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R.O.A.R.: If the economy is so bad, then why is my group travel business so good?

Carl Meadows  Nov 18, 2008

There’s no MAGIC in how I handle my business… it’s the ability to improvise, adapt and overcome!

Thinking Outside of the Box
The US Marine Corps have an unofficial mantra; Improvise, Adapt and Overcome. I was never a Marine, but I have “socialized,” if you can call it that, with many a “Devil Dog.” The lesson I learned early on from these brave soldiers was that in troubled times, there was always a way to overcome the situation and, if you adapt correctly, you can actually turn it around to your benefit. Since I’ve been in a few of these “situations” during my life, I managed to implement the Marine mantra and what do you know…it worked! If you happen to be in the travel business, as I suspect you are since you’re reading this article, this would be a good mantra for you to adopt also.

Here are a few improvisations and adaptations that I have used to help me keep my group business “alive and well” over the years…

The Great Escape…One Week at a Time
If you think about it, most Americans take their vacations in one-week increments. Why? Because most Americans only get a precious few weeks vacation per year from their employers, unlike our foreign brethren. On average, European employees automatically get four weeks of vacation!

America is the land of the free, home of the brave and the country with the fewest vacation days! Here are some eye-opening statistics for you on how many vacation days the rest of the world enjoys:
· The country with the most vacation days is Denmark with 31…31 days!
· Austria and Finland at 30 days

· France and Norway at 25 days
· Germany at 24 days
· Belgium, Ireland, the United Kingdom, The Netherlands and Switzerland each at 20 days

Non-European countries surveyed include:
· Brazil at 22 days
· Australia at 20 days, Colombia and New Zealand each at 15 days
· And “Tah-dah”…the USA, Canada and Japan are at the bottom with 10 days
(Source: Associates)

This only goes to prove that because Americans only get a precious few days of time off, a majority are going to allocate their vacations in one-week increments. If this is the case, and I believe it is, then start marketing your leisure group travel and incentive travel programs in one week packages. I call them my “Six in the City” programs.

I believe that simple, uncomplicated one week programs to exciting destinations are what most Americans are looking for…so let’s give it to them!

Pre and Post Tours = $$$$
Six in the City…Plus 3 Days! - Ninety percent of my group travel business is sold using my “one week” vacation theory. I make additional money by usually tagging on a pre or post tour package to my one-week programs. Here is an example of my Nice & Monte Carlo program with a Paris post tour: Start off in either Nice or Monte Carlo with a six night program departing on a Thursday and arriving on a Friday. This pattern has you arriving on a Friday and departing the next Thursday. This does two things for you--it gives your group a Friday and Saturday night in these exciting destinations and because you will be departing the next Thursday; and it opens up an opportunity for your participants to round out the week in Paris with a three day post tour (Thursday, Friday and Saturday, departing for home on Sunday).

Most people only “think” they can be gone for just one week. You would be surprised at how many people can, all of a sudden, manage to find an extra three days if an opportunity opens up for them to extend their vacation, especially if it’s Paris!

So to summarize, Thursday departure from home city to Nice (via Paris), Friday arrival in Nice, six nights in Nice or Monte Carlo, Thursday departure from Nice to Paris (your participants are scheduled to go through Paris anyway), attractive three-night post Paris program, depart for home city on Sunday.

I will usually get at least fifty to sixty percent of my group to take advantage of the pre or post tours and I am sure you will also. The Friday arrival, Thursday departure pattern works like a charm! Give it a try and add some more money to your bottom-line.

Give Me Freedom or… Free at last, free at last!
Another reason I believe my group business has held strong during tough times is that I structure my programs with a substantial amount of free time for my participants. Free time for people to sightsee and explore on their own and to spend time doing what they want to do, when they want to do it, that’s what most of my groups are looking for.

Why does this work? Because a great many people nowadays, especially the active, retiring baby boomer generation does not necessarily want to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with a group, nor do they want to follow a tour guide holding up an umbrella for two weeks. What they want is simple; they want to be in one city for at least six nights which will give them ample time to really explore the city and the surrounding areas. They want a program with a few inclusions like some sightseeing, some meals and some social activities, but not an over-loaded program. They still want to be taken care of by a tour escort but they don’t want someone babysitting them.”

With the emergence of the Internet, travelers have become a lot more savvy on how to get information on the destination they are going to visit. When people travel now, they arrive with a note book in hand which is full of things they specifically want to see and do during their trip…restaurants, museums, art galleries, historical monuments, etc., it’s all in their book. They want to have a special travel experience, but one where they can control their own time and pursue their personal interests.

Also, depending on the destination, I include various passes for use on local transportation systems such as metros, trolleys or trains as well as passes to local attractions like museums, art galleries, historical sites and monuments, etc. This adds a nice “bonus” to the tour program and gives the people an opportunity to explore on their own.

Again, I believe that a leisurely program with lots of free time for the participants to enjoy the destination on their own and at their own pace is what a great many vacationers want and that’s what I give them.

Make it Easy on Yourself
London, Paris, Rome… - Using “tried and true” capitals of the world for a majority of my tour programs has worked well for me over the years. During the 1970’s it was the proven London, Paris, Rome programs that you could count on to fill a tour program as the destinations basically sold themselves because of their history and grandeur. London, Paris and Rome are still, and always will be strong contenders for groups, but today they have much more competition.

Major capitals that were once difficult to visit, such as the ones located in the old Eastern Bloc countries like Prague, Budapest, Bucharest, Split, Moscow and St. Petersburg, and even forbidden in some cases like Beijing, are now as accessible as any major Western capital.

My point is the capitals of the world are great venues for Six in the City type programs. By choosing a major world capital, half of your promotional marketing is done for you because the destinations sell themselves. Also, people interested in that particular capital will get on the internet and explore the city’s tourism bureau website to research things they want to see and do during the tour. Between your promotional marketing and the access to all of these beautiful, informational tourism bureau websites, you will have the tour participants lining up at your door!

Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Good times or bad times, people want to travel – Even in “bad times” most people are going to take at least one or two vacations. How far they travel and how much they spend is up to you. Much like my Six in the City three-day pre and post tour extensions, most people can be convinced to spend a little more time and money, if you give them a logical reason of why they should. People love to be sold and they are just waiting for you to give them a reason to justify their decision, so give them a reason and make some more money!

The US dollar is getting stronger (finally) against the euro and other foreign currencies, the price of gasoline is going down (Hallelujah) and our U.S. election for the President of the United States is over (Thank you Lord!). How can we not be happy!

I received an e-mail recently that pretty well summed up our economic situation over the past couple of years…

“Due to rising fuel and energy costs, the demand for more power and a downturn in the economy, the light at the end of the tunnel‟ has temporarily been turned off. We hope that this does not inconvenience you.”

The key word is “temporarily.” For me, the light seems to be getting brighter everyday…I hope that itis getting brighter for you too.

Carl Meadows is a veteran group travel specialist and marketing consultant, teaches a group travel organizer business course at Denver’s Colorado Free University, and writes articles for various travel industry magazines. Mr. Meadows is also the author of the online travel
business course titled Write Your Own Ticket! ( You may contact Mr. Meadows at

R.O.A.R.:  If the economy is so bad, then why is my group travel business so good?
Photograph by Nelson Alcantara

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