A great tour should have no surprises — for you, that is.
As travel planners, we put many hours into organizing trips. So it’s frustrating when you’ve spoken to destination representatives in advance but upon arrival find that the staff is not prepared for you. This can lead to longer waits, with people standing on their feet for long periods, and customer complaints.
When a destination is not prepared for your group, it can reflect poorly on you as the planner.
Working strategically with upcoming destinations, hotels and attractions before and during your trip will help avoid the problem. Here are some of my favorite tips to prepare the next stop for your arrival.
Find a partner
After you decide your must-do activities, upon booking, speak to someone about your arrival. Ask to speak to someone who understands group tours and who can provide details about where your bus can unload and park. If a location does not have experience with motorcoach tours, provide them with information about your vehicle, including its size. Also alert them if some of your travelers aren’t capable of walking long distances.
In downtowns and during festivals, there may be no designated motorcoach parking spot. If this is the case, contact the city to ask for locations or to request a parking spot be marked off close to your destination. For a festival, you might request a street in a desirable location for the city to mark off for your motorcoach. Remember it is not the transportation company’s job to arrange parking or to scout out loading zones.
It is always a good idea for a hotel or restaurant to know your tour group is coming, whether the restaurant is the main attraction or the tour is making a stop at the shopping mall for lunch. Some locations, such as lunch spots, are popular for buses for a reason. They might have deals for the bus driver and tour director and designated parking. Letting them know in advance is a great way to ensure all those benefits are received. And since some organizations don’t allow buses, it’s important to do your homework and have a couple of options in case your plans don’t work out.
Check your map
Also, as you do research, check your plans against a map. When I take a tour someplace new, I always check Google Maps. It helps me give my driver better directions. And, when in doubt, print it out. When I don’t know if I’ll be able to explain our logistics to my driver, I print out the map view and make notes about where to park.
With an attraction that requires booking, call several months in advance and then again closer to the arrival date to finalize your payment. It is important to touch base five to seven days before arrival. Not only does it remind the staff about your visit, it allows you to iron out any last-minute details, such as a client who will need extra care.
Call on the way
You will also want to call the location two to four hours before you arrive. If I have a group of 40 people checking into a hotel, I want to speak to the hotel the day before and again a couple of hours in advance of our arrival. Remind your contact of everything you have requested, such as luggage handling and other services. Calling on the day of arrival ensures that staff members are aware of important information and helps eliminate communication issues.
One final note: Don’t forget to include your driver in all the arrangements and to listen to his or her advice. Your driver will appreciate a map of the locations and a daily meeting about the itinerary.
As travel planners, we can do a lot to avoid unpleasant surprises during our tours. We’ve all had horror stories about a location that was not prepared or, even worse, forgot about a tour group entirely. So it’s worth doing some extra work and check in repeatedly with each of your destinations. This creates a stress-free trip and gives your clients a streamlined experience.