Connected through church, family, hobbies, or lifestyle, affinity groups are fast becoming a valuable niche market.
Nancy Scorby (Scorby Travel & Cruise, Illinois), Judy Duke (Judy Duke Travel, Georgia), Nancy Bender (Vacations, Tours, & Cruises, South Carolina), and Paul Parker (Searcy Travel, Arizona) share their expertise on attracting and working with these groups and offer insight into the affinity group market.
Multigenerational family travel is a major affinity group market subcategory. Scorby has planned trips to honor fiftieth anniversaries, in which the grandparents, children, and grandchildren have enjoyed cruises together, or even gone on safari! Scorby suggested feeding families into the same connecting airport (if they live in different cities), so they could arrive at their destination together. Scorby notes the importance of paying special attention when planning an itinerary for your multigenerational group. Which activities will hold the interest of young children and be appropriate for their grandparents’ mobility and exertion tolerance? Parker offered a tip for family cruises: Make reservations for spaces where the families could congregate. If this is family reunion trip or special event, the family may value having their own space for a few hours, where the whole group can connect.
“Church groups are wonderful,” said Scorby, who recently arranged an Italy trip for a group from a local Catholic church and has arranged river cruises for local churches. “Each group offers a return. Someone in the group always calls me to plan their next vacation.” She also noted that because church groups have their own leader (pastor, priest), they are easy to work with—and since they tend to take trips every two or three years, building a relationship with a church group could mean reliable return business. Scorby said that for many of her church group clients, these trips are their first experience working with a travel professional, and a good experience helps them to see the value in using a travel professional for other trips, as well.
Seniors are Duke’s primary affinity market group. “They have the time and resources.” Duke stays connected by sending brochures to her mailing list, and relies on the relationships she forges during her trips. She often escorts her groups and uses the opportunity to get to know her clients well, so she could offer them exactly what they want for their next travel adventure. “I’m taking to them all the time, about other groups they belong to, where they want to go next …” Her personal touch has helped to build her clientele. “They depend on me. They have fun, and they know I’m going to take care of them. It adds to the value of the trip. They say, ‘If Judy’s going, I’m going.’” When working with seniors, Duke advised being mindful of mobility expectations and making those expectations clear to clients. Boarding and leaving motorcoaches, taking stairs, and other exertions must be considered. Duke also noted, “Be prepared to ‘chaperone’ if there are health issues.” For her, this has meant staying with a client for a trip to the doctor while the rest of the group went on the day’s guided tour.
Special interests also provide a basis for affinity travel. Bender has planned “Wine, Women, and Wealth Management” cruises with local financial planners, where attendees enjoy a luxury weekend and manage an important part of their life goals. A cruise for Beatles fans, featuring a Beatles tribute band, is currently in the works.
Parker has arranged tournament cruises for bridge groups. Cruises that support a charity are also becoming popular. “Provide something that is ‘unshoppable’,” Bender advised. “Plan an experience that people can’t arrange on their own.” Parker said that working with the onboard events coordinator well in advance of the trip could help enhance the trip for clients. “Build a rapport, set up a pre-cruise meeting or conference call. Pre-planning is definitely key.” For a Curves® fitness group, Parker pre-arranged private gym time for the group. He has also arranged for boardrooms to be used for cocktail parties with DJs, for a radio station cruise, and for family space for reunion groups. “Cruise lines are accommodating. Just approach the group services department in advance.” Parker also noted that special events make a nice surprise for clients.
Tips for working with affinity groups
- Canvas your clients—keep working the group to get the information you need to make the best-educated choices for their trip.
- Use cruise amenity points to keep your group happy, instead of getting cash back. The extra perks provide added value for your group.
- Be diligent about researching costs. If you quote too low, you’re going to lose money.
- Give yourself an appropriate amount of lead time—at least a year out.
- Be sure to have “calls to action” or due dates, to know who is serious about being part of the trip.
- If you are not escorting the group, consider going to the airport to see them off.
- After the trip, host a follow-up meeting. Share photos, memories, and a meal or appetizers—and, most important, begin planning your next trip!
Written by Jennifer Reynolds, staff writer for Agent Life magazine.