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10 Great Principles for Travel Planners

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

This adage, often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, has endured for centuries and inspired countless leaders. And its truth is self-evident. Great things don’t happen by accident; they require intensive planning and attention to detail. But a lack of preparation leaves the door open for disaster.

For affinity travel leaders, planning is important on a number of levels. You already know how important it is to plan well for the trips your group will take. But for your club or travel organization to thrive in the long term, you need to put some time and effort into planning your program’s future.

Here are 10 tips to help you plan for the future of your travel program.

1) Start with your mission.

Your plans for the future should dovetail with your program’s core mission, as well as the mission of the greater community organization of which it is a part. So when you begin long-term planning, don’t reinvent the wheel. Start with the broader mission, and then begin to think about ways you can better accomplish it. Understanding your core mission will go a long way toward helping you ascertain the next steps for your travel program.

2) Get community input.

Your travel program exists to create a sense of community among your constituents, so it is wise to get input from that community when planning for your program’s future. This can include asking your most loyal customers where they’d like to go, what new types of trips they’d like to take or what sort of initiatives would be effective at reaching more people like them. But don’t limit outreach just to travelers. Your co-workers and organization’s leaders might also offer some valuable insight and would appreciate having a voice in your planning.

3) Look for role models.

Chances are there’s an organization similar to yours somewhere in the country whose travel program you would like to emulate. If you know what that institution is and who heads up its loyalty initiatives, reach out and ask for some advice; people working in this field are usually friendly and love to share success stories. And if you’re not sure where to find a role model, spend some time at an event like the Select Traveler Conference or other industry gathering where your peers from across the country gather for professional development.

4) Think long term.

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is getting so bogged down in the day-to-day operations of their organizations that they forget to think about long-term strategies. Immediate concerns are necessary tasks, but they’re not the same as strategic planning. To plot a path to success, carve out some time to think about where you’d like to see your travel program five — or even 10 — years from now. Then begin plotting the steps that will get you from here to there.

5) Identify obstacles.

Many strategic plans fail because they’re compiled with unrealistic optimism. Yes, you should have a positive outlook on the future of your program, but you shouldn’t ignore the challenges in your way. Instead, confront them head-on. Your long-term plans should take obstacles and challenges into account. Identify them, figure out how they’re likely to affect you, then put some plans in place to overcome them.

6) Play to your strengths.

In much the same way that your long-term plan should account for your obstacles, it should also account for your strengths. On a corporate level, your organization probably has some things it does well: perhaps marketing, customer retention or operational excellence. So it makes sense to lean in to those strengths, relying on them to be key engines driving your program toward its long-term goals. And if you expect to be involved with the program for a long time, you should make your personal strengths part of your plan, too. You’ll achieve a lot by taking advantage of the things you do best.

7) Plan for people.

Conversely, you may not be involved with the travel program for a long time. If you’re coming to the end of your career or expect to make a professional transition soon, your long-term plan for the travel should include a succession strategy. Getting the right leader on board will help secure the long-term success of your program, so you should invest considerable time and energy into finding and preparing this person.

8) Set achievable goals.

A long-term plan is of little use if you don’t put intermediate goals in place to keep that plan on track. The most effective goals are specific, incremental and achievable. So, instead of saying you want to increase membership in the next year, for example, plan instead to invite two new members to a club function each month. The goals should be big enough to inspire you but not so big that they intimidate you. By breaking your long-term plans into a series of short-term steps, you can make consistent, sustainable progress toward the future you envision.

9) Write it down and share it.

Finally, keep in mind that even the best plans are never perfect. There are too many unknowns in the world for you to account for all of them. The business environment may change, or your organization’s mission may evolve. When those things happen, you need to allow yourself the flexibility to adapt your long-term plans to the new reality. Flexibility will also help you pursue exciting new opportunities for your program when they arise.

10) Keep it flexible.

Your long-term plans shouldn’t live in your head; you need to write them down. Putting things on paper is an act of commitment. It creates a sense of permanence, and you’ll be more likely to stick to your plans if you can refer to that document regularly to keep you focused and motivated. Writing your plans down also allows you to share them with others, such as your team members, bosses or key customers.

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