How do you plan for the future when the present feels so uncertain?
Arranging trips for your church group has always necessitated a long lead time. In normal times, many group travel planners work on trips six to 12 months in advance of departure. But these are not normal times. And planning for 2022 is going to be a new experience.
If your group is ready to get back out on the road next year, you need to be planning for those trips now. Here are five tips that will help you maximize strategy and minimize stress while making those arrangements.
1. Work With Professionals
A couple of years ago, you might have planned all your church group’s trips yourself without any help or input from outsiders. But even if you’re proficient at researching destinations, building itineraries and booking reservations on your own, the disruptions in the travel landscape over the past 18 months will make planning trips much more difficult than usual. To overcome those obstacles, enlist professional help to make sure your group is well cared for. When researching domestic trips, reach out to state tourism offices and local convention and visitors bureaus for the latest information on what’s open and available. And if you want to travel abroad in 2022, it’s essential you do so with a professional tour operator that has the resources to adapt and respond quickly to fluid situations overseas.
2. Price for Smaller Groups
Since group travel usually involves a motorcoach or other modes of shared transportation, the price of trips is directly related to the number of people going. If you’ve had a robust travel group in the past, you may have priced your trips based on the assumption that your motorcoach would be close to full. But for a variety of reasons, that’s not likely to be the case in 2022. Some of your regular travelers may not yet be ready to go. Others will be willing to travel but will feel safer in a small group rather than in a large one. So plan for about half as many travelers as normal, then price accordingly. You can always add seats to a smaller trip if you have enough demand. It’s time to stop thinking about the risks and, instead, focus on the rewards that travel offers for your faith community.
3. Book as Early as Possible
After widespread vaccination efforts made people feel safe about traveling again earlier this year, the surge in pent-up demand nearly overwhelmed America’s travel infrastructure. This, combined with continuing labor shortages, left some hotels, restaurants and other travel companies unprepared to handle their normal volume of group business. As a result, some groups that wanted to travel weren’t able to go. To avoid this outcome again in 2022, try to get your group to the top of the reservation list by booking trips as early as possible. Claiming rooms, tickets and restaurant tables for your group now will help ensure you don’t get left out should another inventory shortage occur next year.
4. Prioritize Flexibility
If there’s anything the travel industry has learned since the beginning of the pandemic, it’s the importance of flexibility. Changes in public health conditions or public policy can have ripple effects that disrupt your travel plans. To keep this from causing major headaches, build as much flexibility as possible into your travel packages. Help your customers understand that trip dates and itineraries are more tentative than normal. And prepare them for unforeseen eventualities by recommending — or even requiring — travel insurance. Good insurance options will give travelers the confidence to go ahead and book with you without worrying that they’ll lose their money if they’re not able to travel.
5. Communicate Safety
Part of your planning for 2022 should involve communicating with your travelers. When you start talking about group trips, people are going to have questions and concerns. They’ll want to know if you think traveling is safe. Some will ask if you’ll require vaccinations, and others will ask if you’ll require masks. You can help put their fears to rest by reassuring them traveling is no riskier than going out and about in your own community. Emphasize that vaccinated people have a very high level of protection against serious COVID-19 infection. And be prepared to tell them exactly what measures you’ll take during trips to ensure that everyone feels as safe and comfortable as possible.a