In addition to comments published in the June issue of Leisure Group Travel, here are more answers from readers who responded to our inquiry: We are looking for your best ideas on how to create a great itinerary. What’s your secret sauce, your wow factor or “don’t ever do this” tip?
Obvious but Overlooked
Ask! The travel industry is full of people that are interconnected. If you are thinking about going to a certain location and have sights on a certain attraction, but don’t know what else to do or how to change the same old trip to that favorite attraction to make it different – just ask! When you’re calling to book your reservation at that attraction (or even if you’re just thinking about booking), ask the person on the other end of the phone for ideas. Group sales professionals are likely connected to the other group sales people in the area, know what is new in the area, know what spots tend to be favorites of their groups, have hub-and-spoke suggestions, and also are local so they have insight on things like “where the locals eat” or things that might be off the beaten path – and so much more. Although the internet is a wonderful tool, it sometimes leads us to forget about an amazing resource – each other!
Nicole Sutton, Group Sales Manager
American Music Theatre
Biscuits on the Bus
I like to add the “unexpected”. . .a surprise to the itinerary. For example, during a Cajun Country trip across the South I had a Rise of the Southern Biscuit cookbook and we stopped at every possible restaurant en route in the cookbook and took pictures and to-go orders of their biscuits to sample on the bus. It was a simple thing but they loved it.
Elite Advantage Club
Greenhouse & Church Tours
When I started at our bureau 16 years ago here in Waterloo, Iowa, we didn’t have many attractions besides tours of the John Deere Tractor & Engine Assembly. So I had to put my thinking cap on and develop more tours from the ground up. I started contacting the older businesses in the metro area to get a feel of their history in our area. I found a third-generation greenhouse that said they would give behind-the-scenes tours to my tour groups on how a greenhouse works, how they wholesale plants to other nurseries around the state and region. The owner of this greenhouse now has a weekly spot on our local NBC affiliate Saturday mornings, so now with our partnership, both of our businesses have grown.
I also looked for unusual one-of-a-kind areas of our city. We have the oldest area of town called “Historic Church Row.” It was named that because of all the 100-year-old churches that are literally built side-by-side along a trolley line. They include Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and First Congregational. I toured each church to see how their religions were different from the one next door, what special features they had that set them apart, and what each church contributed to their neighborhood. It’s a popular tour and I even have tour groups requesting that I step on their coach and talk about that area of town even if their group doesn’t have the time in their itinerary to do so.
I have used the history of my area to make my tours come to life!
Lonnie Elmore, Director of Group Sales
We find our clients are looking for more intimate or “real” experiences, which can be achieved by adding things like a “home hosted dinner” with a local family (make sure it is at an approved or reliable home) or perhaps a visit to a local farm. Personal interaction and connection with the people of another country never fails to enrich a client’s holiday and can also make them feel more valued as a tourist beyond the cliché “walking dollar sign.”
I also recommend a good variety of activities to keep the itinerary interesting – a boat trip, train ride, cable car or funicular stand out in a program – and avoid repetition, whether it’s churches or beaches because too much of one thing will bore a group. Another tip is to make sure the activities included in your program are age-appropriate. We deal primarily with seniors, so for us this is extremely important – we need to be clear on how much walking is involved, the length of touring days, if there are many steps at the attractions, etc.
Tina Horley, General Manager
Senior Tours Canada
Itinerary planning has changed drastically over the last 10 years. It is now very important to have a creative mind and always be on the hunt to find the new, interesting and different. I also feel that themed itineraries are very popular. Our culinary and railroad tours have sold well and continue to be the true leaders for our company. A new popular itinerary we have been offering is our family destination vacations by motorcoach. We have chosen popular family destinations and packaged itineraries that give the families the freedom of choosing what they want to do each day. We set a base price and then offer choices of amusement parks, boat rides, sailing or they can just spend time on the beach.
Sugar Tours, Inc.
West Dover, VT
In Over Your Head
While many of our group leaders get an A+ for their trip planning and execution skills, one mistake we’re starting to see more frequently is inviting friends on a trip that they’re not suited for. Everyone knows it’s more fun to travel with a group of friends than just one or two and instincts (and common courtesy) dictate that you offer the invitation to everyone… all 820 of your closest Facebook friends. Today this is helped along by social media and Facebook groups – no one wants to be left behind. In theory, this makes sense; however, on the river it may not.
We outfit trips on the Gauley River in West Virginia. Two distinct sections of river offer very different river rafting experiences. Although both sections are challenging, exhilarating and filled with scenic and historic qualities, only one is appropriate for first-time rafters or beginners – the Lower Gauley. The other, the famed Upper Gauley, requires previous paddling experience and the skills necessary for this high-impact adventure.
Often unwittingly, friends are invited to participate on the Upper Gauley River trip (and accept) without full understanding of what they’re taking on. Most times this works out fine and just requires extra attention of our staff, often depriving the other experienced rafters of the more challenging runs the guides would otherwise select. However, sometimes a guest can feel overwhelmed at being thrown into an extreme whitewater situation right off the bat, leading to an uncomfortable and uneasy experience which they are not likely repeat and may even strain the friendship.
As professional rafting outfitters, we recommend that group leaders make all trip options and information available to their potential group members and help them decide what trip they’re best suited for. If you’re not sure, then it’s always best to err on the side of caution and don’t push the limits. When we say “previous experience recommended,” we mean it. It just makes sense for someone to get a healthy appreciation for whitewater and well acclimated by working their way up in rapid classifications before going for the gusto.
Rick & Heather Johnson
Oak Hill, WV
For Efficiency’s Sake
My best tip is to set your itinerary geographically correct by making sure you are not doing a lot of backtracking with your group. I like to set it up the itinerary so that your first stop is the farthest away from your last stop – this makes your drive time more efficient.
A don’t-do tip: Don’t set up an itinerary for a senior adult group that is more a student group itinerary. Make sure the itinerary is age-appropriate.
Group Tour Sales Manager
Myrtle Beach Area CVB
Myrtle Beach, SC
My itinerary planning is always based upon the “wow” factor. It may be going to the same attractions/stops but adding something specifically interesting to that group that will “wow” them. For example, if the group is a school group and riding our Aerial Tramway, we will create a scavenger hunt grade-specific. If they are of mature age and stopping at the Flume Gorge, we will be sure to offer them a shuttle ride at no additional cost so they are able to still see the gorge without committing to the full walk.
Julianne Ireland, Sales Manager
Cannon Mountain, Franconia Notch State Park
Our new division, SoCal Group Vacations, is making some of our group itineraries available for individual reservations. We’re asking our hotels for slow dates in the spring, soft dates in April, etc., to help both of us − the hotel with occupancy, our guests with best rates.
Suzanne Slavitter, CTP, CTIE
Get CVB Advice
I personally feel that even if you have a small group traveling to some unknown destination, contact the local convention and visitors bureau to save yourself a lot of grief. I learned this through personal experience on a trip to Denver with small group of eight ladies. The B&B /boutique hotel on the internet looked amazing and certainly lured you in if true Victorian style is what you were looking for. I can’t begin to tell you what a horrible place it was. I tried to visit this place again this past September, stopped in and asked to see the rooms, and nothing was different. Still the same.
Elmwood Park, IL
Working with a Tour Operator
A great itinerary is largely giving the group as much as possible of what they expect or want to see on a tour. The best itinerary can be customized to suit, and it is very important to speak with several people involved and get a sample of what they would like. You should then present it to a qualified tour operator for review. In general you should keep day trips on average from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with a maximum of five stops for admissions and additional stops for banks and lunch as required. In many cases it is better to add a day to a tour rather than try to cram daily itineraries. Adding a day is not expensive as the airfare is already included. An option for tighter budgets is to look at some scheduled tour itineraries from tour operators. Your group can generally join a 12- or 13-day scheduled tour on any part of the tour. The tour operator will price the portion out and will let you join a tour at any juncture. The tour operator may also offer some good ideas on promoting your tour.
Noel Murphy, President
Celtic Tours World Vacations
Most of my time is spent planning custom FIT’s for couples, small groups and honeymooners to Italy. I always provide them with a detailed itinerary and include reservations at restaurants that I know and love in two or three of the locations they will visit. They are always greeted warmly by the owners. When the clients return, they all tell me that these were some of their favorite experiences. I also have a relationship with a walking food tour in Rome that everyone loves.
Judy Litner, President
Travel Express Intl. Ltd.
Great Neck, NY
Tips from Newsletters
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Product Manager of Australia, New Zealand, UK and Ireland