Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Avoiding Group-Travel Disasters (and, random alert! The recipe for the most delicious Pumpkin bars ever!)

It feels like forever since I last blogged! I hope everyone had a fun ending to summer and that you're all enjoying the start of fall. Side note: Am I crazy or is this the absolute best time of year? I love putting away my summer stuff and switching to sweaters & boots, seeing everyone get organized and grounded at home for going back-to-school, making and devouring Williams Sonoma Dessert Squares (these are heavenly!) and last but not least, lighting a Pumpkin Spice candle at home. How cozy does that sound?!
If you don't have one of these in your house 

    I strongly recommend getting one- Yum!

Not to worry if you are a summer-lover though, this posting is not going to be all about my love for the autumn season; it's actually going to focus on group travel. I've discovered a lot of helpful hints while booking so many large groups for destination weddings, and I think there's a lot to be learned from other peoples' mistakes. Here are my top tips for avoiding group travel disasters based on my experience in the industry. If you're a destination wedding bride, I promise you these are worth reviewing!

1. When sending out initial information on a particular vacation package, do not make any absolute statements or promises! Things in the travel industry change all of the time- policies, pricing, availability, etc. The best thing to do is communicate that the information you're providing is meant to be a nice snapshot, but things are always subject to change prior to booking.

Many guests from one of my more recent groups received a Save-The-Date with very specific statements on there, and rather than being helpful (which was of course the intention of the wedding couple), it really misled people about the varying costs based on city of origin, room type, flight preferences, etc. Again, the best thing you can do is strike a balance between too vague and too specific.

2. Do not ever advise guests to wait until later to book! Unfortunately many people still hold the notion that they'll get the best deal if they book at the last minute, and the vast majority of the time, this is truly not the case anymore (especially when you need a large number of rooms). Pricing is often better the sooner you book thanks to 'early booking bonuses,' and furthermore, availability at the hotel is not guaranteed.

Several couples from another one of my groups were advised (not by me) to wait until about three months out to get the best deal. Know what happened? The hotel was totally sold out by then, and the airfare had gone through-the-roof.  I did the best I could to partner with a neighboring hotel to line up a back-up for them, but it's not an ideal situation by any means. Lesson to be learned? Encourage your friends and family to submit their deposit sooner rather than later.

3. Stress the importance of consulting with the designated travel agent. I promise I am not saying this to create revenue for myself, Midwest Travel Service or any other agency!! I have seen waaaay too many mistakes happen when people try to book it themselves, usually because they think they can find it cheaper. In one of my spring groups from last year, a couple of people ended up booking themselves at the wrong hotel, about a hour & a half away from the rest of the group :( It was too late to change by the time they got there and realized it, so they were not only out the money, but they were also out of a lot of fun time shared with the group.

4. My last piece of advice for group travelers is to re-confirm important requests shortly before your group departs (i.e. certain wedding details, wheelchair accessibility issues, etc). I hate to be pessimistic, but just because you initially requested something with the hotel doesn't always mean it will 100% happen upon arrival. Some of the hotels are incredibly busy on a year-round basis, so never underestimate the power of polite follow-up!

For those of you with upcoming group vacations, I hope these tips were helpful. Of course, feel free to contact me for assistance anytime. My email address is

Can we go back to the whole fall topic for one more second? I have just one more thing to share- The recipe for Williams Sonoma Dessert Squares (link courtesy of the 'Bakerella' blog). My family likes to add a dollop of homemade whipped cream, with a drop of almond added of course, on top of the warm bars for a seriously scrumptious experience!

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