I recently participated in a community chat about groups moderated by Craig Satterfield ECCS on the Travel Professional Community and it became obvious that there is a dearth of information regarding the ins and outs of escorting groups. So, after spending a lifetime escorting groups all over the world, I thought I would share some insights that I have gained and hope that they will resonate with you should you be put in the position of escorting groups.
Escorting is a wonderful way to add value to your group movements. By presenting solutions to concerns that many travelers have, you can easily increase your price point and subsequent profitability. While escorting is a rather complex idea, I will break it down to skills that you need to have, things that you shouldn’t do and things that you should do.
Get Equipped: Group escorts have the responsibility for keeping everything on track and to foresee any problems that may arise during a cruise. Discovering a problem is only half of the battle and the other half is communicating changes with the group. To successfully manage a cruise group the professional group escort has the tools to make it happen.
A Laptop Computer: You should always have your laptop computer with you so that you can create professional flyers, newsletters or door hangers for your group on short notice. Your computer should be loaded with your favorite layout software such as Adobe InDesign or MicroSoft Publisher so that you can create professional materials on a moment’s notice.
A Digital Camera: While everyone has a smart phone with a camera and / or a digital camera, it is important to use it taking pictures of your group that can be used in on-board newsletters or flyers. You should also have photo editing software on your computer like Adobe Photoshop and / or many of the Akvis photo tools to make professional images out of low quality ones.,
A Portable Printer: Both HP and Cannon make small portable printers that will print high quality resolution documents. These small ink jet printers have the capacity to print high resolution images on photo paper that can be used as gifts for members of your group. Having the ability to design, layout and print flyers and newsletters on the fly is critical to making sure that your group stays on track. Using the Ship’s copy machine and staff delivery services is simply not responsive enough to quickly communicate with your group.
Preprinted Flyer and Newsletter Paper: To really dazzle your group always travel with 4-color preprinted flyer and newsletter paper stock for use in your communication. IdeaArt.com has a wonderful and colorful selection of preprinted flyer, newsletter, brochure and door hanger items. Just search using “Cruising”, “Tropical”, “Vacation” and other keywords that fit your cruise. PaperDirect.com is also another excellent site for cruise oriented papers. Just search for what you are looking for and you will find numerous sources for excellent papers.
Skills: Before you start escorting you should do everything in your power to get training in the following areas. Remember that escorting is about solving problems before, or as they arise.
Get Certified in CPR: This is very important. You can’t count on having a doctor with you on every cruise or trip and you may well be the first defense in case of a medical emergency. Contact your local Red Cross to find who offers training in your area or simply Google “Where can I get CPR Certified?” Note that there are several advanced CPR / AED / ACLS classes available and the more you know about giving life saving techniques, the better you can serve your group. Always share your certifications with the group organizer to set yourself apart from your competition.
Learn First Aid: You don’t need to be a doctor, but you do need to know first aid and have the ability to recognize when medical treatment is needed. The American Red Cross, National Safety Council and American Heart Association along with many colleges and universities offer first aid training. You should have an advanced understanding of first aid to escort groups, especially if you are escorting outside the United States. Google “Where can I get first aid training?”
Take a Conflict Resolution Class: Understanding the resolution side of conflict will help you settle problems between parties in your group and trouble with those outside of your group. There are classes, books and seminars on conflict resolution and you should have a thorough understanding the process and ability to reconcile disputes.
Take Some Self Defense Classes: Sometimes you will need to step in-between two people in conflict and you are best prepared to neutralize the situation if you can present a confidence that tells the person you are confronting that you are not threatened by him or her. This is best accomplished by knowing that you can strike a neutralizing blow if you had to. Contact any local martial arts school and ask for “self defense” training. You don’t need to earn a black belt, just some basic training that will build your confidence in situations that may otherwise be uncomfortable
Do: There are things common to every group that are the responsibility of the escort and must be implemented with every group. While there are more, these are the key elements,.
Set Behavioral Standards and Enforce Them: As discussed in the “Don’t” section, there is acceptable behavior and unacceptable. You must communicate with the group members what the acceptable behavioral standards are and what is unacceptable. Excessive drinking, chronic complaining, aggressive and / or rude behavior and other conduct that is deemed unacceptable behavior should be dealt with immediately by the escort. Having one group member that is allowed to participate in unacceptable behavior can ruin an entire group’s experience. Every group member should understand that engaging in unacceptable behavior after being warned will result in the member’s immediate expulsion from the group. And, if it happens, you must expel the group member.
Anticipate Everything: Reconfirm everything and then reconfirm it again! Never assume anything is going to happen the way that you think it will. Be prepared for the unexpected. Is the group stuck in long lines? Have some line games for everyone to play. Did your motor coach break down? Have some activities planned like joke telling, a scavenger hunt or a trivia quiz. Be prepared to turn a negative into a positive no matter what the journey throws at you..
Create a Crisis Slush Fund: In every group costing you should set aside money to resolve an emergency if one occurs. There are a myriad of things that can go wrong from medical emergencies to no-show transfers and they can all cost you money. By establishing a slush fund you can easily accommodate the realities of escorting groups and traveling in today’s environment. If you don’t spend the slush fund from one group, don’t worry, you will probably need it on the next.
Learn the $50 Rule: The truth is that you can make just about anything happen for $50. Lost luggage can be found fast, a surly waiter can be made to perform and great dining tables can be had. Never forget the power of a $50 bill when escorting a group. You can easily smooth out otherwise rough waters.
Don’t: Many people are confused about what escorting is all about. Here are some common mistakes that newer escorts make and how to avoid them.
Group Members Are Not Your Friends: The last thing you want to do is present yourself as your group member’s friend. Your job is to resolve problems before, or as they arise. Many times this will involve controlling group member’s activities and invoking behavioral standards, which are contrary to being “friends” with individuals within the group.
Say Yes!: Remember that your obligation to the group is to resolve problems before, or as they happen. If you allow group members to request help from you that is not consistent with your obligation, it will be likely that you will not perform your core commitment to the group resulting the dissatisfaction of the group members. A good rule is to ask yourself “Is there someone else that can perform this request?” if there is, that is where the group member should go. Never take on responsibility that is outside your core function.
Look for Problems: Many things are normal in group dynamics. Gossiping, minor complaining, negativity and other human behavior will occur in every group. You must determine what is normal and what is abnormal. Your obligation is to deal with abnormal behavior and simply ignore normal behavior. Getting involved in every little complaint, participating in gossip regarding group members and contributing to negativity about the cruise or trip will only undermine your authority over the group members and may well cause the failure of the group.
Escorting groups is an exciting and rewarding way to make money, but never forget that the escort is measured by how enjoyable the travel experience is for the entire group, not just a few of the group members. Have fun!