You can only take groups to ski resorts when there is snow or the beach when it’s, right? Wrong! For savvy group travel planners, hitting the slopes in 80-degree weather or watching ocean waves crash to shore when there is light snow is something to get excited about. Why? Because suppliers roll out the red carpet for groups who travel “off-peak.”

What’s the Hype About?

For the most part, hotels, resorts, restaurants and other suppliers don’t close their doors during off-peak seasons primarily because they want to keep their workforce intact for their high-demand period. So during those slow times, suppliers are forced to get creative about getting business into their establishments.

To woo groups in, many lodging suppliers will significantly lower room rates and increase the number of comp rooms given to groups for their stay. For example, instead of one comp room for every ten sold, I have seen as many as one for every five sold. That’s twice as many comp rooms. And as a group travel planner, you have the choice of either passing the extra room along to your group leader or selling the room and cashing in on the extra profits.

Many suppliers also offer extra free nights, food and beverage credits, spa credits, free party rooms and more. Plus, restaurants and tourist attractions jump on board, too, with BOGO 50% off, or even BOGO free offers.

Get Educated About Off-Peak Travel Periods

The best way to learn about off-peak travel periods is to talk with convention and visitors bureau (CVB) for the area you are looking to take your group. The CVB collects and maintains data from suppliers regarding their occupancy rates and they can tell you exactly what times of year present the most need for their hotels and resorts. They can help you to understand patterns that exist including seasonal, monthly, even daily patterns. For example, for group travel to Washington, D.C, hotels are primarily in high demand in the fall and spring, largely due to nonprofit association conventions, school groups and Congress’ schedule. But these events typically occur during the week, so hotels are more likely to offer discounted rates and other perks on the weekends to get leisure travelers.

Every destination is unique, so work with your suppliers to learn their “need dates.” Filling in those gaps shows your suppliers that you are willing to step up for them when needed, just as you want them to step up for you. Ultimately, it creates a true win-win group travel experience.

Planning the Perfect Off-Peak Experience for your Group

One of the hardest things for group travel planners to do when it comes to off-peak travel is to get group leaders and travelers onboard. As a planner, it is your responsibility to paint the visual picture so that they can see how much more amazing the experience will be. For example, consider scheduling that cruise to Eastern Canada in the fall, when the leaves are at their brightest. Instead of Labor Day weekend, consider a Valentine’s Day beach gateaway at a mid-Atlantic or mid-Pacific beach instead of Miami or San Diego. And who wants to go to Las Vegas in the middle of summer? You’d be surprised.

My group travel business specializes in travel to all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. Because most people like to travel to warm weather climates when it is cold at home, peal season for the Caribbean is during the winter months. Although it’s hurricane season, I prefer to take groups there during the fall, when pools and beaches aren’t overcrowded, airfare prices are lower and the weather is a bit breezier and cooler. To be safe, I include travel insurance in the package to protect my clients’ investment. Additionally, I purchase special event insurance to protect my business from liability.

During these trips, my groups are the big fish in a little pond. Because we aren’t competing against thousands of other travelers, our on-site representatives give me, my group leaders and my travelers the royal treatment. They help me to come p with ideas to keep everyone engaged, and everyone almost always gets an upgrade to an oceanview or oceanfront room. As a result, my clients see me as a group travel goddess who magically makes all of these great things happen. And it’s a magical way to guarantee repeat business.

So, think about where you want to take your next group. Then reach out to the CVB to learn about the high-and-low-demand periods. Start investigating the benefits of off-peak travel.

By Tamika C. Carter

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