A fabulous New York City party at Tao Downtown was recently presented by Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner.com (a leading online provider of group hotel bookings and individual hotel reservations), in cooperation with Peter Stonham, Editorial Director, Landor Travel Publications. Together, these two executives organized an extraordinary awards events to recognize the efforts that US-based organizations put into providing group travelers with exceptional travel experiences.
Timothy Henschel started the world’s largest online group travel organization in 2003. He was recently recognized for his achievement by being awarded the Cornell Hospitality Innovator Award 2018, an honor provided by the Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.
HotelPlanner provides group travel technology expertise to over 4.2 million group event planners. In 2017 the company serviced $7 billion in group hotel booking requests and expects that number to grow to $10 billion in 2018. The company has offices in West Palm Beach, London, Hong Kong and Las Vegas.
Group Travel Market Generates $Billions
The group market will grow as family, friends and business executives seek to build relationships and experiences. Today the group-travel sector extends beyond the outdated stereotype of coach tours chockablock with senior citizens wearing pastels and sneakers.
Many people who currently travel in groups may not even consider themselves as group travelers because of the way the trip is organized, the activities scheduled and the destinations visited. Many groups are activity or interest based and may have been organized by a group leader or group travel organizer, formally or informally. Reservations are booked by individuals who want to travel with like-minded companions in order to enjoy a celebration/reunion, corporate, sport or religious event or to work on a volunteer project. Cruises and adventures are increasingly popular for group travel experiences.
Based on data collected by The Group Travel Leaders, the median group travel organizer plans 10 group trips each year and the tours average 30 passengers each although there are some groups with more than 55 people.
Age of Group Members
Retirees continue to dominate the group travel market, and 41 percent of group travel leaders indicate their travelers were between 60-70 years of age and 17 percent said their clients were over 70 years of age. Twenty-six percent reported their average traveler was between 50-60 years of age and 16 percent said their average traveler was under 50.
Short, inexpensive trips are popular. Forty-three percent of group travel leaders reported that their average trip cost was under $1000 per person; however, 25 percent were running trips that were priced between $1000-$2000. There is an active segment at the high end of the market with 17 percent opting for travel between $2000 – $3000 per person and 15 percent price said their tours required a budget of $3000 per person.
Groups travel around the world and 67 percent of the leaders responding said they take their groups on international trips, 19 percent said they don’t currently go abroad but are open to the idea. Only 13 percent said they would not consider offering an international travel experience. It appears that conditions are good for organizations that package and operate overseas travel to make a dent in the group travel market, as most group leaders are receptive to their message.
Cruises appeal to group travel planners and 67 percent offer cruises to their customers while 22 percent have not done so but are open to the idea. Only 10 percent said they would not consider cruising.
Compete or Cooperate
Independent group leaders do not compete with professional tour operators, but rather, cooperate with them. In the study, 84 percent reported using professional tour operators’ services and 13 percent said while they don’t currently use these services, they would consider the opportunity. Only 2 percent refused to work with tour operators.
Groups are not averse to flying. Seventy-nine percent said their groups fly, and another 15 percent are open to flying; only 6 percent said they would not fly. It appears that group trips are not restricted to the drive markets any longer. Destination representatives with the right product mix and marketing message can attract groups from around the country and they are willing to fly in for a visit.
The Medium and the Message
Planners today are frequent users of social media with Facebook the most popular platform (73 percent), followed by LinkedIn (23 percent), Twitter (20 percent) and Pinterest (14 percent). Facebook offers a largely untapped potential for travel promotions and smart group sales representatives could leverage social media to create key relationships and marketing opportunities.
While technology impacts on how people buy travel, traditional information channels continue to dominate among group planners. Travel magazines ranked as the highest information source (83 percent), word-of-mouth (77 percent), online searches (71 percent) and tourism conferences (67 percent). To this day, display advertising and public relations still represent the most effective ways to reach this influential travel planning audience, many of whom do not attend tourism conference.
What to Do
Group travelers are active and interested. Leading the activities category were history and heritage attractions (83 percent), music and entertainment (78 percent), live theater (73 percent) and museums (68 percent). Sport events scored the lowest, with 29 percent of groups.
Services for Group Travelers
There is a vast range of companies that service the group travel market, including hotels (new brands, independent properties, boutique, extended stay, limited services, casinos), golf and sports resorts, wedding venues, air and ground transportation, beach and city convention and visitors’ bureaus, convention centers, group reservation companies, entertainment centers, tour operators, and online travel agencies. In recognition to the importance of these market segments to the success of the group travel business, each year HotelPlanners.com recognizes the best supplier in each of 24 categories.
And the Winners Are
Categories for being the BEST ran from Best Hotel Brand (Wyndham Hotels & Resorts) to Best Live Stage/Theatrical Musical Performance (Wicked). I was surprised that in the Best Group Registration category, Eventbrite was a Runner-up while Splash That (a company I never heard of) was the Winner. Another surprise – Jacob K. Javits Convention Center (Winner), and Las Vegas Convention Center (Runner – up). While I am unfamiliar with the Vegas space, I am very familiar with Javits, a destination that I visit frequently – and never (ever) look forward to the challenge of getting there and the miles of walking from one end of the boring cavernous space to the other. Other category winners included: Southwest Airlines (Winner), Delta Airlines (Runner-up); and the Best online travel agency winner was Expedia with TripAdvisor the Runner-up.
What was absolutely, without question, an award winner for best dining experience, was Tao Downtown. A wonderful array of Asian inspired cuisine was presented to the 300+ guests at the award ceremony. Applause and appreciation to the chefs and the kitchen staff for creating a delicious menu that started with Tao Temple Salad, continued on with Tuna Poke, Vegetable Spring Rolls, BBQ Crispy Chicken and Satay of Chilean Sea Bass. The seemingly never – ending food platers delivered fabulous Shanghai Fried Rice, Asian Green Stir Fry and Vegetable Pad Thai Noodles. The feast ended with a beautiful arrangement of delicious deserts based on frozen treats and fortune cookies.
Black Tie and Beautiful People
C-suite executives and their teams were dressed to the 9s in black tie and sequins for the festive evening.
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© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.