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A Hotel How-To for Group Business

If you work at a hotel, you probably known that booking a tour group can be a big score for your property. After all, 20 or 30 rooms can make the difference between a slow night and a high-occupancy, high-profit one. But do you know how to maximize your appeal to the group travel market?

After tour group passengers get to your hotel, they’ll have an experience that is largely like that of an individual, family or business traveler. But that doesn’t mean you can treat group leaders and tour operators the same way you would leisure travelers, wedding blocks or convention groups. Tourism groups have special needs both before and during their stays, and taking care to meet those needs will make you more likely to win continued business in the group market.

As you work on your policies, service strategies and marketing plans for booking tour groups into your hotel, keep these four distinctive requirements in mind.

1. Groups need reasonable contract terms.

If you or your management at the hotel come from a corporate travel or convention sales background, you may be accustomed to group contracts that clearly spell out strict payment terms, attrition clauses and/or cancellation penalties. And although having these terms can work well when booking a convention group taking 100 or more rooms, they can be off-putting for all but the biggest tour operators and downright impossible for smaller operators and independent group leaders. Because the tour business is unpredictable and people might sign up for or cancel their tour shortly before departure, groups need the flexibility to add or cancel rooms without penalty and to pay for their stays once they have been completed.

2. Groups need comps.

A tour group might consist of several dozen people who are traveling on a fun vacation, but you can count on there being a couple of people in the group who are working — the escort and the bus driver. Those people need to stay overnight somewhere, and the best practice in the tourism industry is for them to stay at the same hotel that the rest of the group uses. If you want to compete for group business, you’re going to have to offer comps for drivers and escorts, especially if you’re getting a significant number of paid room-nights from the group. Tours often operate on thin margins, and trip planners need to save money wherever they can. If you don’t offer escort and driver comps, they will take their business to someone who does.

3. Groups need time-saving amenities.

In addition to their budgetary restraints, tour groups are also often short on time, which means they need to maximize their time at your hotel. You can help them do this by offering some services and amenities that make their arrival and departure speedier. Have the rooms keyed in advance so travelers don’t have to stand in line, and arrange for baggage handlers to take luggage from the motorcoach to hotel rooms so people don’t have to wait for their bags at the bottom of the bus. Having breakfast at the hotel helps groups save time, too, so if your property doesn’t have a free continental breakfast, consider offering breakfast vouchers for travelers to use in your restaurant.

4. Groups need responsive service.

It should go without saying, but if you want to book group business, you need to be responsive and helpful when group leaders and tour operators reach out to you for information. One of the leading complaints of travel planners is that some vendors don’t promptly return calls or emails. Offering great presale service will go a long way toward helping you get group business.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.