What does leadership mean to you?
We use the term “leader” a lot around our office. Volunteer travel organizers are often referred to throughout the tourism industry as “group leaders.” And the word is even part of our company name and magazine title: The Group Travel Leader.
But for all of the talk of group leaders in the tourism industry, there is surprisingly little talk of leadership.
In the past, our industry has used the term leader to mean coordinator: It’s someone who puts trips together and ensures that they run smoothly. But the more I learn about leadership, the more convinced I am that successful group travel leaders are much more than trip coordinators.
Whether they’re working in business, public service, sports, philanthropy or tourism, great leaders have a number of characteristics in common. Here are five leadership qualities that are an essential part of the successful group travel leader’s philosophy.
1. Great leaders ask questions.
Being an effective leader isn’t about having all the answers; it’s about asking the right questions. In travel, this means constantly seeking new information and ideas about destinations, experiences and tour products. It means asking your tourism partners how they can make trips special for your group. And it means asking your travelers, as well as your prospects, where they’re interested in going and what they want to do when they get there.
2. Great leaders think creatively.
Travel coordinators have predictable ways of doing things and templates for their trips. They probably get the job done and may do so efficiently, but they aren’t breaking any ground. Great leaders, however, are visionaries who understand the importance of innovation and new ideas. They don’t wait for someone to bring ideas to them but actively search for them. The most successful travel leaders tap into their own creativity to create new travel experiences.
3. Great leaders inspire people.
You may have many people in your organization who travel with you infrequently or who have never traveled with you at all. The key to reaching those elusive prospects may be inspiration. If your sales pitch amounts to an itinerary and a price tag, you’re probably not providing the necessary inspiration to pique people’s interests. Great leaders don’t just provide information; they speak to people in a way that inspires them to come along.
4. Great leaders expand people’s horizons.
The best coaches are able to draw performances out of their athletes that go beyond their perceived limitations. In a similar way, great travel leaders are able to try travel experiences that go beyond their comfort zones. Whether it’s tasting new foods or taking a leap of faith on a zip line, many travelers find that their most memorable moments are also the ones when they tried something they weren’t sure they could do. Good leaders help their travelers discover courage they didn’t know they had.
5. Great leaders widen the tent.
Any organization that isn’t growing will eventually die, and perceptive leaders understand that bringing new people into the fold is an important part of their work. For travel planners, this means finding ways to appeal to younger, more diverse audiences; figuring out how to reach those people; and inviting them to join your trips. That might be challenging at first, but in the long run, it’s one of the best ways to ensure the success of your travel program.