Fast Facts about Amanda Laycock
Amanda Laycock is the Assistant Director to Affinity Programs at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
The University of Alabama enrolls 38,000 students. For 35 years, the travel program has taken alumni and friends around the world. The university’s alumni association has about 33,000 members.
Born: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Education: B.A. in art from the University of Alabama
Employment: Laycock worked in member services for the New York City Council after graduation. She returned to Tuscaloosa to work in the family retail plant store. After the family decided to close the business, she took a job with the University of Alabama’s alumni association as the chapter representative before accepting her current position.
Family: Laycock recently became engaged. She has a dog named Gunner.
Hobbies: Laycock enjoys gardening, being outdoors and cooking.
Two Weeks in Paris
When Amanda Laycock spent two magical weeks in Paris right after college, it was the first time she’d ever immersed herself in another culture. She left wanting more.
“I got the travel bug after that,” said Laycock, assistant director to affinity programs for the University of Alabama. “I hadn’t been able to travel again until the travel program position became available in the alumni department. It was such an amazing opportunity. Just to talk about all the trips and get to see some of the incredible places was really exciting.”
Though Laycock had no background in travel, she plunged headfirst into travel planning for the 33,000 alumni members. Her passion for the project and strong support network helped her navigate her first tours with aplomb. The university’s 35-year-old alumni travel program continues to thrive under her guidance.
Laycock stays busy planning 30 trips a year and other alumni events. But from her first trip with the alumni program, she knew she was in the right place.
“My first trip with the group was a Mediterranean cruise,” said Laycock. “We visited Italy, France, Monaco and Spain. It was lovely. I thought, ‘This is the life I should be living.’ The boat, the excursions and everything was handled perfectly.”
One snag early in the trip illustrated how even the best trips come with unexpected stresses. One member’s luggage got lost from the airport to the ship.
“At the time, it seemed a bad way to start the trip,” said Laycock. “Panic had set in.”
Laycock worked with the cruise line to find the luggage and reassured the traveler.
“We finally started laughing when I told her, ‘At least you have your makeup in your carry-on,’” said Laycock. “She told me, ‘I know, I would be so much more upset if my makeup had been lost instead of my clothes.’”
The luggage appeared soon after. Laycock had successfully passed her first travel test.
With no group travel experience, Laycock relied on colleagues at other colleges when she had questions about her travel program. Several alumni travel conferences also allowed her to connect with more group travel planners in the area on whom she could rely.
With Laycock’s full workload, she can usually attend only one group trip a year. Alumni staff take turns leading trips. Before each trip, Laycock meets with the chosen staff member to discuss trip expectations and how to handle various crises that might occur.
To select the destinations, Laycock follows travel trends and re-creates trips that are consistently popular with the group.
“We always know we’re going to have a Mediterranean cruise,” said Laycock. “Several people always come back after each cruise and tell me they want to go again. This year, I’m going to Africa with a group in July. That trip sold out so quickly we’ve already started a waitlist for next year.”
Most of the association’s trips are to international destinations, but they always include at least three domestic tours a year. Although the clients are typically retired, Laycock plans to increase the awareness and participation of younger alumni by leveraging social media and the university’s young-alumni chapters.
“We host Welcome to the City events in large cities for alumni members living there,” said Laycock. “It’s like a meet-and-greet to see who’s in town. They have been very popular. We hope these events will connect younger alumni back to the university quicker. Then, while they are there, we also plug the travel program.”
Laycock develops three or four yearly trips catering to the young-alumni market. Each trip features a shorter duration, an affordable price point and primarily weekend dates to accommodate work schedules.
Wine and Wanderlust
Once a year, alumni members meet to sip wine, discuss travel and sign up for the upcoming year’s trips at an event called the Travel Preview Reception. Laycock invites tour operators to attend the meeting to answer any questions members may ask about the upcoming trips.
“It’s a great meeting place for people who have been on a trip and want to see others they have traveled with,” said Laycock. “It gets people really excited about next year’s trips. We’ve also recently started compiling a travel book with a description of the trips being offered that we can hand out and distribute on campus. It is also included in the summer edition of our alumni magazine.”
The relationships and bonds the program creates give Laycock satisfaction in spite of her busy schedule. She especially enjoys traveling with the group, since she can relive the travel high she experienced in Paris and foster new friendships.
“Once everyone gets together, they start telling stories,” said Laycock. “It’s fun to compare my stories to stories from their generation and to what’s going on now. It’s a wonderful experience.”
• Enjoy the trip. You can get wrapped up in the work aspect of it and not take a moment to enjoy what is around.
• Things will always come up that you weren’t expecting. It is the way you handle it that people remember.
• Make sure everyone is having the best trip possible. You would hate to hear after the fact that someone was not happy with the trip.