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Tips for Organizers

Are you a pastor, teacher, administrator or head of an organization?  Do you have a group of friends or extended family you would like to gather together for a journey?  If yes, here are some tips for successful program planning. 

Overall Vision

Group travel events are great venues for advancing common goals/objectives – such as continuing education/ongoing faith formation in congregations, educational goals at schools/universities, building community through travel together, celebrating anniversaries or milestones in communities, groups of friends or families.  We encourage organizations to designate a primary contact person who will be the liaison between Illume and the organization.

It is important to identify the profile of your group (their age, background, interests, abilities, challenges, and resources – particularly amount of time they can be away and the budget they will be comfortable with). 

It is important to identify broad or global vision for a program as well as more specific/detailed objectives.  Illume invites group organizers to think creatively – to imagine a program that no one else has put together before – one tailored to your participants and to your organizational mission/goals.

It is usually helpful to create a balance.  If your broad goal is to advance continuing education and ongoing faith formation through a congregational program and specific objectives include visits to important historical or religious sites, are there other activities that will help balance the program such as meeting local organizations and people to learn about other cultures, practices and traditions?  Would visits to local artisans, markets or vineyards or culinary establishments help round out a nice program?  Will participants appreciate free time to explore and enjoy a location at their own pace or visit sites of particular interest?  Successful programs usually include a thoughtful balance of group activities and individual free time as well as a balance between activities that are more educational/informational and activities that might be more interactive.

There is a temptation to pack as much into a program as possible.  However, if a program is too ambitious, participants don’t have the time to really enjoy, savor and absorb the richness of the activities planned.  Sometimes less is more.

Program Support

In an age where travel has become costly, it is tempting to cut costs by eliminating on-the-ground professionals to support group activities and logistics.  This is even more tempting if the group organizer is familiar with the destination, speaks the local language, and enjoys the process of organizing group activities and movement. 

Organizes who make all travel arrangements for the group and manage those arrangements at the overseas destination assume an enormous responsibility and liability for participants’ investment.  With such an approach there is no organization backing up the reservations, payments or activities.  Sometimes everything goes as planned.  Often it doesn’t. 

Some organizers ask travel organizations to make arrangements in advance but attempt to save money by reducing or eliminating overseas program management.  An organizer then has a set of vouchers to show to hotels, guides, bus drivers and other entities overseas.  There is organizational backup for these arrangements but no one to turn to on-the-spot should there be a strike, bad weather, health emergency, or other eventuality that requires reconfiguring services, negotiation with local health care providers, or intervention with someone who knows the local customs, practices and contacts.

Successful programs include a full-time local tour manager. This local English-speaking professional is an experienced manager of group travel events, knows local contacts at venues, and is prepared to handle the contingencies that invariably arise – such as accidents/health emergencies (this person engages proper medical care/attention without disrupting group activities), reconfiguration of activities or services in the event of strikes, weather, or other disruptions, reconfirmation of scheduled visits, guides and entrances, arrangement of religious services for religious groups, and interaction between local staff (drivers, hotel staff, restaurant staff) and group participants.

Timing

Group travel programs require more advance planning and work than individual travel.  Designing a thoughtful and innovative program takes some time.  Illume retains an in-house scholar/consultant who works with group organizers to integrate their vision and objectives with logistical details and on-the-ground resources.  Program development or design usually takes from a week to a couple of weeks.  Illume then prepares a proposal that includes a scope of services, program details, and budget.  This usually takes a week to ten days.

Most organizers share information with prospective participants one year in advance of travel dates and invite people to register and make a deposit from one year to nine months in advance of departure.  

Arrangements for group travel have been made more complicated by airline consolidation, reduction in the number of flights, and increased number of people flying.  Group fares are limited so the earlier a group forms, the better the options regarding fares, schedules, and connections. 

Although the world financial crisis would lead some to believe there is excess capacity in hotels and that foreign countries are eager to discount prices for American travelers, just the opposite is true.  Increased wealth in Asian and Eastern European countries has led to a boom in travel to Europe. While many of these groups select more peripheral and cheaper hotels, this leads to more demand on centrally located properties, raising prices and occupancy. 

Planning a program one year in advance is a good rule of thumb.  Soliciting registrations and deposits from nine-months to twelve-months in advance is also advisable.  This is not to say that if an organizer gathers a group together at the last minute or within three or four months of departure a group event can’t be arranged.  It often can, particularly if there is some flexibility regarding dates or sequence of visits. 

Have Fun

Illume partners with group organizers so that the logistics of a program are managed by a team of professionals – freeing the group organizer to focus on interaction with participants and enjoyment of the activities planned.  Illume has points-of-contact with participants prior to departure, online resources in exclusive travel resource centers for each program, and dedicated staff to answer questions from participants about travel arrangements, insurance, and other planning details.  

Illume’s goal is to make sure group organizers look good – making sure all planned activities come off without a hitch and that people get more than they anticipated, not less. 

Whether you are a pastor, teacher, organizational leader or an individual who wants to get a group of friends or family together for an exciting journey – Illume is eager to work with you to help design and coordinate a successful program. 

Contact us.