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.