going strong

Group trips became a hot ticket when travel resumed after the pandemic pause. And advisors say clients’ desire to stick together has not gone away.

Illustration by Kubko & Betelejze/

Illustration by Kubko & Betelejze/

When travel began again after the initial Covid-related lockdown, group travel saw a resurgence. After being kept apart for so long, friends and families wanted to be together again, and what better way than on a vacation?

Most predicted that the surge in group bookings would be short-lived, but evidence suggests otherwise: Travel advisors say they are selling more groups this year — and larger ones — than ever before.

Theories vary on why, and the answer appears to be multifaceted. But better education, technology and simple consumer demand are all part of the equation.

“As people have traveled together and experienced the ease of group travel and the fun of group travel, it has just exploded,” said Dawn Gillis, director of network sales and support for Dream Vacations and CruiseOne.

Dawn Gillis, Dream Vacations/CruiseOne
‘As people have traveled together and experienced the ease of group travel and the fun of group travel, it has just exploded.’
Dawn Gillis, Dream Vacations/CruiseOne

And while a variety of factors could impact future booking patterns, most say they believe the current boom in groups will continue at least into 2024.

Dream Vacations and CruiseOne in May announced “record-breaking group sales” for the year to date. While Gillis declined to provide a specific percentage figure for that growth, she called it “significant, double-digit growth already, with more to come.”

The franchiser is not alone.

For New York-based First in Service (No. 35 on Travel Weekly’s 2023 Power List), group travel in all verticals — corporate, leisure and cruise — is rising, vice president of partnerships and sales Shay Harrington said. Eric Hrubant, CEO of Cire Travel, a First in Service affiliate, said group travel requests from corporate clients have grown “exponentially compared to prepandemic levels.” It has been surprising even to him: Hrubant had predicted in 2020 that group travel would be “dead last” to recover.

At KHM Travel Group (No. 34 on the 2023 Power List), requests for group travel are up around 30% to 40% compared with last year, said Bill Coyle, KHM’s vice president of agent engagement. But he is also seeing evidence that agents are selling larger groups: Actual usage of group space reserved by agents is up 20%. That represents between $15 million and $20 million in sales for the host agency, Coyle said.

“Back in the day, when we held group space, we mostly held speculative group space,” he said. “But now it’s all grab and go, so as we’re getting it, it’s live inventory.”

Bill Coyle, KHM Travel Group
‘Back in the day, we mostly held speculative group space. But now, as we’re getting it, it’s live inventory.’
Bill Coyle, KHM Travel Group

Suppliers confirmed that they are seeing more group activity coming from advisors.

“It’s true, group business is back, and travel advisors are finding groups to be popular for many reasons,” said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and trade support and service for Royal Caribbean International.



Freed’s leading theory on the popularity of group travel right now is a shift in consumer mindset.

“After the pause, consumers are no longer waiting to live life,” she said. “They view travel as a way to be with family and friends (many people missed that part of life during the pause), and we see not only success with small groups but also large affinity groups. Even [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] business has bounced back in a strong way.”

Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean International
‘After the pause, consumers are no longer waiting to live life. They view travel as a way to be with family and friends.’
Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean International

Attractive products are also part of the equation. Freed said “clusters” of friends and families make up a “significant piece” of business for Royal Caribbean’s shorter, three- to four-day cruises, thanks to the smaller time commitment.

Dream Vacations’ Gillis also thinks that initial Covid lockdowns fueled a desire to travel as a group, one that has yet to be quenched. “I think so many people enjoyed that experience of traveling as a group that it has just blossomed since then,” Gillis said. 

Carol Lekki, owner of Carol’s Travel Service in Chicago, which has seen a rise in group sales this year, said she believes that people feel traveling with a group is less stressful than doing it on their own, and many feel safer with a group director or host dealing with anything unexpected. She also said many groups engender feelings of camaraderie.

“We often see long-term friendships develop, and then newfound friends continue to join the same tour options for future vacations,” she said.



Better booking technology has also enabled more travel advisors to book more groups.

Dream Vacations’ group application eliminates some of the complexity of group bookings, spurring advisors who hadn’t dabbled in the space before to give it a try, Gillis said. While the network’s advisors have booked groups for decades, Gillis said the technology they previously used for groups was similar to what they use to book FIT travel. Launched in February, the application was purpose-built for groups and includes booking capabilities and a number of special features, including payment schedules, contracts and more. Its ease of use has even helped advisors who are more experienced take their groups business to the next level with partial- or full-ship charters.

At the Network of Entrepreneurs Selling Travel (NEST), the selling of niche groups — for women, solo and religious travel, in particular — have “exploded” for some members, said vice president Wayne Spector.

He attributes that to the three-pronged approach NEST uses for education.

First, each NEST member is assigned a business analyst who works one-on-one with the advisor to further their goals. Then, NEST members network and share best practices with each other. Finally, supplier partners collaborate with the network to help boost advisor sales.

KHM said it is in the process of increasing agent support for selling groups. The host is looking to add to its group team and has already integrated group travel education across all online courses and events. Coyle said he believes that has fueled group sales, helping agents sell more reserved space faster and increasing the percentage of reserved space filled. 



A number of factors have the potential to impact all booking trends, not only groups. And the same concerns about the economy — inflation and potential recession — that have people questioning how long the general travel boom will last also applies to groups. 

But despite those concerns, most advisors believe that group sales will stay strong into 2024 at least.

Coyle said KHM will likely end the year with significantly higher sales than last year, adding that “our growth for next year is already unbelievable.”

Bob Shaffer, president of Vacations by Cruise & Travel Experts in Rotonda West, Fla., focuses on small-group travel. Thus far in 2023, group sales were up about 15% compared with last year, Shaffer said. He said he expects further growth of 15% in 2024.

Lekki, of Carol’s Travel Service, predicts group sales to remain strong into 2024; her agency has already seen groups, particularly affinity tour groups, increase and expand this year. While the agency caps the number of participants on tours, it has increased the number of tours it is offering. Other types of group travel are also increasing in size.

Cathie Fryer, CTA Travel
‘We need to be creative and always offer the journey. We must plant that seed and get our guests to grow it.’
Cathie Fryer, CTA Travel

Group sales are also on the rise at CTA Travel in Cerritos, Calif. Hosted river cruises are the largest piece of the agency’s group business, said owner Cathie Fryer; hosted groups are attractive because of the comfort level they provide guests.

Fryer said she believes group travel will continue to flourish, if nurtured by agencies.

“We need to be creative and always offer the journey,” Fryer said. “We can’t wait to be asked. We must plant that seed and get our guests to grow it.”


One advisor's journey in group travel

Travel advisor Malori Asman caught the travel bug early. Her parents took her on two trips to Europe as a teen, and travel has been on her brain ever since.

She eventually got a degree in interior design, wanting to design airports and hotels. But while still in her 20s, she got a job working in travel. A Mobile, Ala., radio station sent her as an escort with affinity groups to Mexico, Hawaii and Las Vegas. When she later moved to Atlanta, she was hired in a large corporate agency’s groups department, planning a conference for 15,000 teachers. Eventually, she moved to Pittsburgh and started working for another agency.

Asman was doing corporate incentive work, planning group travel for 500 to 800 people. She also started the agency’s cruise department. But when it was acquired by a company that no longer exists, she struck out on her own, launching Pittsburgh-based Amazing Journeys. 

And Asman brought only one part of her book of business with her: group trips for single Jewish travelers.

She planned the first of these trips in 1993. Most attendees were local to the Pittsburgh area. But Asman steadily worked to extend her reach, which exploded when the Internet came into prominence. This year, Asman is running 13 trips with 450 to 550 total travelers that include both cruises and land tours. She doesn’t plan any travel outside of groups.

The sizes of her groups vary. Safaris and active trips are usually capped at around 20 people, but cruises will typically take up half a river cruise ship, or around 50 cabins on ocean cruises.

“Our numbers are swelling,” she said.

Top, an Amazing Journeys group trip to Antarctica. Below, an Amazing Journeys group trip to Southern Africa. Malori Asman launched Amazing Journeys with a focus on single Jewish travelers. (Courtesy of Malori Asman)

Top, an Amazing Journeys group trip to Antarctica. Below, an Amazing Journeys group trip to Southern Africa. Malori Asman launched Amazing Journeys with a focus on single Jewish travelers. (Courtesy of Malori Asman)

But with Asman’s success focusing on single Jewish travelers has come a unique problem.

Quite a few people who met on Amazing Journeys have married and no longer qualify to travel on the company’s singles trips. In fact, Asman’s trips have resulted in the formation of a whopping 39 couples.

“So we were like, all right, we think we have to start addressing this,” Asman said. 

She is adding some supply for those who found love on an Amazing Journeys trip, such as one trip this year that will include a mix of couples and singles. Next year, she’s running two Southern Africa trips around the same time, one for singles and the other for couples.

Malori Asman, Amazing Journeys
‘Groups are the place to be. I think those of us who are already there and found our way have been the lucky ones.’
Malori Asman, Amazing Journeys

Although many over the years have suggested she start a matchmaking business, she’s adamant that her trips are not about connecting travelers romantically. “We don’t sell love,” she emphasized. “I think that’s only a recipe for disaster. You can imagine the disappointment right out of the box.”

In the future, Asman would like to add more group trips to her roster, but scaling up staff-wise has proven challenging. She recently hired several new trip guides, which should help. She’s also brought her daughters into the business to focus on groups for a younger clientele in their 30s and 40s.

“From a travel standpoint, I feel like groups are the place to be,” Asman said. “I think those of us who are already there and found our way have been the lucky ones. It’s not always easy to find your way into it and to have that kind of a market, but I really think a niche is the way to go.”