By Shebby Lee
When I was hired to lead my first cross-country group tour (which was more years ago than I care to admit), I was handed a well-worn box brimming with equally well-worn Bingo cards and a few sheets of escort notes buried at the bottom—almost as an afterthought.
I was reminded of that box when reading a recent article in a travel trade publication entitled “Industry Education” that recommended—wait for it—Bingo and other games designed to “pass time.” I very nearly cried. Hasn’t group travel advanced any further than a traveling Bingo game in all these years?
At that time, I was just getting started in tourism, and like a good camper, I did what I was told. But well before that first tour ended I realized what a missed opportunity such activities represented. I made a vow to ban Bingo cards from all future tours under my purview.
I kept my promise. And judging from our passenger evaluations, nobody missed them! I hasten to acknowledge that we are very familiar with long stretches of time between tour stops. Our shortest tour is six days, and we have several that cover more than a thousand miles. Our longest tour spans more than 3,400 miles through some of the longest stretches of fly-over country in the nation. Yet our participants are effusive in their praise about how fascinating every minute of these tours are, especially those long stretches on the bus!
Sitting on a bus for hours with no activity can be mind-numbing. But activity just for activity’s sake is not the answer. So-called “down time” on the bus is an opportunity to enhance the experience. “Life changing” is one of the current buzz words in our industry, and as providers of travel, we are in a unique position to make it happen. Instead of punctuating the time between life-changing experiences with stretches of irrelevant games, why not use that time to raise the bar?
When many of those miles are through some of America’s most spectacular scenery, the task is made easier. In these cases, it is the tour director’s job to create an appreciation of what participants are seeing, to teach them about the people who first inhabited this area, and discuss the events that happened there.
Try introducing interactive discussions, show quality documentary DVDs that lend depth to the tour content, hand out reading materials (also reinforcing the tour’s topic or region) and show and tell items, play period or ethnic music, and yes, even play trivia when it is relevant.
Why don’t more tour directors and tour planners provide these enhancements to their tours? Because it’s a lot of work, that’s why! It involves research and time to locate just the right information, items, and experiences to move that trip to the next level.
Involve your participants, create excitement, and you will be rewarded many times over.
Historian and writer Shebby Lee owns Shebby Lee Tours Inc. of Rapid City, S.D. Her tours focus on the history and cultural heritage of the West. Lee also makes presentations at history conferences and industry meetings and writes the travel blog Trail Talk. To contact Lee, visit www.shebbyleetours.com.