If you work hard, lead well and plan strategically, the success of your affinity travel program should outlast you.
Your travel program isn’t just a group of friends who enjoy taking trips together. The work you do at your bank, university, chamber of commerce or other community group is important to the institution and to the people you serve. If you run a thriving loyalty travel program, you’re playing a part in building community and furthering your organization’s mission. And that work should go on even after you’re not able to continue.
Unfortunately, too many good travel programs fizzle out when the principal leader decides to take a step back. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If life responsibilities, health or other factors curtail your personal travel, your legacy can continue with a great new leader.
Here are 10 tips to help you create a succession plan that will keep your travel club thriving.
1) Start years in advance.
In any organization, leadership transitions work best when succession planning begins well in advance. Finding the right candidate to take over your travel program could require significant time and training them will take even more. So when possible, you should start planning your exit two to three years ahead of when you would like it to happen. And even if you don’t plan to quit soon, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan in case life requires you to step back unexpectedly.
2) Get input from key stakeholders.
Chances are you have group members who travel with you frequently or colleagues who are heavily involved in your loyalty club. These people are the most likely to be unsettled by a quick leadership change or an unexpected closing of your program. So when you begin thinking about succession planning, have some discreet conversations with these key stakeholders. Get their input on the future of the program, and ask if they have any candidates in mind who could take the reins once you step down.
3) Look for youth.
One of the keys to a thriving travel program is consistency: having an established leader at the helm for years at a time. To this end, it’s optimal to look for a new leader who can lead the program for the next five to 10 years. If your group consists mostly of seniors, look for someone who has recently retired to take over. In addition to having a lot of energy, these younger leaders will also prove attractive to new travelers from your community.
4) Recruit for culture.
The most important element in maintaining a healthy group dynamic isn’t talent, authority or experience; it’s culture. And leadership changes can have a dramatic impact on an organization’s culture. So when you’re recruiting a new leader, you should look for culture first: Do they get along well with your travelers? Are they fun to be with? Do they embody the mission of your travel club? If the candidates are a cultural fit, you can teach them what they need to know about travel. If they don’t fit the culture, though, they likely won’t last.
5) Get the candidates on the road.
While culture is important, travel experience is also vital in leading a travel program. There’s a chance that the best candidate for a leadership role is already among your group’s regular travelers. If not, though, you’ll need to bring some outside candidates into the fold and get them some travel experience. Arrange for them to come on several trips over the course of a year to familiarize themselves with group travel and to get to know your members. You’ll find out quickly whether or not they’re a poor fit.
6) Share your knowledge.
Once you have found the right person to take your place as a group leader, it’s time to start teaching the new leader how to do your job. This will involve a lot of nuts-and-bolts conversations about how to identify destinations, work with tour operators and keep things organized. But you should also share your best sources of information and inspiration. Pass on copies of this magazine, and encourage the future leader to subscribe. And if you attend travel conferences or other tourism events, bring the new leader along to a few.
7) Let the leader-in-training run some trips.
After learning the basics of tourism, the leader-in-training should get some hands-on experience by planning and leading some trips. You should supervise the work, offering advice and input where you can. And be sure to go on the trips yourself to give additional feedback or solve complicated problems when necessary. In addition to giving the new leader valuable experience, this will help your travelers get used to the idea of traveling with the new person.
8) Communicate clearly to your group.
If you have found a successor, trained the new leader and given that person responsibility in your program, it’s time to start telling your travelers exactly what’s going on. Some members may feel nervous or uneasy about the idea of traveling with anyone besides you. You can allay their fears by outlining the succession clearly and assuring them that the new leader will be a great fit. If possible, make this announcement several months or a year before you step down. And make yourself available to anyone who has questions or concerns.
9) Connect with your leaders.
Since your travel program serves the mission of a larger organization, it’s a good idea to make sure the organization’s leaders are aware of your transition plan. If they haven’t met before, introduce your new travel coordinator to the executive who oversees your area of responsibility. Make sure your replacement understands that the leaders are a support and a resource. And see to it that your supervisors know when you’re stepping away so they don’t continue to come to you with questions or ideas.
10) Stay involved and available.
No matter how well you have planned your transition, your replacement will probably encounter some unforeseen challenges and have some unexpected questions. So support the program you love by staying involved and make yourself available to your successor as much as possible. Even if you can’t go on trips anymore, you can provide a lot of wisdom and encouragement to the person who takes the baton from you. And you might enjoy participating in the group’s activities and shorter trips without the responsibility of planning them.