Travel Notes

Setting Yourself Up for Success

By Tom Merrill, Travel Consultant, Bob Rogers Travel

Let’s be clear: this is a “tough love” editorial.

As a travel consultant at Bob Rogers Travel, I work with dozens of music educators every year to plan successful performance tours. And lately, I’ve been seeing some missteps that can undermine that success.

But I’m not here to throw stones, because I was a high school band director myself for over a decade. I took my students on several tours… and I made my share of mistakes.

The benefits of student performance travel are almost too many to list: Better rehearsals and elevated performances as students rise to meet the moment, stronger bonds between your performers, expanded horizons, another tool in your recruiting toolbox…

That’s why it genuinely saddens us when schools initiate the travel process, but ultimately can’t make the trip happen. And it can leave students disappointed, parents upset, and administrators skeptical.

The good news: These missteps are easily avoidable and correctable.

Fix #1: Start Early

Here are some all-too-common scenarios:

  • A trip is planned for the spring, but the planning process doesn’t begin until the autumn immediately prior.
  • The planning process begins at the tail end of the school year, but momentum is lost over the summer, and the necessary boxes don’t get checked until autumn.

Because of travel industry changes, other options for student activities and experiences, and rising costs, it has never been more critical to plan early. It is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to set up your group and yourself for success.

As I conduct a “post-mortem” on these groups, the causes were all very similar:

School approval took too long.

Let’s face it, the wheels move slowly. It’s not uncommon for an approval decision to be tabled for more pressing matters at administrative and school board meetings. I know, I know—what could possibly be more important than the music department tour? But we must allow for delays like these, and waiting too long gives you zero wiggle-room to adjust if things do go a little sideways.

I find it helps to know in advance what the steps of the process are – meaning, how many approvals are required before you get the official “yes” – and then pad that time a bit. In most cases, this means the process must not only begin the previous school year, but with ample time before summer break, when everything shuts down for three months.

If in doubt, be a bit of a “squeaky wheel.” Check back regularly for updates. Administration and staff are human too – things get set aside or forgotten, and deadlines for board agendas can be missed. Know what happens when, and follow up accordingly.

Students decided to do something else.

There are more options than ever for students to experience different kinds of travel. Waiting too long to announce your tour only opens up more possibilities for students or families to make other plans. This reduces your number of travelers, which can increase your costs, which can make it too expensive for the students who did sign up, and the vicious circle takes its toll.

Not enough time to fundraise.

The travel industry isn’t immune to inflation, and trips are getting more expensive. That means it will take more time for your students to raise more funds. It’s a tall order to roll out a $1,000 tour to students in September and expect that they’ll be able to pay for it by February.

Additionally, waiting too long increases the odds that modifications will need to happen along the way – reworking the tour because of lower numbers, changing the destination, and so on. These burn more of your time and attention.

Fix #2: Communicate Regularly

The second key to success: Be an involved communicator.

There’s a “public relations” aspect to tour planning. As the voice of your program, your communications send a clear signal. Students, parents and administrators draw cues from the tone and timing of your communications.

So if in doubt, communicate a little more than you think is necessary. Keep the upcoming trip on everyone’s radar – and do so with positive energy and an “eyes on the prize” attitude.

“Communicating regularly” extends to your travel planning partners as well. A good travel planner knows you’re busy and will only send you an email when necessary – which means your response helps to keep things moving at the right speed. It also keeps your planning process on a proactive rather than reactive footing, which increases control and reduces anxiety. Help us help you. It’s what we’re here for.

Start early. Communicate regularly. Those two simple steps will set you and your ensemble up for a successful travel experience.

A version of this post originally appeared in SBO+ Magazine.

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