First of all, groups will fall into two separate categories: “Affinity Groups” and “Spec” or Promotional Groups. The following ids from a Royal Caribbean Group Guide.
Types of Groups
A Promotional group is defined as a group block that is promoted to a consumer market for a specific ship and sail date as a selling strategy.”
Other cruise lines will be identical or very similar.
The agency I used to be with probably averaged 100 groups every year. Of these, probably 10 – 12 would be “affinity” groups and the rest “spec” groups. For the “Affinity Groups” we always had several for the local Bridge club, at least one built around a popular square dancing caller, a couple with local country clubs, and several for family reunions, etc. The rest we booked for promotion to the general public. Our agency was about an hour drive from the San Francisco Cruise Terminal. We knew that many of our clients hated to fly so we would try to hold space on many of the SFO departures and market them heavily to the several thousand email addresses we had in Northern California. I’m sure many other agencies do the same — if they’re in the Houston area they’re probably holding group space on many of the Galveston departures, and so forth. The problem for the average cruiser is finding that available group space. You have no way of knowing which agency might be holding group space on the sailing you’re looking for. Finding that agent/agency our goal here.
Why not hold group space on hundreds of sailings? There’s a cost involved. Here’s also from Royal Caribbean: “The Travel Partner will have thirty (30) days from the offer date to deposit $50.00USD per stateroom for non-allocated group inventory. The original fares quoted for the inventory will remain in effect for that thirty (30) day period.” So if we hold 10 cabins on a sailing we have 30 days to give them $500 and that can really add up over time. So in many cases the number of groups on hold will depend on the amount of capital the agency wants to have tied up
But one advantage to booking lots of groups is the 30-day window we have with no money tied up. We would hold space on a specific sailing and then have 30 days to bombard the several thousand names on our email list before we have to put any money down. And the rates are locked in for those 30 days. If we just ran an ad at whatever the going individual res rate is that can change the day after the email goes out.