Chapter 7 Suppliers and attractions.
After reading this chapter, you should be able to:
* Discuss how a tour manager can enhance a group's cruise experiences.
* Explain the distinct nature of group rail travel.
* Identify the kinds of dining services that work best for tour groups.
* Enumerate the considerations a tour leader must have in mind when a group visits an attraction.
Hotels and airlines are certainly the most obvious companies that a tour manager will deal with. Many other providers of tour services, though, bear discussion. Restaurants, cruise lines, and railroads, among others, may influence a tour's shape and efficiency. The travel industry calls such tour-supporting services suppliers. Theme parks, historical buildings, museums, and the like, a special subdivision of suppliers, are called attractions. This chapter takes an in-depth look at suppliers and how a tour director can best deal with their procedures and personnel.
Once a dull and dowdy segment of the travel industry, the cruise has been reincarnated as a glamorous mode of transportation. Perhaps the original 1970s television series "The Love Boat" did it. Maybe a nostalgia for the grand cruise ships of the early twentieth century is the cause. A more probable reason is the shift from the transatlantic trips of yesteryear to cruises in concentrated destination areas, such as the Caribbean. The most important reason is the modern cruise's comprehensive yet efficient nature. A cruise is the ultimate all-inclusive packaged tour, since the vehicle--the ship-doubles as a hotel, restaurant, and entertainment facility. Through a cruise one can visit a half dozen Greek islands, take in the great beach cities of the Mexican Riviera, voyage up the Mississippi, or explore the majestic Inside Passage of Alaska--and not once have to repack one's luggage.
Not surprisingly, tour manager positions that include cruises are much in demand. In many cases, the cruise is the tour; other forms of organized transportation aren't included. (In other words, the clients have to fly to the originating port on their own.) In other instances, the cruise comprises only one portion of a more extended intermodal tour. For example, a motorcoach tour of the western Canadian Rockies may end with a round-trip Alaskan cruise. Certain companies, such as Holland America Line-Westours, specialize in just such intermodal packages. For companies like Princess Cruises, cruise-motorcoach tours are only a sideline to cruise operations. Affinity groups such as the American Association of Retired People and the American Automobile Association also organize frequent cruise-motorcoach excursions.
In virtually every case, a tour manager on a cruise works for a tour company and not directly for the cruise line. We'll bypass the responsibilities of a shore excursion guide here, since the job requirements are almost identical to those of a regular tour guide (see Chapter 2). In the next few pages, we'll concentrate on what a tour conductor on a cruise tour must know and why people take a cruise as part of a group.
Before hosting a cruise tour, a tour manager must become acquainted with the ship's layout, its onboard activities, the inclusiveness of the tour package (for example, does the price of the package include tips?), and the special terminology of cruising.
* A stateroom or cabin is the sleeping room on a ship. It's usually quite small. An outside stateroom has a porthole, a picture window, or even a full sliding-glass door that opens onto a verandah. An inside stateroom usually has no view and, to some, can be somewhat claustrophobic. A larger, more luxurious room is called a suite. Usually all tour members have the same class of stateroom; occasionally, clients on a cruise tour will each have their own category of stateroom--some inside, some outside, some more spacious than others-depending on what they paid.
* A deck is one of the floors of a ship. Usually the higher the deck, the more expensive the rooms.
* The front of the ship is the bow; the back is the aft or stern. When one is facing the bow, the left side is called port; the right side, starboard.
* The chief steward oversees meals and housekeeping. The maitre d' heads the dining room, while a table captain may oversee a group of tables within a dining room, along with its waiters and busboys. There are other stewards as well: the room steward cares for the passengers' rooms. The deck steward manages deck facilities, including the serving of drinks.
* The passenger service rep, or PSR, is the ship's troubleshooter; he or she also often handles logistics for pre- and post-cruise flights.
* The chief purser is the equivalent of a hotel manager and is, in general, in charge of all financial functions and passenger services, including shore excursions. Shore excursions (tours at each port) are often coordinated by the shore excursion manager.
* The cruise director (also known as the social director or activities director) is, in essence, the head escort for the entire ship. The cruise director makes sure passengers are kept entertained, active, and informed. The cruise director will most certainly tailor activities to the type of client who frequents the ship. For instance, Carnival Cruise Lines tends to attract a younger clientele; World Explorer appeals to those who wish to learn; and Seabourn ships attract the older, well-heeled traveler. The cruise director also controls function rooms; if you want to have any special events on the ship, this is usually the person to talk to.
As "mega-ships" have become more commonplace (a mega-ship is one that accommodates 2,000 passengers or more), cruise lines have assigned groups managers to each vessel. A groups manager can be a boon to tour conductors; he or she becomes a "one-stop" service person who facilitates all logistic matters, including those other personnel normally handle: special events, function rooms, group shore excursions, stateroom problems, and the like.
Groups on Cruises
Why do some people want to take their cruises as part of a group tour experience? The obvious reason is that the tour operator has added something (e.g., a multi-day land portion before and/or after the cruise) that brings extra value to the experience. But many other reasons account for the popularity of the tour-cruise combination:
* Because they buy cruise space "in bulk," tour operators can often offer a cruise at a price lower than what appears in the cruise line's brochure.
* The tour manager is onboard, providing added, more personal attention to the tour member.
* The tour company may provide other value-added features, such as a welcome reception onboard, a shore excursion included in the price, and the like.
* The purchaser, especially if he or she has already taken and been pleased with trips from the tour operator, trusts that company. The cruise line, however, may be unknown to the client.
* Travelers who enjoy group tours are comfortable with other group experiences, such as cruises. According to an NTA survey, 64 percent of tour-takers have cruised at least once.
In some cases, the cruise-tour is custom-designed for a special affinity group. This brings additional benefits:
* Group members will be with people they may already know or at least have something in common with. He or she will feel far more comfortable with the cruise experience (especially if he or she is a first-timer).
* This will be most obvious when dining. On cruises, passengers are often seated with people they don't know. With a preformed group, however, you may be seated with someone you do know, or at least with whom you have something in common.
* There may be someone onboard who brings to the group experience a special sense of authority, comfort, leadership, or expertise. Some examples: a church group's minister, a club's president, or a famous chef on a culinary tour. These are called pied pipers. (More about this in Chapter 9.)
* If the group is onboard for business or as part of an incentive experience, the ship provides a controlled and supportive environment that supports the company's goals.
A Tour Manager's Cruise Activities If you're already at the port from where the cruise will depart and the clients have yet to arrive, your tour company will probably have arranged an early-boarding pass for you. Try to get on the ship about three hours early and do the following:
* Go to your stateroom and read the ship's daily activities sheet or newsletter; the cabin stewards place them in all rooms. It will list all the ship's activities for the first and second days and give you vital information with which to answer clients' questions. Also review the ship's deck plan (the tour company should have given you a copy or get one on the ship), and explore the ship if you need to.
* Go to the purser's office and check your passenger list, stateroom assignments, and shore excursion arrangements with those of the purser.
* Go to the cruise director or groups manager and reconfirm or arrange the reception party, the special briefing meeting, the farewell party, and your "office hours." Many tour directors make a point of being in a particular place--a function room, a lobby table, or a lounge--at the same time each day so clients can find them if they need to. Other tour managers rely on the evening dinner to update clients about upcoming events.
* See the maitre d' to verify meal seatings (times) and table assignments. (These probably have been set up in advance, in which case you need to make sure that your information matches the maitre d's.)
* If you have informational handouts, welcome cards, or anything else for your passengers, use your passenger stateroom list to find their rooms (usually near one another), and slip the necessary documents under their doors. (The staterooms may even be open, so you can leave things on the bed or dresser.)
You may then exit the ship and begin meeting clients as they arrive at the dockside check-in area. However, if you arrive with them--from a pre-cruise tour, for instance, or on their flight--you'll have to do all the above immediately after everyone gets on board. That's no easy task, since the ship's personnel will be quite busy.
You'll handle passengers as in an airport arrival: identify clients by tags, greet them, facilitate their check-in, and take care of luggage. If you're coming off a motorcoach portion of the tour, this process will be easier.
Baggage personnel often track luggage through a color-coded, letter-labeling sticker or baggage tag system: they assign a letter according to the person's last name and/or a color according to stateroom class and deck. Ask the baggage staff to give a single letter (perhaps the first letter in your company's name) to all your group participants. If they're all on one deck, a single color code will do. (Increasingly, cruise lines provide passengers with special coded luggage tags in advance.) Once luggage is taken care of, send your clients to the check-in desk (often on the dock). There they'll be given informational material, their stateroom key (unless it's in the unlocked stateroom), and perhaps a credit card-like item that lists their stateroom number, booking number, dinner seating, table assignment, and the like.
The Briefing Meeting. The briefing is of vital importance. The ship will hold its own briefing meeting for all passengers, usually the first night out or the next day. You may also wish to schedule your own meeting (perhaps during a welcome party) to explain those things of special interest and to strengthen the bond between you and your clients. If the cruise is at the end of a motorcoach trip, you could conduct this briefing the evening before the cruise, as long as you have all the information needed. A briefing meeting usually covers the following points.
The Ship's Environment. How is the ship laid out? What activities are available? Which shore excursions will be offered, and is their price included in the tour cost? What shopping bargains can passengers expect? What will the lifeboat safety drill be like? (It's often one of the first things that happens on a ship.) How can one avoid lines and waiting? How does one check valuables? Handing out a deck plan to clients and reviewing the activities sheet is very helpful.
Tipping. Whom must you tip? (Usually the cabin steward, the waiter, the busboy and, sometimes, the table captain and/or maitre d' expect to receive gratuities.) How much should you tip each? Are tips included in the tour package--that is, has the tour company taken care of them? (Upscale cruise lines may have a no tipping policy.)
Dining. How is dining handled? Smaller ships usually have only one principal dining facility and possibly another facility for very informal, snack-like food. Larger ships have more options.
For example, on the mega-liner Majesty of the Seas, tour members could have breakfast and lunch in one of two formal dining rooms (at tables assigned to the group), in a more informal, open-seating area on the pool deck, or in their rooms. The choice is up to each individual client. Dinner would probably be in the formal dining room (this is the time for the group to "bond"), although room service is an option. Snacks are served poolside in the late afternoon, and a spectacular buffet is presented each night at midnight.
On such a large ship, the passengers dine in the formal dining room in two shifts: a first (early) seating and a second (later) seating. Your group will be assigned to one of the two seatings well in advance. You'll also have to explain the dress code for each meal. (Much of this will also be outlined to them on the activities sheet.)
Problem-solving. How can passengers find you when they need help solving problems? Usually tour members can leave messages for the tour leader at the purser's office, through the ship's telephone operator, or even under the tour conductor's door (assuming that you give out your stateroom number)--or they may wait until the tour manager's office hours.
During the Cruise. Once the briefing meeting and the "welcome party" are over, a tour director's job becomes seemingly easy. The biggest challenge on a cruise is for the escort to make clear to the clients that he or she is still doing a job for them. That's not easy when you're competing with social directors, maitre d's, and the Broadway revue dancers.
A tour manager should above all strive to be visible. Walk around the ship, make small talk with the passengers you encounter, tend to their problems, be present at entertainment and dining activities, and generally be a host rather than a manager. You might consider scheduling brief daily receptions for your group or arrange special tours of the bridge and galley. A group walking tour of the vessel early in the cruise is a good idea. You might even serve as a mini-cruise director, organizing little tournaments or games for your group and encouraging them to participate in the ship's "Talent Night." (If such events occur, slide invitations under your clients' stateroom doors the night before.) Remember, too, that your company may expect you to fill out a ship evaluation form in your spare time. (See Figure 7-1.)
You'll also be expected to accompany your group on any shore excursions included in their tour. Get off ahead of your group and block off a bus for them. Then stand with a sign so your tour members can find you.
The End of the Cruise. If the cruise marks the end of the tour, an onboard farewell get-together may be planned for the last evening. Remind clients to pay any incidentals that they may have charged to their rooms. Review your own master account as you would in a hotel. You may also wish to slide a card or letter under your clients' doors, thanking them for the opportunity of being their tour manager. Note also that many cruise lines require passengers to pack their luggage and leave it outside their stateroom door on the last evening (keeping their overnight items in a carry-on bag).
On the final morning of the cruise, clients will disembark according to decks and/or luggage tag colors. Checking out will be a simple process, not unlike checking out of a hotel. At dockside, the baggage handlers will once again separate luggage by letter and/or color codes. If your tour is continuing, get a baggage handler to help you transport luggage to your airport transfer vehicle or motorcoach. If this is the end of your tour, it's the time to say a final farewell to the group.
The pages you've just read about cruises only skim the surface of this increasingly important topic. For more information, consult Cruising by this book's author, and Brooke Bravos' book, Cruise Hosting.
Negotiating with a Cruise Line
Do tour managers also negotiate next season's rates and space with cruise lines, as they sometimes do with hotels? In most cases, the answer is no. Someone in tour planning will do this (though their negotiations may be based on the tour leaders' and clients' evaluations).
However, in most ways negotiating with a cruise line is like dealing with a hotel: cruise companies, who appreciate the business tour companies can bring them, are willing to discount their fares by 20 to as much as 50 percent. Most of the strategies you read about in Chapter 5 apply: booking staterooms for the off-season, guaranteeing a large number of tours, accepting less desirable staterooms, and booking way ahead all can optimize the rate you'll receive. You can also negotiate for a free tour director stateroom, a free reception party, extra room amenities (such as a little gift on the first day), and ship credits (a set dollar amount that each client gets for beverages and the like).
Three components leave little room for negotiation: air space that the cruise line may offer from the city of origin to the port city; hotel space that they reserve at a hotel near the port; and shore excursion prices. Large tour operators can better negotiate their own air and hotel space directly with the airline or hotel, rather than tap the cruise line's inventory. (This eliminates the "middle man.") For smaller tour companies, the cruise line may indeed be able to provide the best hotel and air rates.
[FIGURE 7-1 OMITTED]
Like cruising, rail travel is enjoying a renaissance. Its success has been somewhat mixed, however, since the governments that usually control rail service are slow to respond to new markets and demand. Still, train trips have become an integral feature of many tours. Short rides on old-time steam trains are a popular tour activity. Full-day train rides are common on intermodal tours of the Canadian Rockies. A multi-day train trip carries many groups through Mexico's majestic Copper Canyon. "Murder Mystery" train excursions, where actors aboard the train stage a performance and the passengers must "solve the crime," are a unique feature on a few tours. A ride on the high-speed bullet train highlights most tours of Japan. A voyage on a luxury train such as the magnificent Orient Express enriches several upscale tours of Europe.
The Features of a Modern Train
The layout of today's trains may be different from what you expect. Consider the sleeping facilities. Many people remember old movies in which the Marx Brothers terrorized passengers asleep in stacks of curtain-partitioned cubicles. This configuration has virtually disappeared.
Here are the most common options that may be available to passengers on overnight trains. The most basic: passengers sleep in their seats, as they would on a long plane ride. Occasionally, the seat can recline almost to a horizontal position; such a seat is called a sleeper seat. Another option is an open bunk called a couchette. The train car is divided into compartments, each containing four or six seats, half facing forward and half facing backward. At bedtime a porter enters and drops down small bed surfaces in each compartment. However, passengers in couchettes sleep in their daytime clothes: the compartments offer little privacy and aren't necessarily same-sex.
On some trains passengers can pay for a private, compact sleeping room called a sleeper, roomette, or wagon-lit. Each room contains one or two berths (though some have up to four berths) and usually also have a sink with hot and cold water. Rooms may even have toilets.
During the day your clients will travel in their compartments or in an open lounge car that resembles the interior of a motorcoach. The lounge cars are usually larger than buses and accommodate sixty or more people. In some areas these cars are even double-decked and domed, with seating on the top level and dining or lounge facilities on the bottom.
Getting to know the personnel is a simpler task on a train than on a cruise ship. The porters handle luggage, the conductors care for passenger logistics, and a maitre d' is in charge of dining services (assuming that the train has more than a snack bar). A few railroads even hire a "singing brakeman" to entertain passengers. Finally, a sort of step-on guide particular to railroading is the car manager. The car manager, sometimes employed by the tour company, sometimes by the rail company, comments on the passing sights.
Check-in and Onboard Activities
A tour manager's check-in procedures for a train are nearly identical to those required for air travel. You'll have to hand over the passenger tickets and check luggage with the porter or at the ticket counter. You'll need to explain sleeping accommodations and whether tour members will travel in small compartments or large cars. Note that since the largest motorcoaches accommodate no more than fifty-three passengers and a typical train car seats sixty or more, your group may share a car with regular travelers, especially if the train is quite full.
You'll also need to explain dining services and whether they're included in the tour price. Since dining coaches have limited seating, you may have to organize your group's meals in shifts. Make group reservations with the maitre d' early in the trip. In many cases, the tour operator will have made these arrangements in advance. In fact, some tour companies reserve a dining car exclusively for their group and determine the menu selection. One tour operator, unaccustomed to dealing with rail travel, specified that lunch was to include little melon balls. It was a nice touch--until the melon balls began to roll all over the swaying car.
The psychology of rail travel is unique. First of all, clients approach a train experience with a sense of adventure. (You'll find that many are already rail buffs.) For the first few hours at least, trains manage to beguile almost anyone. However, unless the passing panorama is genuinely breathtaking, monotony can set in. A tour director must therefore make much small talk. If the train is divided into small compartments, the process will be a bit awkward. If a car manager is present, his or her narration will certainly enhance the experience. At long stops, clients may be able to disembark for a while, and of course they'll have the wonderful freedom of walking around their vehicle as it clanks along.
When your group leaves the train, immediately find a porter to help with the luggage--assuming there is a porter. In many places only limited baggage services exist. It may be necessary to have your clients push their own luggage on carts, as individual travelers must. Occasionally, a multi-day train trip features overnight hotel stops along the way, rather than requiring passengers to sleep on the train. In this case, your baggage moves will be frequent indeed.
Dining and Tours
The saying is well-known: "An army travels on its stomach." So, too, does a tour. The quality of meals and the ambience of dining do much to color a traveler's perception of how well a tour is going. Choreographing meals in a careful and creative manner is one of a tour manager's most important responsibilities.
Selecting a Dining Facility
Tour managers usually have very little say as to which hotels, airlines, bus companies, cruise lines, or attractions a tour will use. Not so for restaurants. When a tour company sets up dining reservations, it is generally on the recommendation of tour managers, drivers, or ground personnel who are acquainted with the destination. In some cases, the selection of places for the group to eat is left totally to the tour director. (This is especially true when the meal isn't included in the price of the tour.)
Tour conductors who have been asked to choose a restaurant should ask themselves the following:
Does the Itinerary Dictate that the Meal Be Quick and Efficient or Lengthy and Worth Savoring? A lunch stop during a city tour or a motorcoach trip from one destination to another shouldn't take more than 90 minutes. The restaurant should be able to handle large groups with relative ease. Cafeterias or buffet restaurants are perfect in this situation, since there's no need to order and wait for one's meal. A conventional restaurant can serve a group faster if the tour arrives before the regular rush of patrons--say, by 11 A.M.
For dinner, however, there's no real need to rush things. A pleasant restaurant with a strong ambience, an interesting view, and, perhaps, entertainment is ideal for tour group dinners or leisurely lunches. Indeed, entertainment restaurants, which encourage clients to stay long and enjoy a show with their meals, have become magnets for tours. Two examples are Medieval Times (with knights battling it out) and Wild Bill's (a Western-themed show).
Does the Dining Facility Have an Interesting Ambience? Entertainment restaurants certainly provide a fun context for a meal. So, too, do "theme" restaurants, such as the Hard Rock Cafe, the Rainforest Cafe, and Planet Hollywood. An outdoor restaurant might be a wonderful option on a warm summer night. And a historic inn might help the group sense the tradition behind the destination they're visiting.
Is the Dining Facility Large Enough to Accommodate Groups? Many fine restaurants simply aren't big enough or don't have sufficient staff to handle forty people at a time. Don't take chances just because you like the food at a smallish restaurant that assures you it can "squeeze your group in." Also, take into consideration the ease with which your driver will be able to drop off and pick up the group.
Does the Restaurant Have a Wide Variety of Foods? "There's no accounting for taste," goes an old Roman proverb. Because food preferences vary widely, the more choices your clients have in what they eat, the more satisfied they'll feel about the tour in general. Just because you adore seafood and Captain Ahab's has the best in town doesn't mean that even a majority of your tour members will be pleased to go there. This is one more reason why tour operators frequent cafeterias and buffets: the wide selection, ease of ordering, speed of service, and reasonable prices all contribute to the ideal tour meal experience. For the same reason, breakfast buffets have become commonplace in hotels.
Keep in mind, too, that some of your tour members may have special dietary needs: vegetarians, Orthodox Jews, Moslems, and those on specially restricted diets (e.g., seniors on low-cholesterol regimens). The restaurant should be prepared to handle their requests--and not just with salads.
What Do Meals at the Restaurant Generally Cost? Tours come in three general dining configurations. In the first, all meals are included in the price of the trip. (This is a feature of the all-inclusive tour, also known as the all-expense tour, in which the price paid covers just about every cost associated with group traveling.) In the second, no meals are included in the tour price. The third option, the most common, includes some meals (usually breakfast each day and a few lunches and dinners) as part of the tour package price; for all other meals, clients must pay out of their own pockets.
If you, the tour manager, must choose a restaurant for a meal that the company pays for (actually, of course, the client has paid for it), you'll have little choice in terms of price. The tour operator will tell you how much is budgeted for that particular meal. It's usually a reasonable figure. Then you'll have to find someplace that fits (including tax and tip). If the meal isn't prepaid, it's almost imperative that you find a very reasonable restaurant. The clients are, after all, captives of your itinerary. Some will certainly balk at an overly expensive choice.
Will the Restaurant Even Consider Taking Groups? Some dining facilities are so busy or exclusive that they reject tour groups. Others dread the number of orders that will flood into the kitchen. Don't waste your time trying to talk such restaurants into serving your group (unless, of course, you're in the wonderful situation in which your group's arrival at an off hour, such as 5 P.M., appeals to them). At the other extreme, some dining facilities seem to exist only to cater to group travelers. Be wary of such restaurants. Some do a fine job, but others take groups too much for granted and treat them in a bored, apathetic manner. A restaurant that caters to a mix of groups and regular customers is ideal.
Finding the Right Restaurant
Finding the right restaurant is no easy matter. Restaurant guidebooks rarely help--they're not geared to group considerations. Because tour companies find it difficult to plan dining in a distant destination, they must count on the recommendations of field representatives, such as tour managers, local guides, convention and tourist bureaus, or ground operators. If you, as escort, have been assigned the task of choosing a restaurant, don't fall into the easy trap of deciding to go where every other tour goes. Instead, ask locals where they would eat. Make sure, however, that they understand a tour's dining requirements. You may want to scout out area restaurants in your spare moments.
Negotiating the Meal
Negotiating with a restaurant is a process that must be handled carefully. If it's a sit-down restaurant, try to get full-menu choice for your clients, or a tour menu with at least three entree choices. There's nothing more irritating to tour participants than sitting down to a scrambled eggs-only breakfast or a chicken-only lunch. (Of course, it's a lot easier on the chef.) If the meal is included as part of the tour price, try to negotiate a set price that includes everything--all courses of the meal, beverage, tax, and tip. Remember that full-menu choice means different prices for each client and you'll have to estimate an average cost. Keep in mind that groups eat most heartily at a tour's beginning and less so at its end. (As their clothes get tighter, they begin to realize they may be eating too well ... ) Check to see whether the restaurant, in return for volume business, will give you a special price for meals or perhaps free desserts or beverages. Ask if escort and driver will receive free meals. (One complimentary meal per group is accepted practice.)
Breakfast calls for special conditions. In most cases clients will have their breakfast in the hotel. Hotel executives sometimes prefer that tour members arrive all at once, that the meal be served in a function room, and that one breakfast combination be served (for example, scrambled eggs, sausage, and rolls). This set-up is to be avoided if possible, unless it's for a first-day orientation breakfast. It's much better for the clients to be able to have breakfast in the regular coffee shop, at a time of their individual choosing (everyone wakes up at a different time), with full-menu choice or, preferably, from a buffet. They may charge the meal to their room number or identify themselves as tour members to the cashier, who will then transfer the costs to a master billing.
Note that breakfast rituals vary from culture to culture: Americans and the British like a hearty breakfast; many Europeans prefer a continental breakfast of coffee and rolls; the Chinese like porridge and dumplings. See if the hotel can adjust the menu to your group's tastes; if not, prepare the group for a new breakfast experience.
The Meal Itself
Before dining, clients need certain questions answered: What kind of food can they expect? Is the meal price incorporated in the tour package? Is the tip included? (When the company pays, clients need not leave a tip--it's already factored in.) How should clients dress? Is liquor included in the price? (It usually isn't.) What is the scheduled time for leaving the restaurant? Where are the restrooms? (Remind them to use the restrooms before leaving the restaurant.) All of these questions should be answered before you enter the restaurant. Make sure to reconfirm the meal and the number of clients with the dining facility; restaurants too frequently forget that a scheduled group is to arrive.
Once you arrive with your group, enter the restaurant first--keep your clients outside or on the motor coach while you go in and make sure that enough tables are ready. If they're not, you may have to keep your group occupied for a little while. When the tables are ready, go into the restaurant first. Your driver will assist in disembarking passengers. Help the hostess or maitre d' with seating.
Seating is a delicate matter. In some cases, tour operators or restaurants prefer that groups, for efficient service, be seated at large tables. This works well for the groups, too, since it helps them get to know one another. On the other hand, many clients look forward to dining as a time to be apart from the group.
If your group is to be seated at smaller tables, you must be sensitive to the restaurant's need to not give away all its tables. It must accommodate its regular customers as well. Given the choice, your group will want to be seated mostly by twos--especially in the early part of the tour when few members know one another. To do this, the maitre d' would have to give away all the smaller tables or seat one couple per table-for-four. The impact of the tour on the restaurant's seating capacity would be significant and unfair.
One solution is to suggest pairings of people likely to enjoy one another's company. You can do this as couples arrive at the restaurant's entrance. Do the same for singles and triples. You might even mention the problem at the very beginning of the tour so people can begin pairing up on their own. Within a few days, new friends will be made and the problem will solve itself. If you suggest a pairing that doesn't work, you'll hear about it quickly and avoid that particular seating combination in the future.
Once everyone is seated and you've ordered your meal, circulate among your passengers to make small talk. When you return to your seat, you'll experience an interesting phenomenon: all eyes will be on what you ordered ("Maybe I should have had what the escort is having ... "), when you are served ("Why hasn't my order arrived yet?"), and, especially when you finish ("I'd better hurry; the escort's already done."). If the group is being served slowly, make a special effort to look unhurried. Otherwise, some of them will become anxious.
Do not ask clients how their meal was. Even the best restaurant dissatisfies a customer now and then. A single complaint, overheard, can convince otherwise satisfied clients that their meal wasn't all that great after all. When you finally get up to leave (which will set off a wave of clients who also decide it's time to get up), don't forget to give a healthy tip to the waiter or waitress even if your meal is complimentary.
Additional Dining Considerations
Below are a few miscellaneous remarks on dining.
Consider Jet Lag and Its Effect on Appetites. If your group has traveled over many time zones, you can expect, for the first few days, that they may feel hungry at odd hours. For example, clients who have gone from Portland, Oregon, to Miami, Florida, will probably feel like having their breakfast at 10 A.M., lunch at 3 P.M., and dinner at 9 P.M. You can actually profit from this, since scheduling meals at odd hours, at least until your passengers' biological clocks readjust, permits you to get into restaurants at times when they're the least busy.
Sometimes a Tour Itinerary Allows Free Time to Clients, During Which They Dine on Their Own. A printed list of convenient, recommended restaurants--prepared by you, by the tour operator, or by a tourist bureau--will be helpful and appreciated at such times. If a list isn't available, give the information orally.
Tour Groups Are Notorious in the Restaurant Industry for Their High Frequency of "No Shows." If the tour operator reserves a meal, it should inform the restaurant when a tour has been canceled. If you, the tour manager, are in charge, it's your responsibility to indicate in advance to a restaurant when an upcoming tour has been canceled.
Occasionally a Tour Will Stop at a Place with Many Small Dining Alternatives. A shopping mall is a good example. Be sure to remind clients to fan out to all the restaurants. The tendency will be for the entire group to follow the first person off the motorcoach to the same eating place. One warning: it's almost impossible for travelers to resist the temptation to shop in a mall after eating. If you must use a shopping center for meals, assign an official amount of time for shopping and be very firm about the exact time you want them back to the coach. Above all, don't expect your clients to return from a mall restaurant directly to the motorcoach.
Rest Stops Often Must Be Taken Along Your Tour Route, Usually in Midmorning or Midafternoon. Typical is a stop at a roadside rest area, fast-food restaurant, or donut shop. Such breaks should last no more than thirty minutes--enough time to grab a quick cup of coffee or to use the restrooms.
In Certain Unusual Situations, Picnics or Box Lunches Are Necessary for a Tour Group. Since this is rarely gourmet dining, the tour conductor should do everything possible to turn the situation into an informal, fun experience. Foreign visitors, especially, like to pick up snacks for free-time eating. Stopping in an American supermarket is often a novel, enjoyable adventure for them.
Be Alert For Special Occasions. If you find out it's a client's birthday or anniversary, be sure to have the restaurant acknowledge it with a special dessert (some tour managers bring a box of candles with them on all trips) or by having the waiters sing for the tour member.
Attractions--the points of interest that help attract tourists to a destination in the first place--are the sites around which tour companies shape their itineraries. Some, like Vatican City, are extensive and inspiring, requiring a full day's visit. Others, such as Kauai's Wet and Dry Caves, take only a few minutes of a tour's time. Some attractions are manmade, like the pyramids of Egypt or the temples of Kyoto. Others are natural wonders, like Alberta's ice fields, Iceland's geysers, or South America's Iguazu Falls. Many take on importance for the layers of culture and custom we impose on them: the Blarney Stone is hardly a natural wonder, but it's certainly a must because of the kissing tradition that goes along with it. Others are strongly dictated by the group's interests. A shopping tour, for example, must have plenty of malls, markets, factory outlets, and/or duty-free stores to please the clients.
Tour managers need to ask themselves the following about each attraction:
How Much Time Will My Group Need to Visit This Attraction? It's terribly unfair to shortchange tour members when it comes to time spent at an attraction. Indeed, attractions are what originally made them choose the tour. Conversely, too much time spent at one place may crowd out other important events in the itinerary. Be reasonable in assessing the length of stay needed at each site, and make clear the precise time and place the motorcoach will pick up the group.
Is This the Best Time to See the Attraction? Though you mustn't ever leave out something the itinerary promises (unless some emergency occurs), you can certainly consider moving things around to adjust for weather or other similar factors. It's wise, for instance, to get your group to the Tower of London early in the morning when the waiting lines are still reasonable, though your itinerary may list an afternoon visit. Even light and temperature can be factors: the beauty and mystery of Australia's Ayers Rock are most imposing in the red rays of an outback sunset, whereas the grand ruins of Mexico's Chichen Itza are best visited in early morning, before the jungle's heat becomes oppressive.
Of course, don't change your group's visit time if a prearranged appointment was required. Many sites will turn you away if your group arrives at an unexpected hour.
Will You Be Obliged to Orient the Group to the Attraction? In many cases an on-site guide will be assigned to your group and will explain everything to your group members. You should still give a short introduction to the attraction just before arriving. It will help build the group's anticipation. For a vast attraction, like San Diego's Sea World or Beijing's Imperial Palace, it will be necessary to give a thorough introduction and "game plan," perhaps augmented by maps, in order to orient the group to the site and to ensure that their time will be used efficiently. Indeed, in some cases you or the on-site guide should take the group through the site, holding an umbrella or flag up so they can see you, ahead of the group, at all times. (Sounds corny, but it works well to keep the group together.) This would be very appropriate in the Imperial Palace, with its rich cultural history, but not at Universal Studios or Disneyland, which are planned around events and rides. When visiting these attractions, group members prefer freedom of choice.
What do people on tour shop for? When asked in a Consumer Reports poll, travelers responded this way: Local handicrafts 61% Souvenirs 37% Clothing for self 35% Clothing for others 29% Art 24% Books 23%
Is There an Admission Fee Involved? In almost all cases, if the attraction charges an admission fee, that cost is included in the tour price. Unless you've been given the tickets in advance, you must get off the coach ahead of your group and go to a special customer relations or group sales window to obtain tickets. The admission tickets may have been prearranged (in which case you probably have a voucher for the tickets), or you may have to pay for them by company check or credit card. Make sure to get the group discount price and to give the exact number of clients. Don't include yourself in the count. If you want to go in, the attraction will probably give you complimentary admission.
In certain situations, an attraction is a tour option and admission is not included in the tour price. This is often the case when the attraction is physically demanding or adventuresome (for example, a raft ride). In this situation, you'll do best to collect money on the coach, before arriving, from those who are interested. This approach is more efficient, you'll pay for everyone at once, and will ensure a group discount for each participant.
"Factory" tours are popular attractions on some
itineraries. Here are some of the most famous:
Celestial Seasonings, Boulder, CO
Ethel M. Chocolates, Las Vegas, NV
Federal Bureau of Engraving & Printing, Washington, D.C.
Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, Louisville, KY
Hershey's Chocolate World, Hershey, PA
Mardi Gras World, New Orleans, LA
World of Coca Cola, Atlanta, GA
Ben & Jerry's, Waterbury, VT
Crayola, Easton, PA
Corning Glass Center, Corning, NY
Goodyear World of Rubber, Akron, OH
Levi Strauss Museum, San Francisco, CA
Airlines, cruise lines, hotels, motorcoach companies, railroads, restaurants, and attractions account for perhaps 95 percent of all tour suppliers. Some of the most creative tours, however, include very unusual activities: ballooning, barging, white-water raft trips, and the like. Those who supply these activities are usually willing to spend a lot of time and effort to help you integrate their product into your itinerary. It's usually worth it: offbeat travel components can bring uniqueness and drama to your offerings.
A supplier is a provider of a tour service. Cruises are relatively simple for tour managers to handle, though tour managers must work at staying in contact with group members and maintaining group cohesiveness. Rail travel, too, is easily managed, though a tour director must deal with the unusual sleeping accommodations, the potential for boredom, and a layout that does not promote group cohesiveness. Meals are a key tour activity. Dining locations must be well chosen, appropriate, efficient, pleasant, varied, and cost-effective. Tour conductors must make sure that groups have enough time to visit attractions, that the visit is at an appropriate time of day, that the group is oriented to the attractions if necessary, and that the admission charge is handled smoothly. Unusual tour components can bring uniqueness and drama to a tour.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Define the terms "supplier" and "attraction." Give three specific examples of each.
2. Give three possible reasons for the renewed popularity of cruises.
3. How can a tour manager remain visible to tour members on a cruise?
4. Define the following: stateroom, bow, stern, port, starboard, room steward, purser, and shore excursion.
5. List at least ten subjects a tour conductor must discuss during a cruise briefing.
6. Describe three possible sleeping arrangements on a train tour.
7. Discuss three factors that affect the psychology of tour train travel.
8. What are four considerations in selecting a dining facility for a group?
9. Why are cafeterias and buffets well suited to tour groups?
10. What are four questions tour directors should ask themselves about an attraction?
* This is an exercise in evaluating restaurants and their suitability for hosting tour groups. Select six sit-down restaurants. The first three (A, B, C) should be within a half mile of your school or training classroom; they need not be ideally suited for tours. The second three (D, E, F) should be those restaurants within ten miles of your school that you feel would be most appropriate for tours. Use the chart below to rate each restaurant, with 3 being the highest rating in each category and 0 the lowest.
* Few areas in the United States are richer in attractions than central Florida. Using whatever sources you can find (for example, guidebooks, tourist maps, and the Internet), list the seven major attractions within a two and one-half hour drive of Orlando that you would have your groups visit for at least a half day. In the right-hand column, indicate how long (half day or full day) you would give your group at the attraction. Assume that your group is made up mostly of families, with parents in their thirties and forties and children under sixteen.
Attraction Time for Visit 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.
To succeed, a tour manager must be very outgoing. Assess how much of a "people person" you are by doing the following exercise.
"If I had to choose between the following two options (A and B), in most cases and most of the time I would rather:"
A B -- 1. Attend a sporting event Watch it on TV -- 2. Go to a party Read a good book -- 3. Visit with friends Work on a hobby -- 4. Watch a team sport like football Watch an individual sport like gymnastics -- 5. Work with a committee of people Work on a project myself -- 6. Go shopping with family or friends Shop on my own -- 7. Take a cruise vacation Get away from it all on a near-deserted island -- 8. Play cards with friends Work on a jigsaw puzzle -- 9. Attend a "networking" business Read a useful newsletter function -- 10. Give a great office party Master a new piece of office equipment -- 11. Be a therapist Be an author -- 12. Take aerobics classes Take long walks alone -- 13. Play charades Play computer games -- 14. Be a talk-show host Be a sculptor -- 15. Talk on the phone Do some gardening -- 16. Attend a convention Watch a series of motivational tapes -- 17. Carpool Drive to work alone -- 18. Take my lunch break with Have lunch quietly alone fellow workers -- 19. Serve on a hiring committee Reorganize my files -- 20. Call a person and thank them Send a written thank you directly for a favor note or e-mail to them Total As -- Total Bs - Your instructor or trainer will help you assess your "gregariousness quotient" from your answers to the above choices.
Marc Mancini, Ph.D.
Department of Travel
West Los Angeles College
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|Publication:||Conducting Tours, A Practical Guide, 3rd ed.|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2001|
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