An itinerary is the backbone of the group trip. Your knowledge and expertise will be vital in the planning process, and there are plenty of different ways to do this.
How do you go about planning and booking your tours? There are several ways to do it, each with its own pros and cons. Let’s compare three ways to book a group tour to help you find the best course of action for your next trip.
“Off the Shelf” Tours
This may be the simplest option for you to choose from. All you really have to do is tell the tour operator “yes” when he or she gives you a call with a proposal. Sometimes they will offer a tour itinerary that has the right date that works for your group at a price they can afford. If all the pieces fall into place, this method is a piece of cake. Someone else does all the operational work, including booking hotel accommodations, reserving the motor coach, setting aside flight reservations and much more—all you have to do is ask what they can do for you.
This course of action will allow you to spend the majority of your time marketing and selling your trip. If you are new to the industry, or if the destination you’re traveling to isn’t one you’re familiar with, this is definitely the most reliable plan. It also allows the tour operator to use their status in the industry to gain bulk prices while negotiating rates and features you may need/want on your trip. Also, in many cases with tour operators, you won’t have to front a huge deposit in advance to hold group space.
Legally, you can protect yourself as well. As the “agent” of the “principle” (tour operator) you are not alone if something unforeseen happens and you find yourself in court.
Booking with a tour operator does have its disadvantages. For starters, it’s not your tour—it’s the tour operator’s. Major decisions regarding itinerary operations, pricing, selection of suppliers and other factors won’t be made by you. You give up a lot of control of your trips to the tour operator and as a result, you may start to produce cookie-cutter tours that aren’t as attractive as the other creative ones out there.
Go it Alone
Instead of booking a tour operator, you may choose to fly solo. This will mean booking everything yourself: hotels, sightseeing tours, flights, motor coaches etc. This process can be time consuming and if you don’t have an extensive knowledge of the industry, it can be frustrating. Don’t forget the added responsibility of selling your trip. This all take extensive amounts of time and energy, and trying to complete both tasks at once can be overwhelming.
However, many group handlers like this method. For one-day or short domestic trips, it can be rewarding and successful. Check that your organization has adequate liability insurance, as you will be the sole party responsible as the principle.
This method will give you much more freedom than you would with an “off the shelf” tour. You have wiggle room in itinerary design, control over the planning process and you can eliminate costs by cutting out the middle-man (tour operator). Those who have been around the industry longer may have more success with this type of trip, due to stronger connections they’ve made along the way.
This method may be what most would consider the best method. It fuses the advantages of the other two courses of action. In this method, the tour planner goes to the operator and asks for a modified itinerary customized to your needs. This type of arrangement is appropriate for special-interest groups, or for a trip wrapped around an event or convention. Using their industry status, tour operators may be able to get you into big ticket events such as Mardi Gras, Carnaval in Rio and others.
However, a tour operator comes with a price. You will have to anticipate the added cost and understand what your group members generally can and can’t afford on your trip. Going overboard with extra features or expensive excursions can scare some of your usual members away.
Knowing where you stand in the industry will be important. Strong connections across the industry are great tools to have. The stronger your expertise is, the more opportunities you will have to customize and negotiate the trip you want. If you don’t quite yet have the experience or expertise, don’t be discouraged! While it may seem difficult now, you will look back and be glad you put in the hard work.