Vacation Side Travel — over my head with groups | TravelResearchOnline

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Vacation Side Travel — over my head with groups

Several weeks ago, I was consumed with negative thoughts about my agency’s constant flow of bookings throughout the spring and summer worrying about what would happen if business started slowing down. What if all the new business was a fluke? What if it was just a “summer rush” or worse yet, what if everything I had put into this business was a waste and I’d find myself searching for a corporate job again? The very thought makes my skin crawl!

Over the next week or so, I received a handful of referrals, all of which were individual groups. That should be a wonderful thing, right? Well, in my case, it’s been a disaster! I have been missing deliverables left and right, making excuses, blaming my failure to execute on various “technical issues”, among other things. The truth is I’ve never booked a group before, ever! I just assumed it was like planning a typical vacation, only with a group, I figured I’d plan it once and make money on it over and over again, for each person in the group. Boy was I in for a shock!

After it became evident that each of the “group leaders” wanted to take every little detail to the group-at-large for their input, ideas and suggestions, I finally offered to create a special, mini-website where each group member could join and participate, answer surveys, poll questions and communicate with each other. I’d seen similar websites before, many times! Well, I know now those little websites cost money and they are charged on a “per group” basis. It was going to cost me $25 per month, per group and if I wanted to add payment processing so that I could add trip options and allow each person to make individual payments, well, that would cost an additional 5%! I found tons of event planning solutions but nothing that caters to travel groups , especially when a agent is involved.

I’m talking about a group of 30 going to Vegas, 20 to Mexico for a foodie-type event, a group of 200 students in 100 rooms traveling to Florida for a band concert, a group of friends heading off to celebrate a milestone birthday by attending a music festival and some party-goers looking to set sail on a “Groove Cruise.” That means 5 separate group websites, 5 separate designs, 5 separate flyers, countless hotels to contact, airline contracts to inquire about, tour operator and excursion quotes and plenty more I probably haven’t thought of yet! I feel like I’m drowning!

This week, I’d love your help and feedback! There’s only 1 of me and I’m still trying to get caught up, still chasing things down, and still may lose money which makes me want to send them to another agency! I know I can’t do that though, a couple of these folks are very good clients of mine. I know I should have been upfront about my experience with groups – that way, they may have still decided to work with me and would have anticipated some errors. We live and learn so I’ll figure it out eventually but your input could make it happen much quicker.

  • If you receive a request for an unfamiliar destination or type of travel, do you fudge it, learning as you go or refer them to a specialist colleague?
  • What works well for you in times of chaos and error-prone days? 10 seconds of deep breathing isn’t working for me! Do you have any other tips or suggestions?
  • With groups specifically, how do you manage them? How do you share information among the group members? How do you process individual payments? Do you use a tour operator who provides tools?

Steven Talbott is the founder of Vacation Side Travel, a gay owned-and-operated agency located near Nashville, Tennessee specializing in gay & lesbian (LGBT) tours, cruises, vacations and travel. Through their division Gay Travel Experts, clients are offered an expert travel concierge, unbiased personal assistants who help research and plan travel.

  One thought on “Vacation Side Travel — over my head with groups

  1. Hello, Steven,

    My agency is a tour operator, but we work directly with group leaders. We only work with groups. I can make a few suggestions that might make your job a little easier. (1) Work closely with the group leaders and force them to make decisions for the group as a whole. Surely they know their group members well enough. Yes, there will be some decisions which may require individual input; but by the time the group leaders come to you, they should have a good idea of when and where they want to go and what they want to do and should be able to make decisions based on input they already received from their members. In addition, be firm with the group leaders and make suggestions based on your experience with the destinations. (2) Have the group leaders assist in collecting payments. I am sure you are providing them with free trips, so make them work for it. (3) Require only one deposit and one final payment from each passengers and make the deposit large enough to cover all of the deposits you will need to give to suppliers. Set deposit and payment deadlines at least two weeks prior to when you must pay your earliest suppliers. Give an incentive for on-time payments and penalize those who pay late (either with cancellation or a fee). Make it a positive situation by giving the on-time payers a “discount.” (4) Can you get some part-time and/or
    temporary help?

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