Mark Twain is cited as saying, “I have found there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them…”
Anyone who has traveled in a group knows this to be true, which can make planning a group trip feel stressful.
From balancing Grandpa Joe’s mobility restrictions and Cousin Tonya’s passion for adventure travel, planning a group trip can be a heavy task for a travel agent. As an agent, you might think that your only solution is to grin and bear it – and be grateful for the group booking!
However, there are several ways that you can streamline group bookings to not only make them great for your clients, but a fun process for you as well. Here are five tips that you can use to plan the best group trips for your clients.
Assign A Leader
The first thing to do when creating a group trip is to assign a leader. This is ideally someone who doesn’t mind taking charge and has great communication skills. This person will help you to understand the parameters of the group and can give ‘friendly reminders’ to the others to help you out along the way.
If you’re organizing a family reunion trip, for example, it might be the person who reached out to you to be the travel agent. Often, they are already the go-to person for questions within the group, so simply ask them if they’d like to be the assigned point of contact.
By assigning one person to be your point of contact, you will help both the group and you to streamline communication. While it’s nice for everyone to feel heard, it is beneficial for everyone involved if there is one-on-one communication between the group’s leader and their travel agent.
Understand the Parameters
Every group is different, so the first thing you will want to do when speaking with the group or leader will want to get a feel for the group’s budget, abilities, and other details. When you understand what the group needs and expects, you can play to their strengths and make decisions that are best for the group. Some questions you might want to ask right away are:
- What dates will you be traveling? Are these dates flexible?
- What is your budget for flights and accommodation?
- What is your budget for other activities such as meals, etc.?
- Do you have any physical needs such as wheelchair-friendly accommodation, etc.?
- Do you have any ideal activities on your trip?
- Would you like to be active or relaxed on this trip? In an ideal world, how would you spend your days?
Give Everyone A (Reasonable) Chance to be Heard
This tip might send up a big red flag when you first read it. If you’re thinking, “No way, that’s going to cause an all-out time-suck for me!” then keep reading.
When you first start working with a new group and a ‘leader’ of that group emerges, you should still give everyone a chance to understand who you are and what you are doing for their group. This likely means a quick intro email or popping in to one of the group’s meetings. In this communication, you can be clear about your role and what they can expect from you. For example, you might want to let them know that you’ll be working one-on-one with their leader, that you are reachable by email at specific times, and when they can expect to hear from you.
On the other side of the coin, it also gives them a chance to feel heard. You might want to include a Google Form with the questions listed above or request that people reply to your email. If you are in-person, you can open the conversation to any questions that they have. This helps you to stay in control of the lines of communication and keep organized while helping the individuals on the trip feel connected to the journey.
Pre-Plan Alone Time
Regardless of what type of group you’re working with, you should not feel obligated to fill every moment with activities. Build time to explore the city or relax on the beach into your guests’ schedules. Not only will they appreciate the downtime, but it might give them time to spend time away from the people they’re traveling with.
Another way to both give people a break from each other and cater to multiple needs is to plan two activities at the same time or optional activities. For example, if you’re planning a family trip, the grandkids might be keen to go ziplining and the grandparents might want to relax by the pool. By building in optional alternatives you can cater to a diverse group.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
Group travel can be difficult to manage, but you can use technology to organize both your ideas and those of the group. Additionally, while these ideas are designed to save you time, they are low-cost or free opportunities to enhance your clients’ experience. Here are a few examples:
- Start a Pinterest board and share it with the group. Your group members will get even more excited about their trip, and you can get a feel for what they want to do and see in a location.
- Use a payment app. You can use applications like Square, Venmo, or others to bill your clients in installments and send automatic payment reminders rather than reaching out repeatedly.
- Send interest questionnaires with Google Forms. As discussed above, you can get a feel for your group and allow them to feel heard without overwhelming you with questions by sending a form. Google will compile all the answers into a spreadsheet for you, too!
- Use email instead of phone calls. This one might be a no-brainer, but depending on the age group you work with, email can be a revolutionary tool. Send group communications via email to save yourself time and allow your clients to print things at home if they need to.
- Use a trip planning app to bounce ideas around. Apps like Trello allow users to plot maps with attractions and accommodations, assign tasks to group members, and save other plans. You can choose to share this with your group, or just use it to keep yourself organized.
- Use photo-sharing apps. You may want to open a Google Photos, Dropbox, or Shoebox folder for your group to share photos, or create a Tripcast account for them. Then, everyone can share photos with each other without having to send photos directly.
The Bottom Line
Group trip planning can get exhausting. The best travel agents leverage technology and streamlined communication to provide white-glove service for their clients and can often do it while sticking to their clients’ budget.
Do you have other tips and tricks for planning an incredible group trip? Share them in the comments!
About Sam BurmeisterTRAVEL BLOGGER + TIMA CONTRIBUTOR
Samantha Burmeister is the creator of the travel blog 9 to 5 Nomad, where readers can find travel hacks for professionals, destination guides, and short stories to inspire you. She writes, speaks, and lives to help others find a balance between working and wandering.