. Thanks for calling me."
And that's usually the response that I get. It's not us being pushy. It's only us being pushy if they didn't sign up and you're trying to twist their arm at the last minute.
Steph: [00:50:39] Well so going along this kind of marketing idea, a lot of agents use their GAP points in their tour conductors to add more value to the group and to help market it. What's your favorite way to use GAP points in TCC. Do you use them to build in little surprises for your group? Or what do you—how do you use those?
Valerie: [00:51:05] I love to build in surprises. So you know I don't think people really—If you give them onboard credit or credit at a resort, sometimes that onboard credit on a cruise is eaten up by the gratuities if they didn't prepay them. And sometimes they don't even realize you put money on their account. So because oftentimes that note won't be sent to the cabin or so then you have to tell them. Oh look for this amount on your onboard credit. So what I'd like to do is give them something that they can see and touch and feel. So maybe it's champagne and chocolate. Maybe it's decorating their room if it's a special occasion. And then they take a picture of it. You know I've had that happen, so often, where they took a picture of it and before they sailed away they already sent it to me via a Facebook message or by text. "Oh Valerie thank you so much." This is so memor—this makes it so much more memorable. Maybe partway through the cruise you, you know, send them a photo credit because you can actually say what day it's going to be delivered to the room. So build in little things along the way, and that makes them remember you.
Steph: [00:52:19] Yeah. Well—
Valerie: [00:52:22] So I, yeah, I really prefer that it not be onboard credit.
Steph: [00:52:26] Yeah. One of the challenges in looking groups is staying organized and communicating with a group. So how do you stay organized? What's your method for communicating with your groups?
Valerie: [00:52:44] Well I—I will send out e-mails, and I also have that Facebook groups. But so not everybody in the group will have Facebook. I have some seniors that don't even have e-mail.
So, you know with them I do things a little bit differently . . . There's only a handful of them. But you know that's a phone call. They like that phone call. They like to talk on the phone and see you in person. But what I do for the others is I, I do put things typically every other month through every every quarter if it's really far out about the ship or destination, or if it's on land, an all inclusive, or Europe then I put something about that location and the resort on the page. People are visual so I always do . . . I have a lot of pictures that I post, but I'm also talking as it gets closer, and about shore excursions, and about land excursions. You know in a destination if you're going via land. And that keeps their mind, you know, thinking about it and keep—and it keeps them engaged as well. So as far as how do I keep everything organized, I live and Excel spreadsheets. I really do. And I put everything on that from the first booking through the last one. So this has all my dates, it has all my payments, it has everything. And it's one glance because I keep it on one sheet for every single group. So all I have to do is open up their tab, and then I see everything at a glance.
Steph: [00:54:20] And you, but you in addition so does the idea with the spreadsheet is everything's at a glance right there. But you also use a CRM in it with kind of different bills. What do you use that for?
Valerie: [00:54:35] Well the CRM and when I put a contact into my CRM I have—if they are going to be a part of the group, I have of course that group in there too and I pull them in so I can see their part of the group—but I also have different lists that I create within a CRM system. And so let's say I have somebody in Florida and they have small children.
Well they might want to know about Florida resident rates at Disney when they hit for the cruise line and the parks. Or maybe that person happens to be military. They might know want to know about some military rates with cruise lines or with, you know, other—other things that might come out that you know might be a benefit to them in that regard. So. And then I also put like different to our destinations. Like some might be interested in Europe. Some might be interested and all inclusive. So I put that there as well. And I have—any contact can belong to as many lists as you create.
So that way, when I want to put something out there—I'm doing the group to 2021 to Africa. So I've already had about 15 people say they're interested. And so, what I'm doing is as I get more information is, I'm— just on the list—I'm putting my newsletter together and just sending it out to that list. And I don't I don't have to do anything more. Because I already have a group of people who are interested and. Anybody else who may be interested in you know attached to my Africa list.
Steph: [00:56:09] Yes. Using it to target your marketing.
Valerie: [00:56:13] Definitely. Definitely. So these are—and these are not only clients but these can be prospects as well. So my prospects, I kind of keep a little bit separate, you know so under lists I have my contacts who are clients. Under lists, I have my prospects as well. So I keep them separate.
Steph: [00:56:32] And I'll put a link. So Valerie uses L.A. CRM which isn't really a normal travel industry one but it—what does the L.A. stand for again?
Valerie: [00:56:49] "Less Annoying"
Steph: [00:56:49] Less annoying. I don't know how I forgot that I knew it was something funny. So the less annoying CRM is a lot more customizable and you can take a look if you're interested and check it out. The show notes, so—Well I swear every time I do an interview time just flies by. But. All good things must come to an end. And. Really before you end anything, it should always go out with the warm fuzzy. So, the last segment's goal goal is really simple we want you to walk away with, not only being full of new ideas for your business, but also thinking of how you can make a positive difference in the lives of those around you. So Valerie, would you mind giving us the honor of sharing a warm fuzzy? Something that you or someone else has done to make your day a little brighter?
Valerie: [00:57:40] Well you know I have to say this is going to be about one of my clients, and I always try to make things very memorable for clients. And if I can get the vendor involved at all, that's just an added plus. I have one family, and her father, my client's father, is oftentimes her parents cruise with her and he's in his 90s now.
They, last year just took their last cruise. And just you know he didn't mention. He's getting up in age, and whatnot, and he is a retired colonel in the services and very very proud of that. And when they sail, they have these get-togethers for the military and whatnot. Well I let my BDM know, rrom the cruise line, that this person was sailing and it was going to be their last cruise, and anything that we could do would be appreciated. Well she contacted the ship, and they they honored him by bringing him up front and center in front of everybody and talking about his service and his years in service. And that touched his heart so much. Um right now I'm tearing up. It was so touching. You know when, when she sent me the pictures and told me about this. It really for the r—however many years he has left on this earth he'll remember that day.
Steph: [00:59:18] Yeah. That's so beautiful. Well thank you for sharing.
Valerie:[00:59:23] Yes absolutely. It meant a lot to the family as a whole.
Steph: [00:59:27] Yeah if we can because in the transcript we usually have some pictures. If there's any pictures that we are willing to share I'd love to . . . to get out there so people can see.
Valerie: [00:59:39] OK. OK. I'll send that to you
Steph: [00:59:42] Perfect. Well well that's a wrap everybody. And if you've made it this far into the show, I'm going to make the assumption that you've liked it thus far, and since you've liked it. If you want to jump on over to HostAgencyReviews.Com/TAC and click on Episode 9, You can go ahead and leave us a review.
Otherwise, if you're more of a listener and less of a talker, let's make sure you're set to listen to the next volume when it comes out so you can go to HostAgencyReviews.Com/TAC and press the "subscribe" button. Valerie thanks so much for coming on the show.
Valerie: [01:00:24] Thank you so much for having me. I thoroughly enjoy helping other agents become more successful, and I think this was an excellent way for agents to grow their business.
Steph: [01:00:35] I agree. So thank you, and everyone thanks for listening. Until next time may all your days be sparkly, and, well, I guess full of 197-passenger groups.
Valerie: [01:00:48] Thank you Steph.
Steph: [01:00:53] To read a transcript of Travel Agent Chatter and to view our show notes you can visit HostAgencyReviews.Com/TAC.
Wait? What? You like this show but need more than just a call to action to subscribe and leave a review? OK. You're a hard bargainer. I see where you're going and I'm going to have to woo you. So here's my love poem to you:.
Who doth listen to our episode on groups?
Over and over again. Loop after loop.
A person we can't quite see,
due to internet connectivity.
More writing? No.
I shall forego it.
Because as you can tell,
I ain't no poet
Huh. Writing poems is much harder than I anticipated.
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