The challenge of group travel is keeping numerous individuals happy. To provide great experiences that encourage people to travel with their groups again, travel leaders must not only determine what their travelers like but also deliver those wish lists with gusto.
To assist, Select Traveler is featuring a six-part series in 2014 on the many travel personalities you’ll find on the motorcoach, along with suggestions that just might be more than memorable to those diverse personalities. While it is impossible to offer an excursion that will make everyone happy, here you will find opportunities to create special-interest tours and even ideas for free time, those times when participants have choices to enjoy what pushes their personal buttons.
In the last issue, we discussed the “pilgrim.” In this issue, we are discussing the “connector.” You can look forward in the upcoming issues to these travel personalities: the ”learner” and the “vacationer.”
The connector in your travel group is the one who hopes to immerse himself in his new destination. He introduces himself to the hotel receptionist in Munich, the waiter at breakfast in Sydney and the museum curator in Paris.
He wants to know all about those local folks. He makes friends in an instant and has conversations that are often in-depth and sometimes personal.
For the connector, traveling affords the opportunity to experience what it is like to live somewhere else, if even just for a day or two. Feeling like he is part of the culture is what makes traveling fun for him, and he is the first to jump onstage when the entertainer asks for a volunteer. He will have the most questions when a native is leading a tour.
Connecting Makes Memories
The travel companion and wife of one such connector tells the story of her husband making friends with the hotel manager, countless restaurant wait staff, many housekeepers, groundskeepers, store clerks — anyone who is willing to chat. Upon departure from destinations around the world, inevitably there are hugs and gifts exchanged.
On one occasion in Antigua, they were invited to their taxi driver’s humble abode for Thanksgiving dinner — thanks to her husband’s connecting, of course. At the end of a lengthy meal, the taxi driver suddenly invited his sister in from a back room, introduced her and asked the connector and his wife if they would take his sister home to live with them. He assured them she was an excellent cook.
As the wife of that connector, I can assure you that didn’t happen.
And as that connector’s travel companion, I sometimes find it a little frustrating that we can’t walk from here to there without stopping to discuss the day with new friends. But I appreciate his sincere interest in others and concede that while we see incredible sights on every journey, it’s always the people we meet that we talk about for years.
Connecting Creates Authentic Experiences
Most enthusiastic travelers have at least a little of the connector persona. Many tour operators realize the importance of connecting on a tour and, as a result, offer local and even in-home experiences throughout the world. Linda Mattingly, director of the Star Club at Alliance Bank in Sulphur Springs, Texas, is sure that her group’s exotic itineraries include such dynamic encounters.
Mattingly speaks for herself when she describes the value of people-to-people interactions. An avid lover of animals, she only briefly mentioned the incredible beasts her group encountered when they visited Kenya. It was her times in the native villages that touched her.
“These people are so happy — they are always laughing. In fact, they think we are rich, but they are so much richer than we are. They have nothing, and yet they are so joyful,” she said.
Looking at a handcrafted necklace, a gift from one of the Kenyan natives that is framed in her office, Mattingly’s tears began to flow.
“When you think about your favorite gifts in life, what are the best things? They are the gifts that come from the soul. I can’t tell you what those times have meant to me. I’ve been there four times, and I could go every year because I put that joy in my heart and bring it back with me.”
Kevin Butler, director of the Eagle Travel Club for American National Bank in Ardmore, Oklahoma, describes those connections from his worldwide travels as “added excitement.”
“Those are the moments you remember,” he said. “And I think it is because I enjoy getting involved that I can say I’ve never been to a destination that I didn’t like.”
Butler recalled taking a vacation to Costa Rica by himself. He had a little trepidation about traveling alone, but this connector ended up making lifelong friends.
“I never ate one meal by myself, and one woman nicknamed me ‘Oklahoma.’ In fact, when Oklahoma had a serious tornado not too long ago, some of these friends sent checks to our bank that was raising funds for victims.”
With such zest for connecting, Butler also makes a fun-loving director for the Eagle Club. He has been known to participate in a dancing competition on a Hawaiian cruise and, on another occasion, grab a woman on the streets of Switzerland and dance — just for the heck of it.
“It’s all about having fun and experiencing the different cultures,” he said. “The key to travel is relationships.”