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Travel Toolbox: Segmenting Trips

It may be the biggest challenge in group tourism: How do you keep a diverse group of people with a wide range of interests happy and engaged on a trip together?

For years, the standard solution to this problem was to create tour itineraries that offered “something for everyone” in the hopes that each tour participant would find enough activities they liked that they wouldn’t complain about the other activities that they didn’t like. And while that approach may have worked well a generation ago, today’s travelers are more demanding than they ever have been and demonstrate a much lower tolerance for boredom on their trips.

When people travel in groups now, they don’t want to sacrifice their personal interests for the sake of the group itinerary. That leaves travel planners with the difficult task of finding ways to engage and delight all types of travelers in one trip.

Among the most innovative ways to do this is to segment trips, offering multiple choices to travelers along the way and allowing them to customize their experiences in the context of the group tour. Here are five strategies for segmenting your trips in ways your travelers will appreciate.

Offer a range of values.

Though group tours often offer better value for the dollar than individual travel does, they don’t always have to cater to the smallest common budget. Some people in your group will always be looking for the cheapest rate they can get, while others are likely to enjoy some upgraded amenities and are willing to pay extra for them. Instead of choosing to cater to one faction or another, why not come up with some ways to satisfy both? Giving your travelers the option to upgrade to a better hotel suite, cruise cabin or airline ticket will allow those who want extra luxury to pay for it while everyone else in the group still gets the best value possible. The tour operators, hotels and transportation providers with whom you work should be able to make this possible for you.

Make guide service optional.

Some people book group tours because they enjoy traditional, fully escorted trips that include the services of a professional guide throughout every moment of the day. Others bristle at the idea of being locked into a jam-packed itinerary on a tour and crave free time. Many itineraries attempt to strike a balance between these two camps by integrating some free time into the middle of busy tour days. An even better option, though, is to train guides to give in-depth advice to independent-minded travelers and then turn around and offer a full day of guided activity to the members of the group who prefer a completely escorted experience.

Plan multiple tracks.

Most popular destinations offer more activity options than you could realistically fit into a single tour itinerary, which can leave some travelers disappointed by what they don’t get to do. But you can make more activities available to your travelers by breaking up portions of your day into various tracks based on a variety of special interests. You might have a day when people can choose to visit historic attractions, tour some area wineries or go on an extended hike. At the end of the day, bring the group back together for dinner to compare notes on their experiences.

Be smart about optional excursions.

For decades, some tour operators have offered optional experiences to travelers who want to pay more for special activities, longer stays and other perks. These options can be a good way to provide variety to a segmented group, but they sometimes rub travelers the wrong way if they are sold with too much pressure. To avoid this problem, take a service-focused approach to optional activities, making them available to people who want them without pushing them on the ones who don’t. Options shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity for upselling or earning extra commissions; instead, they should be all about making customers happy.

Plan for spontaneity.

If you’re an experienced travel planner, you know that flexibility is essential for group trips, as emergencies and unexpected events can throw off even the best-made plans. If it’s important to be able to appeal to a diverse set of interests during a tour, you need to allow some flexibility on your trip’s timing and activities, too. You never know what ideas or special requests someone in your group might have in the middle of a trip, and if you plan some extra time and budget to say yes to those requests, it will go a long way toward making those travelers feel satisfied.