Destination Directory

Handling Stragglers: Tips & Tricks

You'd think the excitement of travel—of an anticipated trip—would have people champing at the bit and raring to hit the road. Mostly, that's true. But what if you have a straggler or two who throws things off for fellow travelers? If this is a problem you need to tackle—or nip in the bud—consider these tips, tricks, and tactics.

"Usually we don't have a problem with tour participants being late for a departure time," said MJ Keating, tour director, MJ Tours LLC. But if at the start of the tour she notices a person or couple dragging behind and not being "pronto" for departure, Keating mentions that the group will wait only ten minutes before leaving for the next attraction. The latecomer then must find his or her own transportation to meet up with the group at its destination. "That simple comment usually makes everyone more efficient!" Keating's cell phone number is printed on the back of each traveler's nametag, in case people must contact her about an emergency or incident beyond their control.

Diane Sphar, president of Ohio Travel Treasures LLC, doesn't have many straggler problems, but knows of some clever strategies for keeping people on "group time." One group has a BIS (butts in seats) rule: They give a time when travelers' butts must be in seats (not coming out of an attraction or stop). Travelers who continually break the rule—three times on one tour—are penalized by having to pay more for their next tour. Another group has a "singing" bass fish, given to the last person to board. Whoever has the fish sits in the back until next stop. A bank travel group made up a song (to the tune of "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date ...") that the entire bus sings to the last person arriving. "This causes a few red cheeks, but they tell me it works" Diane said. "Embarrassment is not what guests are looking for." As for leaving travelers behind? A great threat, Diane notes, but not really feasible. "Groups need to keep records and put an alert on the client's information to signify that this person is perpetually late, and make a decision if they even want a person like this traveling with them." This also holds true for constant complainers, who hinder the rest of the group and make others uncomfortable.


Dealing with tardiness is tricky, notes Rachel A. Najar, European operations, Image Tours, Inc. "On one hand, this is a vacation, and clients are there to enjoy themselves. On the other hand, there is a schedule that needs to be followed to effectively provide the sights and experiences we have promised." When clients are on a tour, it's reiterated that they're traveling with others and must respect group travel etiquette. They're reminded to be on time and conscientious of fellow travelers; that each day is carefully planned, and when lateness causes delays, it affects the group and the schedule, and could cut into sightseeing. There is a point when the tour manager must decide to leave someone behind, Najar admits, which tour managers hope to avoid via these procedures:

  • Once clients arrive on tour, they are provided with the tour manager's mobile phone number, in case they get lost or have an emergency.
  • Clients are advised to carry their overnight schedule at all times. This has the name, address, and phone number of every hotel at which they'll stay, so they'll always know "home base" at any location.
  • The tour manager is instructed to wait fifteen minutes for late clients. Usually, this is enough time for them to straggle in. And seeing that they made dozens of people wait is usually enough of a learning experience to prevent future tardiness.
  • If the tour manager hasn't received a call from the client within those fifteen minutes or the client hasn't arrived, the tour manager is instructed to contact the local police and Image Tours' central office. After this, the tour manager must depart with the rest of the group. Any missing client(s) is then responsible for getting to the next location.

"Overall, we simply cannot wait more than fifteen minutes for anyone, and we cannot wait even that long for the same person more than once," Najar said. "For most groups, it only takes one incident for clients to see the importance of being on time, keeping the tour manager's mobile number on hand, and having their overnight schedule with them at all times."

Written by Amy L Charles, editorial director of Groups Today magazine.




+1 #6 sally 2015-10-31 22:45
Trains, planes, and boats don't wait. Some pax return 10-15 minutes early to assure promptness. How do they feel if they conscientiously rushed to get back, missing one last minute museum area or gift shop purchase? If there are 40 people on tour and one person is 5 min late that is 200 minutes, or more than three cumulative hrs wasted for those on time. I don't feel it is appropriate to penalize timely customers.
0 #5 Mark Lesiw 2015-09-09 15:47
I'm curious how many clients return having been embarrassed AND expected to pay a premium.

For your client it is a vacation – one they've worked hard to afford & you've worked very hard to ensure they’ll enjoy. As seasoned travelers, it’s easy to understand how some get caught up in the very moments you’re trying to get them lost in. Mobile is now being used by all demographics, and it makes sense then to use it to communicate with clients proactively to avoid embarrassment (& delays). We suggest operators use mobile to keep everyone on track: Provide a digital itinerary & make it available on client phones (they’re less likely to lose their phone than a piece of paper); Use the itinerary to schedule & send reminders 15 minute before due back; Put instructions for catching up with the group & emergency contacts in that schedule. And, as Diane suggests, keeping records IS really important, and is easier with solutions that keep records of when messages are delivered & read.
+1 #4 Jim Teeter 2015-09-09 09:18
I am puzzled by Mary Barth's comment, "Diane; you're too punitive!" Notifying suppliers in advance of arrival and even taking precaution to KNOW the best routes is just good efficient Escort professionalism . I go even beyond that with a phone call to the next supplier notifying them that we are departing our prior location and heading to them. I find them very appreciative. This "too punitive" comment doesn't seem to fit.
0 #3 DianeMontague CTA 2015-08-14 10:48
Suppliers must also be clearly notified of the scheduled departure time for the group. Our company sends the timed itinerary (modified for that segment) to the supplier (tour site, restaurant, etc) so that they have that very time, in front of them. This provides a "double backup plan" , if you will, and is integral to top notch service . In addition, our company often contracts the ground transportation and provides routing for the most efficient method of staying on the timed schedule. GPS can fail, and I have witnessed this failure on a recent trip, putting us behind 47 minutes, and disappointing several guests who had to miss their optional activity.
0 #2 Brenda 2015-08-13 16:37
If your on a 48 seat motorcoach and 2 people are holding up the whole show, it needs to be addressed.
It is crucial in providing a service. Late once, and they need to be pulled aside and told. I also suggest cutting the return time to the bus by 10 minutes so that the inconsiderate passengers can get it together and the group stays on point. I do not like to humiliate anyone, a private conversation will give everyone a chance to save face.
+1 #1 Mary Barth 2015-08-13 10:48
Diane; You're too punitive!

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