Your extended family agrees around the Holiday table that everyone should vacation together next summer. Your friends from college say it's time to regroup and re-live some of your glory days. Your book club doesn't want to read "Under the Tuscan Sun" they want to visit Tuscany.
(Why am I hearing the "Mission Impossible" Theme song as I type this?)
Everyone agrees they SHOULD all travel together but actually getting everyone on board and booked on a group travel event can take some serious negotiations and navigation.
When it comes to group travel planning - time and indecisiveness costs you money.
Booking early is CRITICAL when it comes to group travel plans. For most group travel events it's best to lock in travel plans about 1 year to 9 months in advance. Airline ticket prices fluctuate by the minute like stocks on Wall Street. The longer it takes to reach a decision the more expensive that travel decision will be for EVERYBODY. Availability is another consideration. Even if costs isn't an issue, finding 50 seats on the same flight can be a problem if your group cannot agree.
The group vacation planning process REALLY needs to begin with two key players:
1. The Group Leader - Successful group leaders have the ability to creatively inspire others with a positive attitude and confident communication. Every travel group needs a lead passenger and someone who can make or help others make effective decisions. They need to be able to manage different personalities and achieve balance. Group leaders are often rewarded with perks but they must earn those perks.
2. An EXPERIENCED Group Travel Consultant: In a perfect partnership, the group travel consultant will turn the group leader into the EVERYONE's hero. A group travel specialist handles all the heavy lifting, does all the research, handles logistics, helps with marketing...all while insuring and protecting everyone's vacation investment. Last but not least, they add that special touch of magic that turns group travel into a memorable special event. "Experienced" here means your group travel consultant also know how to effectively deal with with "group psychology".
Rules of engagement.........Imagine what it would be like for two people to play a game chess without knowing any of the rules. Confusing and frustrating - right? Now imagine two footbal teams on a field without knowing that game or any rules. Obviously adding more uninformed people into any situation without structure and rules creates even more problems, chaos and frustration
This same kind of chaos happens to any welling meaning group of people who simply decide to take an enjoyable vacation together. Everyone is all excited about vacationing together and anticipating an exciting new adventure. Everyone is all over the map (literally) deciding on destinations, dreaming about hotel options, sightseeing, fine dining etc.
Any great group travel idea can quickly spiral out of control unless some rules, structure and leadership are put into place right from the start. With rules and structure in place all you need to do is play and have fun.
So...The VERY FIRST STEP to planning ANY group travel event is to determine your leadership and decision making structure for your travel group.
This needs to happen immediately!... even before any discussions of travel dates, destinations, prices, hotels, flights or sightseeing!!!
- To avoid chaos and frustration
- With group travel planning - time and indecisiveness costs you money.
Generally there are THREE types of travel groups. Each offers it's own set of rules.
In all honestly, one situation makes Group Travel a breeze for everyone. The second type takes a bit more work but can be done. The third type of travel group is nearly impossible and should be avoided completely.
Understand these different group dynamics is the key to the overall success and happiness of any Group Travel Event. The three Types of Travel Groups Are...
- Leader Invitation- This is where the group leader works one on one with the travel consultant to make ALL of the travel decisions. Once the plans and itinerary have been established, fellow group members are simply "invited" to come along and join in all the fun. Group members have a simple "yes" or no decision. They can choose "yes" or simply stay home. Group members are NOT involved in ANY of the vacation planning.
A good example here might be a destination wedding. The couple makes all the travel decisions themselves then sends out the invites. The guests simply RSVP yes or no and have no imput in any of the travel planning . Travel planning decisions can be made easily and swiftly.
A business mastermind cruise would be another example. The travel consultant is given parameters for the trip, makes the arrangements and the boss tells employees what time to meet at the pier.
Large family reunion events can easily be done in this fashion if there is ONE leader to act on behalf of the group. Each year a new "leader" can be elected giving everyone a fair and equal opportunity over the years but there is only ONE decision maker at a time.
This type of group is usually the LEAST expensive because travel plans and decisions can be made efficiently and in very short order. The group leader can save themselves a lot of headaches and angst but they must really step up and BE the pied piper to build excitement, engagement and get others involved.
- Group Consultation - The travel consultant and group leader listen to everyone's needs and wish lists together but ultimately, the group leader makes the final decision. For this scenario to work you need a SMALL group of travelers (5-10 rooms) that is driven by a higher purpose.
The group leaders must remember you cannot please everyone all of the time. Each member of the group will come to the table with their own agenda, list of needs, wants and wishes. Chances are one or more group members will feel slighted or have hurt feelings if their ideas when their suggestions or wishes don't make the cut. This can put Group Leaders in an akward situation, especially when dealing with extended family members or close friends.
For this reason, it's BEST to let the travel consultant lead the planning and let the group leader take a bit of a back seat until their final decision needs to be made.
If possible schedule a group travel meeting (whether in person or via online) with everyone at the same time. If this is not possible then the group leader should give the travel agent a list of all names including their contract information and allow the travel agent to speak directly to each person. Obviously the goal here is to make EVERYONE happy but if that is not possible, the travel agent can take the "heat" off the back of the travel leader and help them avoid any awkward situations.
Another reason why the travel consultant should take the lead here is because they have the travel knowledge and expertise to offer solutions and alternatives right on the spot. They know how to immediately handle any objections or questions from the group directly which will help to move the decision process along.
When it comes to dealing with groups that have assertive personalities or family ties, it can be extremely helpful to utilize the objective voice of a travel consultant. Your travel agent has nothing to do with the emotional baggage resulting from the argument you had with your sister in law several years ago. They can address any push back immediately and keep the Group Leader looking like a hero and not the bad guy.
Obviously this type of group scenario takes longer because each group member needs to be consulted. Again this is why you need a SMALL group and a HIGHLY motivated reason to travel in order for this to work. If the group is not motivated by a core purpose or reason to travel it's hard to keep interest and enthusiasm during the decision making process.
- Group Consensus - Input the entire group is taken into consideration and everyone must all agree to the same terms.
We see this type of situation with some of our fundraising, school or team group travel events. The idea here is indeed a noble one - democratic rule. The expectation is if everyone agrees to a common goal then everyone one will on board with the idea and participate. Surprisingly the results are usually contrary.
Honestly, this type of group rarely gets off the ground. It's like the old sayings..."Too many cooks spoil the soup" or "You can't please all the people all of the time". Multiple opinions and options normally results in confusion and no decisions.
With larger groups disappointed members can talk amongst themselves creating fractions and splinter groups. Group travel is meant to build teams, togetherness and comradery not fester gossip and negativity...and all it takes is ONE person wanting to exert control to create major problems for the entire organization.
As a travel professional, when I am presented with this type of a group situation I will kindly decline. I'm not trying to be a pessimistic or turn away business here, I'm just trying to offer honestly and reality check. Experience has proven this is not an effective use of my time. I respect the time and good intentions of the people who come to me looking for travel help and advice. It generally is not a win-win for anybody.
These types of groups are MUCH better served by using their democratic process to elect ONE group leader for their travel event (not 2 because you may need a deciding vote and definitely no more than 3 leaders) who are empowered to act as the "decision maker(s)" for the benefit of the entire organization. This type of structure allows decisions to be made efficiently, affordably and again, spares any hard feelings amongst supporters. By electing an "empowered" Group Leader for the group, we're back to basically the first type of group scenario with group leader invitation. Again decisions can be made in a timely manner and in a cost effective way. This is how I help larger groups create successful and very lucrative group travel events - through honesty, structure and leadership.
Once the right structure and leadership in place, special group travel vacations can quickly become exciting and anticipated life changing events for everyone on your guest list. Invitees will appreciate knowing that their group leader (and group travel agent) have made life infinitely easer for them by taking care of all of the necessary travel details. Your group travel agent can even set up vacation payment plans for your guests making this vacation even more affordable for everyone.
The fun and camaraderie of a group travel event is something your guests will enjoy. Don't be surprised if your travel group continues to grow year after year. When your guests return home telling others how much fun they enjoyed, no doubt your invitation list will grow year after year. This can lead to some very lucrative rewards for the group leader or organization. Of course, your group travel agent can help you with marketing and ideas every step of the way.
So the next time you find yourself in a group and someone says "We should all go on vacation together" your immediate response should be "Great idea! We need to choose a Group Leader and Call Vacationkids!"