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Have you ever heard the saying, "The amount of money you make is directly impacted by the number of people you serve"? That definitely holds true in the travel industry and is the reason group travel continues to be one of the industry's most sought-after segments. But where does one first learn the ins-and-outs of starting a group travel business?

1. It's all about the "business."
The first thing you need to know when starting a group travel business? It is all about the "business." Yes, group travel planning can be fun—particularly when you get the opportunity to travel with your groups to fun and exotic destinations. But to be successful and sustainable, you first have to establish your newfound interest as a business, not a hobby.

2. There are riches in niches.
To effectively and efficiently start your business, establish yourself as an expert. When you become an expert in a particular area of group travel, you will easily attract and build your tribe of faithful followers. Becoming a group travel expert begins by having a clearly defined niche and target market. You may choose to focus your business on planning group travel to music festivals, sporting events, cheerleading competitions, family reunions, wine festivals or any other interest you may have. The key is to choose one and become the go-to expert when it comes to group travel planning for that interest.

3. There is a science to creating tools to attract travelers.
Once you have established your niche and target market, set up your foundational business tools. This includes choosing the perfect name for your business, which will attract people who are specifically looking for your services. Once you have a business name, lock down a domain name for your website and social media real estate such as your business' Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. You will also need a website and business cards designed to drive business to your website. While these may sound like easy-to-accomplish tasks, following specific formulas for each of these tools will help to secure the success of your group travel business.

4. There is more than free travel at stake.
Yes, you can get paid as a group travel planner! Many new group travel planners don't know that qualifying for a travel agent ID number from one of many associations will help you to earn commissions paid by travel suppliers. But it is important to select the right ID number for your business needs. Liability insurance to protect you and your business is also needed.

5. Suppliers want to build special relationships with you.
When you create preferred partner relationships, you quickly become a high-volume travel agent in the eyes of your suppliers, especially in the group travel arena. When you are a high-volume travel agent with a particular supplier, the supplier will often go out of its way to do special things for you and your clients, such as provide a free wine reception for your groups or offer complementary rooms—and, best of all, invite you to exclusive training events at their resorts, either free or at highly discounted rates.

6. The process of booking group travel is different.
A benefit of group travel is you need not use complex Global Distribution Systems (GDS) to book travel for clients. However, travel booking takes a different approach when it comes to groups. One of the most important aspects of the group travel booking process is the Request for Proposal, or RFP—a document you send to multiple suppliers you are considering for your group trip. It contains all of the details for your group's needs. It outlines how many rooms you will need, what types of rooms, what room rate you are looking for and so on. It is on the RFP that you will ask for any "perks" or special privileges for your group—so it is really important to make sure that you dot every "i" and cross every "t" before submitting it to suppliers.

Once proposals are submitted in response to your RFP, the next phase of the group travel booking process is negotiating a final contract. While this is one area where group travel planners often lack knowledge and experience, knowing how to protect yourself, your company and your client is critical during the group travel booking process.

7. Organization is key.
In group travel, organization is key. Group travel planners need to know how to manage payments, suppliers, excursions, administrative tasks and people simultaneously, to stay out of legal hot water and ensure things run smoothly.

8. Exceeding everyone's expectations is a must.
This sounds like a tall glass to fill, for sure. But when planners create unforgettable group travel experiences, everyone wins—especially you! It all starts with knowing how to make group leaders feel empowered, so they will want to bring their loyal tribe of followers to you over and over again. Next, it's all about ensuring the travelers themselves have an amazing time and return ready to submit a deposit on the next group getaway.

Last but certainly not least, you have to know how to exceed your own expectations so you can cover your expenses and turn a profit.

How do you learn all of this?
That's a great question! While there are several training programs available that teach general travel agent skills, group travel is different—particularly when it comes to the booking and management processes. The corporate meetings landscape provides somewhat of a model, but even that is vastly different from leisure group travel.

The Washington, D.C.-based International Group Travel Agents Association recently launched a new online course aimed at providing training for those new to the group travel industry. The course, Create a High Profit Group Travel Business, is an 8-week virtual boot camp that currently operates on a quarterly basis. Several resources are provided to help planners just starting out in the industry, such as a group travel dictionary, technical resource guide and a legal compliance guide. Upon completion of the course, recipients receive their Group Travel Specialist (GTS) credentials and certificate, along with a free two-year membership to IGTAA for ongoing support.

For more information, visit the IGTAA website at www.4grouptravel.org.

Written by Tamika C. Carter, Executive Director, International Group Travel Agents Association. Carter is one of the 2016 Top 10 Most Influential Women in Group Travel, as named by Groups Today magazine. Click here to read more about Carter and the award's other influential recepients. 

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