Group travel has long been encumbered by an unfortunate misconception. You know the image: a cramped motorcoach full of tourists stuck looking out their windows as they pass by one world-famous attraction after another — no freedom, no choices, no fun.
Although this perception has some roots in tours of the past, many of today’s trips bear little resemblance to this image. Yet the group travel stereotypes persist for some potential customers.
How do you overturn such a prevalent preconception that keeps people from attempting group travel?
Your work to enlarge the concept of group travel can often seem difficult, but it is not impossible. Many group leaders and tour operators have already attracted many travelers who once thought they weren’t group travel people.
A wide range of touring options makes it easier than ever to dispel these common group travel stereotypes. Try the following:
1. Choose customizable tours.
If your boomer customers picture group travel as an experience that would trap them on a bus with no flexibility or free time, customizable tours may be your best solution. Choose or build customizable trips that incorporate plenty of built-in downtime and options.
These tours already exist and have climbed in popularity in recent years. Look for tours with fewer details in the itinerary, such as trips to a national park with a day set aside for the group members to explore on their own.
Or instead of having a set dinner with a set menu, offer your group three restaurant options. Many tour operators also create optional activities, such as a choice between an organized zip-lining expedition and shopping.
Itinerary flexibility creates travel that is liberating rather than restricting: Your group enjoys the benefit of not having to worry about or plan anything, but also has the added bonus of autonomy.
Giving people choices moves them away from the feeling of being in a set group and makes them feel like they’re having more of an individual experience. Model your tour after a cruise experience, which provides seemingly endless options for travelers with many of the benefits of group travel.
Choose outside-the-box group tours when you can to completely negate the trapped-in-a-bus mindset. For example, river cruises, luxury train rides and guided bicycle tours all create more autonomy for travelers just by changing the mode of transportation.
2. Focus on authentic experiences.
Having dinner with a local family in India or taking a cooking class in Jordan clashes with the stereotype that group travel offers cookie-cutter tours. Instead of including only the best-known attractions, many tour operators increasingly incorporate more inventive authentic and exclusive experiences into their itineraries.
Travelers looking for the “real” side of a destination might not have sought group trips 10 years ago, but modern tours promote these local treasures freely. Weave these local experience into your tours with local guides, visits to local businesses and regional cuisine.
Choosing something not only local but also exclusive makes the tour that much more valuable. Casual individual travelers probably can’t arrange a private meeting with local artisans in South America, but you and your tour operator partners can, and that extra level of experience can make group travel much more appealing.
So how do you find these niche experiences that will appeal to your travel group? Ask. More travel leaders and tour operators no longer use the traditional paradigm of selling standardized tour itineraries. Instead, they ask potential travelers what type of tour they want.
You can find out what types of trips interest your potential travelers by surveying them or holding group functions where you solicit their travel ideas. Offering what they want also makes promotion that much simpler.
For example, if you have a lot of members that express interest in gardening, choose a tour with a garden focus. The more the tour fits their lifestyle, the more likely they are to take a chance on a group tour.
3. Get the word out.
Once you’ve chosen or created a tour with both customization and authentic experiences, it can still be difficult to reach stubborn travelers holding on to old ideas of group travel. Highlighting what makes your tour different from traditional group travel then becomes crucial.
For example, when you promote your trip to Italy, don’t focus just on the destination; emphasize the visit to the local winery, the free day to explore Florence and other experiences that differentiate your tour from the stereotypes. If you limit your tour to fewer passengers, make sure to highlight that in the travel materials, since this also can grab the attention of skeptical travelers.
Though word of mouth remains a top way to attract doubtful new members, social media also increasingly influences travel decisions. Make sure you have a presence on all social media channels, such as Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and other mobile media.
Additionally, during and after any tour, encourage your travelers to post about their trip with a link to your page. This can lead to new members who might not have thought about traveling with you before, but saw a fun photo and decided to give group travel a try.
The growing trend of multigenerational travel also helps bring in new travelers. A trip with grandparents and grandkids helps introduce group travel to younger generations so they can experience for themselves the rewards of traveling with a group.