The most important tool you can use as a travel leader is one you already have: your phone.
It’s no secret that mobile technology has fundamentally changed the way things get done on the road (and in many other aspects of life). And that change continues at a brisk pace. Today’s travel experience is dominated by mobile phone apps, which can streamline every step of a trip from before you leave to after you return home.
These apps are convenient for individual planners and absolutely essential for group leaders. Having the right apps at your fingertips will help you create better experiences, coordinate the moving parts of your trips and make sure your clients are having a great time on the road.
Here are five categories of apps you should download — and encourage your travelers to download too — before your next group trip.
If you’ve flown recently, there’s a good chance you have downloaded an app created by a major air carrier. If not, you’re missing out: Airline apps eliminate the need for paper boarding passes, provide up-to-the minute flight info and allow you to quickly make itinerary changes if your trip is disrupted. Other travel carriers have followed suit and created apps to enrich their elements of the travel experience. If you’re taking a group on a cruise, encourage everyone to download the cruise line’s app, which will help them make the most of their time onboard. Some major tour companies you work with also have apps to help your travelers stay organized and discover hidden gems in the destinations they visit.
When you’re traveling with a group, having a quick way to get a message to everyone can be vital. This is especially important in emergencies or unpredictable situations. If the group is small enough, you can simply send a text message. For more than about 10 travelers, though, you’ll need a group messaging app. There are plenty to choose from, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, GroupMe and Signal. All will allow you to send info — such as meet-up instructions, departure times, etc. — with your travelers, and most will allow members to share photos and videos with the group as they go. Just make sure you members download the apps before departure so you can add them to your group thread.
If you’ve ever stood in line for an hour or more waiting to clear the immigration desk upon returning to the United States, you’ll appreciate just how helpful passport apps can be. Frequent international travelers should sign up for Global Entry, a service that allows you to bypass the customs desk and scan your passport at a self-service kiosk. But even people who don’t have Global Entry can save time with Customs and Border Patrol’s official Mobile Passport Control app, which allows travelers to enter their personal details beforehand to expedite the immigration clearance process on arrival. There are other passport apps that allow travelers to store important passport and personal information as well.
You accumulate a lot of info when planning a trip — from passengers’ personal details to vendor contracts, itineraries and emergency contact info — and there are moments when it would be helpful to access that information on your phone. The best way to do this is to store all the important trip information on a file on your computer that is synced to the cloud. There are a number of services that do this, such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive, and there’s a good chance your organization already subscribes to one of them. Each of these cloud services has a mobile phone app that syncs files from your computer to your phone, so you’ll never be without critical information when you need it.
Today’s group travel itineraries include more independent exploration than ever before, and there’s a good chance that you or some of your travelers will be interested in catching a ride somewhere during that free time. No need to have the hotel bellman call you a cab — ridesharing apps such as Uber and Lyft make it quick and easy to find a driver to take you anywhere you want to go. The only catch is that it can be a bit of a pain to open an account at the moment you need service. So before you leave home, download the apps, set up your accounts and enter payment details. Encourage your travelers to do the same.