They may all arrive by motor coach, but there are many different types of group tours, and different ways to pursue them. Trying to be all things to all customers takes too much work and effort- and doesn’t often translate into increased sales. Take some time to figure out what type of group tour is best for your business, target them and take action to improve their experience. That will lead to success.
Let’s look at the common types of group tours:
1. Domestic group tours
This is the traditional type of tour that has been popular for decades. The tour operator is based in the U.S. or Canada and sells tour packages. The typical guest on this bus is a retiree or someone in their 50’s-60’s who is still working. Senior tours enjoy traditional sightseeing, trying local foods and having good overnight lodging. For the majority, extensive walking, extreme outdoor adventure or late night activities aren’t as popular. Tips: Do you have places for guests to sit and ample bathrooms? Try to have the spot where the bus drops off the guests as close to your entrance as possible.
2. Student tours
This is a growing market and operators like to consider attractions where they can have an educational component. There are tour operators that specialize in student tours. Student tours have a lot of energetic, excited customers so it is best to have a written set of rules sent to the teachers or leaders ahead of time. Are there safety issues at your attraction? Make sure all students are aware and follow the rules. Do you have a policy on admission prices for parents and staff that will be attending with the students? Some attractions make parents pay full price, some offer free admission, and some have a discount. Just be clear on what your policy is. Tip: If you are interested in pursuing this market, check out SYTA and their free resources. Also check out my interview with Julie Kozikowski, who works with a lot of student groups.
3. School groups and homeschoolers
This group is a bit different than the student tours mentioned above, mostly because they are local as opposed to traveling students. While many of the characteristics are the same- safety, behavior guidelines, adult admission policy, there are some other opportunities to consider. These students have relatives who might consider coming back for a visit. And as we all know, it can be harder to get local customers to visit than it is to get someone from the other side of the state, or globe! Consider working with school districts and home school groups to set up specific programs that match educational guidelines. Tip: Create an admission discount handout that the kids can take home that would incentivize another visit by the family.
4. International tours
The U.S.A is a very popular destination for travelers from all over the world. There are U.S based companies that specialize in working with international tour companies and selling tours in the U.S. The U.S based companies are often called receptive operators, and they can concentrate on one country, but it is more likely that they have several countries they work with. Some of the top countries for bus groups in the U.S. are the United Kingdom, Germany, China, and India. Welcoming visitors from other countries takes strategy, money and patience.
One of the reasons to consider these markets is because international visitors tend to spend more than domestic visitors. Different markets are looking for different activities on vacation. To be most effective with international groups. partner with your DMO ( Destination Marketing Organization) and work together on targeted markets. Tip: U.S. Travel’s IPW is the biggest and best show for targeting international tour operators, but it can be expensive and overwhelming for those just starting in this market. Smaller shows, like the RTO Summits, have educational sessions the first day, and meetings with tour operators the following day
5. MICE groups
MICE stands for Meetings and Incentive groups. These are usually corporate groups who are either on a sales type meeting, or a reward trip. These tours can have fairly big budgets, and they are often looking for unique activities. MICE groups have high expectations and can be demanding. If you can provide a quality experience with excellent customer service and a consistently unique product, then this is a good market for your attraction. Tip: Host some meeting planners and administrative assistants at your attraction to have them experience what you have to offer. Ask for comments and ideas for improvements. They can be your best advocates for success!
6. Church and social groups
These affinity groups can book directly with you, or go through a tour operator. Many group leaders represent these types of groups. As I mentioned in a previous post, it is best to use a tiered pricing strategy when working with these groups. Social groups can be difficult to target but typically live in your region. If you advertise, group leaders can see that and follow up with you. They tend to be senior groups and need some flexibility with cancellation or getting final numbers to you. Tip: These groups can come in your slower season since most of them are somewhat local.
When you are deciding to increase your group tour business, it is smart to spend some time thinking which types of tour groups you should target. They are all good business, but each has different needs and there are different ways to find new business.
Guest post by Sally Berry: Sally has held many positions in the tourism industry including sales manager at attractions, sales director at a regional DMO, a stint as a receptive operator and now the Tourism Sales and Marketing Manager at the Corning Museum of Glass. The Attractions Coach blog came about after peers kept asking for advice and consulting jobs. Writing is a passion of mine and I enjoy helping tourism pros become more successful. Learn more here.
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