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New Rules of the Road

Carefully looking both ways to make sure nothing was coming, I slowly shifted into drive. I began accelerating at a snail’s pace, fearing I might be blindsided, again, and have to slam on the brakes. I cautiously made my way back on the road again.

No, I wasn’t driving a car. I was trying to make my way through an unprecedented season in the group travel business.

For me, and many tourism professionals like me, the only thing that traveled last year was money as we deposited, cancelled, and rebooked. Our files were fat with rewritten contracts and revisions. Our bank accounts, on the other hand, got thinner and thinner.

Our travelers looked to us as if we had a crystal ball to advise them what to do. No one saw this slow wreck coming.

I’m happy to report, though, that my group is back on the road. But after inching back out into the group travel world, we’ve made some discoveries. Things are not as we left them at the beginning of 2020. Our first tours out reminded us of how dangers it can be to make assumptions.

Back in the day — like 2019 — we could call a convention and visitors bureau or a group sales representative at a hotel or attraction and request information. We have discovered, though, that these phone calls often ring into empty offices or to voicemail boxes with outdated greetings.

I wanted to think that planning trips would work the way it had before. But I was only assuming.

My travelers and I got caught in faulty assumptions several times. We needed a restroom break and would call ahead to ask fast food place restaurant they were open. “Yes,” was the answer. We assumed that meant the dining room and restrooms. We were wrong.

We assumed when we called the hotel and asked if they were ready for our group. That would mean the manifest was prepared, the keys made and marked with travelers’ names for easy distribution. “Yes,” was the answer. But as it turned out, that simply meant the front desk clerk knew we were coming. She smiled as she made the keys one by one. We waited.

At one hotel I was helping the maintenance man tag all the luggage, as porterage was included for our clients. As, I wrote room numbers on our paper bag tags while he leaned on luggage cart, he announced he had been at this hotel longer than any other current employee. He had been there almost two years. Sigh.

Our area of the country has relaxed many of its COVID-19 protocols. But don’t assume that will be a given even in the same area. Some places — and some companies — are still enforcing mystifying rules. One hotel had removed hair dryers from the rooms; another had removed individual coffee pots and directed us to a communal coffee urn in the lobby. Now, I certainly don’t want to get into a spat with CDC, but I’m thinking all of us using the same hairdryer from the front desk, and pouring from the same coffee pot, might be counterproductive. Our front-desk clerk leaned around the plexiglass and told us these rules had come down from the corporate office.

Expect to do some-on-the-job training as you get back on the road. We all see the “Now Hiring!” signs and can rightly assume that we need to ask very specific questions — often questions we’ve never had to ask before. The standards we had come to expect may not have been introduced to our new hospitality teams. Or there may not be a “team” quite yet. My friend who works at a boutique hotel lamented that his upscale property went from 83 employees to 18. Now that things are opened back up, they still only have 18 employees. He is exhausted.

I want to be both your coach and cheerleader, so please listen to what I’m saying. By all means, begin traveling again. But double-check the details of each element of your trips. Don’t assume — ask!

Group travel will be back. People are ready to go, and they need us for more than just driving and tickets. Travelers trust us to take them where it’s safe and demonstrate how to navigate the return to the road.

By Patti Beth Anderson

Good to Go with Patti Beth Group Travel