Hosting a FAM tour, developing theme itineraries and partnering with like-minded people all should be part of a game plan to expand group travel business.

Partners, Packaging and the Ink Blotter? Not a bad way to build a tour & travel business for suppliers or buyers. You’ll love it when a game plan comes together.

Finding Partners in the Tour Business

If there’s one segment of tourism that fosters working together, it’s the group industry. Tour operators learned this simple concept years ago. The National Tour Association, American Bus Association, United States Tour Operators Association and others all have a similar core principle. From the wholesale to the retail operator, the primary objective is filling the tour. Partnering is often critical to meeting that goal.

On the supplier side of the equation, working together is even more important. Tours do not visit a destination because of an individual hotel or a wonderful country-cooking buffet. Of course, these accommodations and restaurants are part of the picture, however, there’s more to the story. That includes attractions, services and of course the scenery and culture of the area.

Step one for any supplier who wants to partner is knowing and supporting your tourism development office. These are the people who are selling the destination. In a sense they’re promoting your product. Participate in their projects. If asked to host a tour operator familiarization (FAM) visit, the answer should be a simple yes. Consider being part of sponsorships and cooperative advertisements. Host their salespeople. They have to see your property to sell it. Most importantly, join and be involved.

Next, get to know the like-minded individuals in your market. Who else in your area is doing group tours? In addition to the traditional tour market, there are affinity markets, too. Student/youth trips, sports travel, reunions, adventure travel and faith-based all come in groups. Some may be your market, others may not. Visit your partners’ businesses and get to know them, their property and their target markets.


This certainly isn’t a new concept. Tour operators and travel agents have been packaging trips forever. Sandals and its Caribbean resort packages have become a household name. Airlines and Amtrak don’t just want to sell you tickets – they want to wrap an entire experience up in a bow and sell you a package (and make more money in the process!).

For our purposes, exactly where does the individual supplier begin his or her packaging efforts? It begins with an itinerary, which may have been developed by the DMO. However, when an itinerary doesn’t exist, you’ll need to bring your partners and the DMO together to develop themed itineraries. Add sizzle to your itinerary and include experiential options whenever available.

With itinerary in hand, the next step is setting a package price by adding each of the individual components together, though pricing the hotel based on double occupancy. After all, the next question after where is how much.

Group Tour Itinerary Planning Hints (

The Ink Blotter

I’m probably dating myself, but it’s the best way to describe where you should go with your sales effort. As the spot on an ink blotter spreads from a starting point out, so should you. Restaurants and attractions should consider partnering and plan a sales blitz a three-hour drive away.

Adding accommodations and additional attractions and restaurants to your partnership makes for a great sales blitz. You’ll have to go farther than the day trip range. Take a look at the 3½- to 6½-hour drive range and remember to have your itineraries in-hand.

You’ll be surprised at the number of prospects in both sales spheres. Tour operators are the easiest to find and usually will welcome your call. However, be creative when searching for group opportunities. Remember, virtually everyone is a member of a group. Student/youth groups, churches and sports teams all travel. It’s just a matter of finding them.

For more detail, visit our “Laying the Foundation of Your Group Sales Strategy,” part 3 in the Becoming a Rock Star Supplier series.

By Dave Bodle, Associate Publisher