Group Travel Planning Advice, Tools for Planning Group Trips

Little Extras Keep Tour Members Happy

Creative tour planners have many ways to enhance their tours without spending big bucks. They share their tips below in response to the questions: In crafting itineraries, what do you add at little or no cost that makes a big difference in satisfying customers? Are there hidden extras, surprises, even gifts that provide icing on the cake and bring smiles to passengers’ faces?

Beginning with comments by Chris Donnelly of Sugar Tours, Inc/Creative Culinary Tours, here are just some of the many reader responses that supplement those in the On the Record column in Leisure Group Travel’s June print issue:
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In 25 years of planning motorcoach tours in Vermont and New England, I have seen a real change in what packages offer. With many changes in the industry I find that itineraries have to be unique and have those extra components that make people want to come back.

Chris Donnelly Picture

Chris Donnelly, Sugar Tours, Inc./Creative Culinary Tours

I operate many types of specialty tours, which makes it easy to put that little extra surprise in a package that people don’t expect. During a special dinner I work with the chefs to come out and include a cooking demonstration of an item that would be on that evening’s menu. We also like to give enhanced tours, backstage looks at different operations that we do not advertise but include in the program. A visit to a local maple sugar producer will include a tour, but then we give them a special treat—a traditional sugar-on-snow that includes maple syrup over ice, doughnuts, pickles and coffee.

We also like to leave time in an itinerary to include experiences not listed in the tour. On our railroad tour we include a visit to a train yard where they are doing a restoration on a Zephyr train. Here we meet with the staff for a look at the project.

I have built relationships with suppliers who give us exclusivity on these extra components as they may not have the time to offer them to all of the tours.

Chris Donnelly
Sugar Tours, Inc./Creative Culinary Tours
West Dover, VT
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Landmark Tours adds step-on guides to many of our tours, which for a small added cost not only creates a carefree travel experience but also adds authentic and entertaining local history, legend, lore and a sense of place. We also focus on great themes, which for no extra cost tie the sites together and create a total experience greater than the sum of its parts. For example, our “Crooks & Nooks Tour” includes a guide dressed as an “escaped convict” from our local Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, where Al Capone and Jimmy Hoffa did time. He leads the trip, which includes “doing time up river” during a riverboat luncheon cruise featuring “more than bread and water.” Our “Recipe Roulette Tour” has group members collecting surprise ingredients at sites throughout the day, then at the end receiving the recipe that uses all the ingredients and a taste of the finished product. A sense of humor and a theme go a long way in making a fun and entertaining trip.

Megan Bishop, President
Landmark Tours & Promotions, Inc.
Lewisburg, PA
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Although we don’t advertise it, we always send a basket of candy and at least five gifts for free draws on the bus tours, whether they be one-day tours or multi-day. The gifts include game and puzzle books with a complimentary company pen attached, cans of mixed nuts, discount coupons on future tours, discount coupons for bringing a new customer on a future tour,  an engraved boxed pen for anyone celebrating a birthday or anniversary, etc. Most people are pleasantly surprised and seem to appreciate the added touch.

If we know in advance that a couple is celebrating a special occasion, like an anniversary or the birth of a new baby, or someone is celebrating a special birthday, we send a congratulatory card with the hostess to have everyone on the bus sign it and sing the appropriate “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Anniversary” as a group when we present the card to them.

Carol Paranuik, Manager
Foley Tours and Travel, Inc.
Madoc, Ontario

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I always leave wiggle room in my itineraries for “Time Tours Extras.” These are unannounced stops that have been thought out so it’s easy for the driver or escort. It may be a free historic site, an ice cream or Russell Stover stop, a free museum or just a scenic area for photos. I also try to work with CVBs and tourism sites to try get my passengers a “freebie” souvenir as we visit.  These two things are always a hit and customers feel they have gotten more for their money.

Richard J. Carey
Time Tours
Oklahoma City, OK
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I create and negotiate my own day tours – this makes them unique. You cannot go to a coach company or travel agency and find the same tour. On every tour I give large oatmeal raisin cookies with M & M’s (seasonal colors). Everyone talks about the cookies and associates them with my tours.

I always have trivia to leave with them – something amusing or relevant. On the next tour I ask who remembers it, and if someone does remember it, they receive a prize.

I make my own bingo sheet, develop the words related to the tour we are on, and dictate the words while they write them anywhere they wish in the boxes. I repeat the words out of order; the first person to have words vertically, horizontally or diagonally receives a prize.

Esther M. Scott, Assistant Vice President
Hinsdale Bank & Trust
Hinsdale, IL
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One of our regular travelers is a baker and she will often make cookies, candy or trail mix. The rest of the guests enjoy the homemade goodies.  We are grateful for her contributions to the trips.

Mike and Jan Hoffbauer
Wyandot Seneca Tours
Jerome, MI
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Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich, Switzerland

Groups in Switzerland should keep in mind the following:

*If coordinated through us, often a special welcome drink or dinner voucher can be organized with the local tourist office.
*Groups can reserve a special “themed” coach on a scenic train or have their luggage transported from the U.S. directly to their destination. Luggage transport between Swiss cities can be organized as well.
*No taxes on top of restaurant or hotel prices (except Zürich: 2%).
*Tip is not expected. What you see is what you pay!
*Anybody staying at ANY hotel in Geneva or Basel, no matter how many nights, gets a FREE transport card (access to all public transport in the respective city, and discounts on museums in Basel) from the day of arrival until the day of departure.
*Any group that stays in St. Moritz during the summer season for at least two nights gets free transport on all four mountain railways around St. Moritz.
*Free Internet in the city of Lucerne and St. Gallen.
*Any travel professional or group leader who goes through Zurich Airport gets a booklet of free vouchers for luggage storage, shower, discount on shopping and more. All you need is to present your business card at the information desk in Terminal 2, next to the car parking elevators.

Mirko Capodanno
Manager, Central USA & Canada
Switzerland Tourism
Toronto, Ontario
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We offer wine glasses as souvenirs with our logo to our vineyard tour clients. We stop at local farm stands for homemade pies, gifts and veggies, and we take them by our local buffalo farm as a surprise extra, as most people on Long Island, NY have never seen a real live buffalo.

Thomas A. Ingald, President
North Fork Trolley Co.
Aquebogue, NY

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When creating an itinerary with Ohio Travel Treasures, we always add something extra to light up the guests and give them the feeling that they are experiencing an event instead of just a tour. For example, on holiday tours, our guides dress in costume. The groups either have Mrs. Claus or Santa himself who come bearing gifts. Other tours may have a gangster hijack the coach and, of course, the gangster has gold coins (from a recent robbery) that are really chocolate and all group members receive part of the “loot.”

Next year’s “Beat the Freeze with Summer Breeze” is an example of a theme tour. Guests will be treated to a tropical locale starting with a tropical drink and dipping their winter feet into warm glowing waters and then enjoy a tropical picnic lunch and show that features songs of summer. What a way to beat winter blues in March!

Diane Sphar, President
Ohio Travel Treasures LLC
Cincinnati, OH
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When planning group activities, you should always add that little pinch of spice to the adventure to keep it upbeat and exciting. Give them that little added tour or that added visit to an unexpected site. It perks up the crowd and makes it a little more adventuresome.

I would also suggest that you go to your local dollar store and purchase some nice little photo albums with a package of nice pens. Give everyone in the group an album and a pen. This is a very inexpensive way to brighten their experience. If you don’t like the album idea, they usually have cute little journals that you could give out with a pen, just a wonderful way to add to those special memories.

Dianna Turner
Rutherfordton, NC
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Historic Roscoe Village knows that groups love to shop. Therefore, we give each guest in the group a Roscoe Shopping Reward Card, which gives them discounts at all participating shops in the village. They love this little extra perk.

Debbie McDonald
Historic Roscoe Village
Coshocton, OH
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On our Historic Tours, we ask different questions about what they just learned, and the customer who gets the correct answer goes home with a souvenir. We make sure every passenger leaves with something to remember their experience with us.

David N. Smith, Director of Marketing & Sales
Oleta Coach Lines, Inc.
Williamsburg, VA
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Alissa Preston

The Topiary Park is a great addition to your trip to Columbus, Ohio, and it’s free! The seven-acre park in downtown Columbus can be enjoyed by strolling through it to view the beautifully landscaped walks, benches and picnic areas. Many groups use Topiary Park as a lunch stop, by having a caterer prepare box lunches.

Alissa Preston, Tourism Sales Manager
Experience Columbus
Columbus, OH
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Honestly, the things that make the biggest difference don’t cost a thing.  Smiles and a “we can do that” attitude. Those along with delivering on what you promised goes a long way. Learn your guests’ names and more importantly use them. Finally, show your customers that you are interested in them and value their business. Ask for feedback…Did you enjoy the trip?  What did you like? How can we do better? Where else would you like to go? What else would you like to do? Always thank them for their patronage and never forget to plant the seed and ask for the opportunity to be of service in the future….M/M Public, thanks for traveling with us. We appreciate it.  When will see you again? We look forward to it. Have a great day.

Adam Andrusky, Director of Sales & Marketing
Bieber Transportation Group
Kutztown, PA
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In New York City, there are so many wonderful ways to add quality to an itinerary without adding a lot of expense. Stops with short walks add a lot to a tour: a short walk down an interesting street in Harlem, Greenwich Village or another neighborhood. Turn the group loose to shop on a certain street full of interesting curio shops. Historic churches make wonderful stops (as time allows).

Also, people love to eat, so occasionally I’ll plan a stop at a couple of gourmet food shops. I’ll tell them in advance to prepare “tasting trays” of things so people can sample interesting tidbits. Sometimes I’ll stop at my friend Eileen’s tiny bakery in SoHo. She sells tiny, delicious cheesecakes and will give me a special price so everybody on the bus can get a small cheesecake ($1 or $2 per person).

On my Rich and Famous Tours, we go down residential areas where famous people live and it’s always a treat when we spot one. We’ve spotted Kelly Ripa, Regis Philbin, Bette Midler, Barbara Walters, Donald Trump, Meg Ryan and others. Such a treat that costs nothing, but becomes the one thing everybody remembers when they return home. It’s also free to watch a movie/TV show filming, which happens all the time in New York.

Jim Dykes, Guide & President
Abuzz Around New York, Inc.
Rich and Famous Tours, Inc.
New York, NY
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Hard candy is always a big hit and is no cost. The pre-phone calls are always a big hit to remind and let them know changes in plans.

Ruth Brackmann, Recreation Supervisor
Warrenville Park District
Warrenville, IL

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