In recent years, the Mooresville, N.C.-based host agency Gifted Travel Network (GTN) has preached a group sales strategy of using a pied piper: Find a group leader, and the group will follow.
But in the time of Covid-19, GTN has backed away from that in favor of a different approach, what co-founder and chief sales officer Vanessa McGovern has dubbed the “come with me strategy.”
It’s not new in the industry, but it is for GTN.
“It is counterintuitive to how we’ve been teaching group strategies for the last couple of years at GTN,” McGovern said. “We’ve been very emphatic about an easy way and a hard way of the group strategy, with the easy, previous to Covid, being find a group leader. Find a pied piper, craft a trip around their interests and have them promote it.”
In fact, McGovern recalls saying to GTN’s independent contractors on many occasions, “You are not the group leader. You are the travel advisor.
“But in today’s climate, we’ve found everything is changing.”
Emer Coughlin, who owns Celtic Hearts Travel in Atlanta, Ga., with her business partner Dervila Stivers, kicked off the trend this spring with a virtual AmaWaterways event.
After seeing Coughlin’s success in garnering bookings for a future sailing, McGovern said, GTN came to the realization.
“Travelers are more inclined to travel, or commit to a trip, knowing that their travel advisor is going with them,” she said. “So now, GTN is leaning in to this concept.”
GTN continues to promote a pied piper strategy for group sales, but it is also encouraging advisors to start putting together trips led by themselves for 2021 and 2022.
She encouraged advisors interested in using the “come with me strategy” to pick a supplier partner to align with and a trip they, themselves, are interested in experiencing. “Enthusiasm is contagious,” she noted.
Then, start promoting the trip via social media and email newsletters. Also, remember the power of virtual events.
Coughlin’s success led another advisor, Carol McKee, owner of McKee Travel in Charlotte, to plan a trip led by herself, and she quickly started bringing in bookings.
“We admire each other, and as advisors, once one person does something successfully, we all go, ‘Oh, maybe I should try that,’” McKee said.
McGovern added, “And then we’re building the plane as we fly it in the true entrepreneurial spirit.”
In an upcoming column, I’ll feature the stories of three advisors -- Coughlin, McKee and Wendy Chambers, owner of Victory Travel in Westport, Conn. -- and how they successfully put together advisor-led group trips during the pandemic. Hopefully, they will inspire even more bookings.