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Travel Toolbox: It Pays to Get Organized

As a travel planner and trip leader, your job has a lot of moving parts. You have to pick destinations and select tour operators, recruit club members and sell them on specific trips; you must also collect payments and manage your travel budget, prepare your group for departure and prepare yourself for potential emergencies that might arise on the road. Amid all this, you must be friendly and make sure your travelers are having the time of their lives. And don’t forget your other, nontravel duties at the office.

Any veteran travel planner will tell you that organization and attention to detail are essential to running a successful travel program. And the bigger a club gets or the more trips it offers, the more important organization becomes. The only way to ensure success on every trip, no matter what surprises come up along the way, is to plan, automate and organize as many aspects of your travel program as possible.

Here are some tips for organizing your travel work that will help you stay on top of important details and maybe even make you more productive at the office.

Set Timelines

If you’re juggling a busy schedule, it can be easy to fall behind on important travel deadlines, such as collecting payments and creating rooming lists, or on long-term planning, such as picking destinations for future trips. To alleviate this, put together a timeline of all the steps involved in planning a trip; these may include brainstorming ideas, gathering quotes from tour operators, hosting a travel party, preparing the group for departure and sending follow-up thank-you notes. Each step should be scheduled for a certain number of days, weeks or months before departure. Then apply that timeline to each trip you’re running, and put the dates for each incremental step into your calendar to help keep you on track.

Use Checklists

What do airline pilots and theme park managers have in common? They both live and die by checklists. Pilots have checklists that walk them through precisely what to do for both routine flight procedures and emergency situations, and theme park managers employ checklists to ensure that their properties are pristine and their rides are safe. You can put this same principle to work in your favor by creating checklists for various aspects of your trip, such as gathering information from travelers, packing and working with tour operators. Creating checklists for specific emergencies will also help you navigate challenges on trips without forgetting important details.

Automate Marketing

In addition to planning trips, your job duties likely include promoting trips to your members and perhaps even recruiting new members from your community. Trying to do this all with personal emails and phone calls can tie up way too much of your time. Instead, leverage technology to do the hard work of marketing for you. Your organization’s customer management relationship (CRM) database should give you some tools to automatically send messages to people around certain milestones or events. And if you use a blast email service such as Constant Contact or Mail Chimp, you can create campaigns that send a series of timed emails to your customers.

Email Smarter

If you ever lose track of important messages that contain vital information, you need a better way of organizing your emails. One of the most underused mail functions is the smart mailbox. This feature lets you set rules to automatically sort incoming mail into special folders that you categorize with sender name or subject line. So if you create a smart mailbox around the subject line “Ireland,” all incoming messages about your group’s trip to Ireland automatically go into that mailbox, which means you’ll know exactly where to find important emails about that trip.

Leverage the Cloud

You probably use spreadsheets, lists, itineraries and other documents to keep the various aspects of your travel program organized. But if you just store those documents on your work computer, you may not have access to that information when you get an after-hours call at home or encounter an emergency on the road. Fortunately, cloud computing has made it possible to store your files online and view them from any computer, smartphone or tablet. Take advantage of the storage and sharing features of Dropbox or Google Drive to make sure you have information when you need it most.