By Bob Hoelscher
You’ve got a group of people eager to travel together, and have done the legwork required to have liability and insurance safeguards in place. So how do you about putting your first group trip together?
It comes down to three essential elements: Picking a destination, building an itinerary and planning the price.
Where do your travelers want to go?
Picking an initial destination should likely be a situation of lowered rather than heightened expectations. Although it might seem that a trip to Ireland or Hawaii would be attractive to many potential travelers, in most cases few people are likely to be inclined to spend the time or money on an extended tour with a group leader or organization with no prior experience or reputation.
As a result, most novice group travel planners begin their efforts with a relatively inexpensive one- to three-day tour. Such an offering may feature anything from a special show, event or festival to a weekend getaway in a major city.
Inexperienced group leaders can easily make the mistake of choosing their destination(s) based solely on their own desires or preferences. Instead, they would be well advised to do at least minimal research… speak with members of the targeted organization to see what trips might interest them, and find out what potentially competing tours, if any, are already available in the marketplace. It is important to also allow as much lead time as possible — several months or longer to allow the group to build to a reasonable size for even a short trip — rather than offer a “last minute” trip that will be difficult to fill.
Building an itinerary
Hopefully, the group leader will already be familiar with the places he or she has chosen to include in the trip. If not, most destination marketing organizations (tourist boards, convention and visitors bureaus, chambers of commerce) can provide extremely valuable advice or even opportunities to preview a potential tour program on a “check-out” or “familiarization” trip of one type or another.
If an itinerary is to run smoothly and meet the expectations of the paying travelers, there is little substitute for personal knowledge of the destination(s) involved, either on the part of the group leader or a trusted professional tour operator. It is a well-know axiom in the tour industry that a top quality itinerary cannot be planned simply by sitting down with AAA Tour Books and a Rand McNally Atlas, despite the excellence of these reference publications.
Remembering that “variety is the spice of life,” it is also important to include as many diverse attractions as possible to create a satisfying travel experience, surely not just a series of museum visits. And don’t forget that everyone enjoys good food!
Planning the price
There are many different formulas that are used for pricing tour programs, but the specific process employed is not nearly as important as the tour planner simply making 100% sure that he or she has all the “bases” covered when calculating selling prices.
First, there are the per capita expenses: Admissions, hotel accommodations, meals, etc., that will be the same regardless of the number of participants. The per person share of fixed costs, however, can vary substantially depending on the number of tour guests.
As a result, it is very important to have a good idea of how many travelers can reasonably be expected, as well as how many people constitute the “break even” point. Fixed costs can include such items as the motorcoach charter, driver accommodations, tour director compensation and/or expenses, step-on guides, expenses for any “complimentary” fares, and “per coach” fees such as parking, tolls or National Park admissions.
Other items that need to be considered somewhere in the equation include: desired profit margin (if any); contribution (usually a percentage or per-person amount) to a sponsoring organization; projected promotional, printing or mailing costs; finally, an allowance for miscellaneous expenses or unexpected cost increases. One must certainly also keep in mind the prices being charged by others for competitive tours.