Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Group Travel Essentials: Handling Customer Payments

You probably didn’t decide to become a group travel planner because you love keeping track of people’s payments. But managing transactions is a crucial part of running a successful travel endeavor, and if you don’t get it right, you could cause yourself and your travelers a lot of trouble.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the amount of time and effort you spend managing payments, or even eliminate payments from your workflow altogether. Consider employing some of these strategies to streamline your operations; doing so will allow you to focus more on the parts of travel you enjoy and worry less about the business side.

Business Basic: Start With Deposits

Most experienced travel planners, travel agents and tour operators don’t ask customers to pay the entire cost of a trip at once. Instead, they have clients make a small nonrefundable deposit (usually a few hundred dollars), then pay the balance closer to the date of departure. This offers several benefits: In addition to allowing your customers to spread the cost of their trip over several payments, requiring deposits helps you gauge how many participants you’ll have on a trip several months in advance. It also gives you some operating capital for making reservations or deposits to your suppliers.

Best Practice: Build an Infrastructure

The first time you ran a group trip, you probably managed the finances in your own bank account, collecting cash or checks from your travelers and then paying suppliers with your own credit card. As your organization grows, though, this method becomes trickier and exposes you to some liabilities. To protect yourself, you should set up a separate bank account for your business or travel group — don’t mix it with your personal finances. With that account, you can get a dedicated debit or credit card. The bank may also be able to help you set up payment processing so you can accept credit card payments from your customers.

Innovative Idea: Accept Payments on Your Phone

If you have used a credit card recently to buy something from an independent merchant at an event or a farmers market, you may have seen them swipe your credit card through a small attachment plugged into a smartphone. These gadgets and their associated apps allow even microbusinesses to accept credit card payments in person. They can also be a great way for you to make sales. When you visit clients or give a presentation about an upcoming trip, you can offer a special price or other incentive to anyone who places a deposit on the trip right then. Then you can use your phone and a payment app to collect those deposits on the spot.

Pro Tip: Outsource Collections

If you work with travel partners such as cruise lines and tour companies on most of your trips, there’s a good chance they can take on all the hassles of payment processing for you. These companies already have the in-house infrastructure necessary for accepting payments, and many of them offer those services to you when you book trips through them. They usually give you a customized link to their payment portals so that instead of collecting money from your customers, you can simply send travelers the link, and they can pay their deposits and final balances directly to the supplier.

Growth Opportunity: Collect Payments Online

The internet has fundamentally changed the way people buy things, including travel. And the more trips you sell, the more likely you’ll be to encounter people who want to pay for their trips online. In the past few years, some technology companies have created simple, secure ways for small businesses and organizations to process payments directly on their websites. If you already have a website, talk to your site designer about adding payment tools — it’s not as difficult as it sounds — or use a service like Squarespace or Wix to easily create a new site with e-commerce tools built in.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.