Back in July, my friend Alyssa was asked to organize a group trip to New York City for her church. She was asked to step in at the last minute because the original group leader, a woman with previous travel planning experience, was having some health problems and did not feel up to the job this year. Not wanting to disappoint the 30 church members who had already reserved a spot for the trip, Alyssa took on the responsibility with about five months remaining to complete the tour arrangements.
As you may have predicted, Alyssa ran into a few challenges along the way. Her predecessor had selected a suitable date, made a list of possible tourist destinations in NYC, and gathered a few quotes from local tour bus companies…that was about it. After a moment of panic, Alyssa got to work comparing different group rates and making reservations. Her trip is just around the corner now, and it seems that she was able to piece together a pretty interesting trip for her church. But Alyssa’s experience as a first-time group travel planner got me thinking: how many other people had an experience like hers? What did they do? What questions did they have? What should they have done differently?
So I decided to look into the topic and do my best to provide a short guide for anyone who is new to planning group tours. Since I’m not a group travel pro myself, I spoke with Dawn Dornes, a representative from Elite Coach, who was kind enough to answer my questions and offer some very helpful advice on the subject.
Top Priorities for Group Travel
Whether you are planning your first group tour or your twentieth, there are a few components that should be your top priorities.
- Transportation – If you don’t have transportation, you won’t be going very far. The type of transportation you choose will depend on the number of people traveling with you. In some cases, you may be able to pile into a 15-passengar van or travel in a small caravan of cars and do the driving yourself. If you’re traveling with a larger group of people, you may require the services of a charter bus company.
- Timetable – When asked about the appropriate timetable for arranging group travel, Dawn recommends that groups book their trips “no less than six months in advance to give folks plenty of time to plan and prepare. Long trips should be promoted 9-12 months in advance primarily because these trips cost a little more and people like to budget the expense.”
- Know your Destinations – Although travel websites like Trip Advisor are fantastic resources for tour planners, Dawn warns against relying solely on these sites. “It’s important to know your destinations. Visit them if possible. Meet the sales staff.” If you are teaming up with a tour operator like Elite, reach out to them and ask about their experiences with the different attractions you are interested in visiting. It can also be helpful to contact the area’s group tour representatives for recommendations.
Best Ways to Save Money
Of course, a question that is always on people’s minds when preparing for group travel is “how can my group save money?” Most tourist attractions will offer some sort of discounted rate for groups. So if you are responsible for arranging every aspect of your trip, it’s highly recommended that you contact the sales team at each attraction to inquire about special group rates. Why not just look on their website? In some cases, a sales rep may be able to offer your group discounts or seasonal promotions that are not regularly listed on the business’s website.
Most attractions and restaurants typically offer a “tour operator rate” as well, which is an even lower price than a “group rate” and is only available for professional tour operators. “Sometimes, the more people in your group, the lower the price,” explains Dawn. “There may even be an opportunity to earn a complimentary package. Free is always a PLUS!”
Common Mistakes Made by Group Tour Leaders
What are some of the mistakes common among first-time group tour leaders? The folks at Elite Coach have noticed that timing is usually the biggest issue for new trip organizers. “It’s important to allow enough time from point A to B… the time it takes a car to drive is not the same for a motorcoach. What may take a family 10 minutes to do at a rest stop will take a bus full of people 20 minutes,” states Dawn. You should also account for traffic and traffic signals. “It’s surprising how much time this can eat up in your commute.” Allowing time for rest stops and other delays can help ensure that your group has plenty of time to spend at each attraction on the itinerary.
Travel Like a Pro
The best way to lead your first group tour effectively is to have a plan, ensure that everyone involved in your group’s transportation—especially your driver—is aware of the plan, and communicate with your travelers and destination personnel. If you’re arranging a trip for 25 or more people, it’s probably a good idea to partner with a tour operator who has years of experience planning group travel. “When a group leader calls one of our tour planners they want to know that we have handled every aspect of the tour on their behalf and all they need to do is put it into action,” says Dawn. “We like to make group leaders look like pros.” When passengers feel comfortable in their travel experience, they are more inclined to travel again with that particular group.
I hope these tips are able to make your group travel planning a bit less stressful. Though I regret that my friend didn’t have this information when organizing her trip to NYC.
If you are considering a group tour and would like to learn more about organizing a unique and exciting trip, be sure to contact Elite Coach for more information.
Emily Long is a Lancaster County native, singer/songwriter, and all around music lover. She is an Online PR Specialist and, on the side, works at her family’s business, Long’s Horseradish, at Lancaster Central Market. To learn more about Emily, visit her website: www.EmilyLongMusic.com.