In decades past, group travel planners relied on brochures and phone calls to plan their trips. Without the internet, planning a trip from scratch could take a lot of time and resources.
With today’s online technology, planners can book airfare, hotels and attractions from their phones. But the world’s constantly advancing technology can make it difficult for planners to keep up with the latest app or online booking tip.
In an ironic twist, the abundance of information online can actually make trip planning slower. There are hundreds of reviews online for every imaginable hotel, restaurant and attraction. To thoroughly research a trip to New York City, for example, a planner could spend weeks browsing articles and reviews on possible trip ideas.
To avoid this trap, group travel planners should focus their planning on a handful of useful travel tools. And they should take advantage of systems to build itineraries using these technologies to make travel planning easier and simpler.
Some travel planners use tour operators exclusively. This cuts down on the need to research destinations beforehand. Other group travel planners start with nothing and build tours themselves.
For those that begin with a blank piece of paper, convention and visitors bureau (CVB) websites are the first place to visit for information. Many come with premade group itineraries and contacts that understand leisure tour needs.
Some CVBs offer their own mobile apps that planners can use to put together a trip. For example, Mississippi showcases its local seafood with the Mississippi Seafood Trail app. The trail’s app offers reviews and maps that planners can use to choose places with freshly caught Mississippi seafood.
Apart from CVBs, online magazines that focus on groups can help narrow down options. Otherwise, a group leader might decide to book a Michelin-starred restaurant with rave reviews before learning it isn’t suitable for groups.
Accommodations are often the most expensive components of a tour. Group leaders can simplify finding and booking rooms using HotelPlanner, a website that allows them to obtain custom group rates and instant online booking capabilities for any number of rooms. The site negotiates a contract and then creates a booking page where customers can manage room blocks and rates from more than 650,000 hotel properties around the world.
TripAdvisor remains one of the easiest ways to read hundreds of reviews of attractions, hotels and restaurants. The company recently added a Trips tab that allows group leaders to craft a sharable itinerary using the places and attractions reviewed on the site. The app also allows users to save interesting ideas for later.
There are disadvantages to TripAdvisor, though. Many properties have thousands of reviews, and the site isn’t curated, which can make the reviews unreliable. Just because a restaurant has the highest rating doesn’t mean it offers the highest-caliber food.
When reading reviews, planners should remember that people have widely different cultural expectations, which can lead to skewed ratings. For example, Paris hotels often suffer from negative reviews for tiny rooms and bathrooms. The smaller rooms are normal for European cities but can alarm travelers from Texas or California accustomed to more space.
Many group leaders rely on websites or apps to compile their travel options while they mull their choices. Pinterest combines the beauty of Instagram photos with convenient organization. Users can organize trips using “boards” that can each have as many subcategories as desired.
Group leaders could start a New York board with subboards for hotels, restaurants and attractions to compile all their options in one place.
Evernote is a similar program that allows users to clip articles and ideas from all over the web and organize them in one place that isn’t limited to photos.
Planners can also choose among several programs developed especially for group travel. Travefy was created for travel agents and allows users to build a sharable itinerary, collect money and forward confirmation emails. Even if group leaders don’t use any of the sharing functions, they can read reviews and collect trip information needed to organize an itinerary without ever leaving the app.
Tripit and Tripline are similar trip planning tools, though a little simpler for those who need fewer extras. Multiple users can work to plan a trip together.
Tripline also offers a follow-up feature that allows members to upload photos and add text to each location on the itinerary. This information is then used to create an animated video about the trip that planners can share with their travelers.
Map It Out
Travel planners that map out their trips need to know precisely how long it takes to get from one stop to another. They include pit stops and must arrive at events on time. Google Maps will prove an invaluable resource.
From Google Maps, planners can pull up a map and see which restaurants are near their chosen hotel. Then for each dining option, they can view menus and read reviews. When planners have a list of attractions they want to experience but don’t know which route to take, they can play with which attraction to visit first, second and third to achieve the least driving time.
Group leaders that wonder about the walkability of a downtown area can also use Google Maps’ street view to virtually walk the street without having to leave their computers. This can be especially important for groups with accessibility challenges visiting European cities or other international destinations that may not be up to date on handicapped access.
Planners can save map routes and download them for offline use. Group leaders that hire professional motorcoach drivers can have their Google Maps routes ready in case the driver runs into traffic and needs another route quickly.
Group leaders should always know where the nearest hospital and other emergency services are in case of disaster. Google Maps allows planners to save destinations so that critical information is available quickly no matter where they are.
While on the road, if plans suddenly change and group leaders need to think fast, Google Maps can quickly pull up restaurant, hotel, park and attraction suggestions.
With a little preparation and the right digital tools, the days of brochures and binders are long gone. Great trips and easy planning are just a swipe away.