Group cruising numbers are up, according to cruise line members and CLIA at the August 4th CLIA group cruising media conference in Manhattan.

“Group sales were definitely up early this year,” said Michael Artz, District Sales Manager at Royal Caribbean. “Family and multigenerational groups are the big thing in our group cruising push right now. We’ve also had unions, groups of Baptist ministers and police and fire departments.

“We only require eight staterooms for a group booking and give the agency amenity points to provide to their groups, whether it be onboard credit, a cocktail party or something else.”

Costa has a similar setup with eight cabins a minimum requirement for a group booking.

“Not only do we only require a minimum of eight cabins, an agent can earn up to 17% on a group booking, and they have the amenity points to give out to their guests,” commented Susan Windham, Director of the Group Department – North America at Costa.

Windham added: “We want to eventually have a 35% group occupancy rate on our ships in the Caribbean and right now we’re very close. We’ve had 1,000 Armenians in a group, 400 Greeks and lots of little Italian groups. Our agents make about 10% on an individual booking, and so with a 17% commission on a group booking, that is where the money is.”

CLIA and the lines recognize the importance of group booking in the current economic climate.

Robert Sharak, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Distribution for CLIA, commented: “Group bookings are a great way to fill cabins on the ships, which is the name of the game these days.

“We polled our member lines and even though each one defines a group booking a little differently, in 2008 CLIA lines saw a 28% group occupancy rate. That is 24% being leisure focused with the other 4% being meeting or seminar focused, which could be a huge opportunity going forward for the lines.”

Working with travel agents continues to be on the top of the list going forward.

Sharak noted: “It’s important for agents to become a part of the local community to build leads for things like a group booking. It’s incrementally more work for them but it’s also a much bigger paycheck.”

Royal Caribbean continues to help agencies advertise with a 50/50 co-op program. “The agencies that advertise are doing much better than the ones that just rely on repeat customers,” Artz said.

“For years our agents were complaining our prices were too high, and now they complain they are too low. We are constantly training our agents, that’s my job. Right now we are educating them on upgrading clients to more premium staterooms after the initial booking.”