2012CWFortLauderdaleFORT LAUDERDALE — Presenters gave agents tips on how to make and successfully execute large-group cruise bookings during an education session at at Travel Weekly’s CruiseWorld and Home Based Agent Show.

“When you start getting larger groups, it’s going to require upfront deposits,” said Roberta Schwartz of Imagine Your Vacations in Plantation, Fla.

She noted that because of cruise lines' requirement for upfront payments, the groups business can be “risky.” But she added, “I’m a firm believer in OPM — other people’s money.”

During a panel moderated by Travel Weekly editors Kate Rice and Thomas Stieghorst, the presenters gave advice on how agents can minimize their risk. Schwartz recommended creating an up-charge of up to $100 per booking, which could be charged as a separate fee, such as a special-events fee.

But agents were concerned about the cruise lines’ policies on advertising a price above their quoted rate. That is an easy loophole to overcome, said "Captain Lou" Edwards of Little Shop of Cruises & Tours in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Agents can get an over-gross permission form, which the cruise lines usually approve for up to $100 per person, according to Edwards.

Lou EdwardsRich Ferrucci, founder of Unforgettable Vacations in Newfield, N.J., added that if agents have their own merchant account, they can use that account to add in any service fees or special-events fees for group bookings.

The discussion then turned to the risk surrounding the group leader, which is more of a gray area. If a group is built around a leader whose presence is important for the group, then what happens if that leader cannot go?

Edwards said that he makes sure group leaders know that their trip is nonrefundable and cannot be canceled.

Of course, if there is a medical or personal emergency, agents have to improvise and may have to take the group leader’s place, and hope the group will be understanding.

The most important thing when getting into the groups business, said Edwards, is “strategy and scalability.”

He said that if agents automate the majority of their groups business, for instance by allowing attendees to book online, they will be able to “make cruise bookings while you sleep.”

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.

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