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Dealing with Difficult Participants: Part 2 – The Before and After

Mar 13, 2019 | | by Lindsay Taulbee

Throughout the trip planning process, there are many touchpoints when you’ll communicate with your travelers, from their initial registration all the way to their post-trip evaluation. While much of this contact may be handled by your travel provider, your participants will still look to you as the sponsor organization or group leader to answer questions and mediate any misunderstandings.

In a previous post, we shared strategies for dealing with difficult participants in the field. There are some individuals, however, who despite being charming and easygoing travelers in person can cause headaches leading up to the trip or after they return home, draining your time and energy.

Perhaps you’ve had your share of these agonizing group participants. Here, we offer solutions for handling four common types of challenging people pre- and post-journey.


The Neglectful Nellie

Group travel necessitates gathering and keeping track of a lot of important details about everyone’s passports, flight schedules, allergies, forms, payments, and more. The Neglectful Nellie isn’t intentionally sabotaging your plans, but her failure to send necessary information by critical deadlines can cause extra work for you, or worse, could even endanger the viability of your trip getting off the ground.


A reliable travel provider will be able to help track documents and contact participants, but some leaders prefer to collect these items on their own or want to stay involved in the process. If that’s the case, be proactive: Send reminders BEFORE key deadlines. In Outlook and Gmail, for example, you can draft emails and schedule them to be delivered at a later date; schedule reminder communications in advance of any important deadlines. Then, prepare to follow up with stragglers. Consider how your travelers most frequently communicate. Are they more likely to check email, see a text or Facebook message, or answer a phone call? Plan accordingly.


The Frugal Fred

Travel can be a big expense, and wanting to get the most out of the experience is certainly understandable. A few frugal deal-seekers go to the extreme, though, bickering over every last nickel and dime, trying to cut corners, or taking a minor inconvenience and blowing it out of proportion in hopes of scoring a refund.


Early on in the trip planning process, it helps to have a general idea of your audience’s budget. Planning a lavish trip sounds fun, but if it’s not financially feasible then it’s probably not a good fit for your group. Once the trip is booked, communicate early on exactly what’s included and what’s not, in order to avoid surprises later. Try to anticipate any additional costs that travelers might not think about—such as luggage fees, departure taxes, gratuities, or pre-trip vaccines—and if possible, advise how much to budget over and above the advertised trip cost.

Lastly, be flexible without being a doormat. There may be instances when you can help someone save, like matching them with a roommate to avoid the fee for a single room. Other times, you’ll need to politely yet firmly state the pricing policy so they know there is precedence for the decision. And if a situation warrants it and you have reviewed the case carefully, be willing to make a refund or credit. In the long run, it’s worth the extra effort to ensure a repeat customer who will sing your praises.


The Curious Cathy

It’s common for participants to have questions, especially if it’s their first time visiting a particular destination or traveling as part of a group. A good travel provider will be on hand to answer any and all questions by email, by phone, or even in person. They should also provide material leading up to the trip that prepares travelers and answers commonly asked questions. Nevertheless, as group leader you’re likely to field questions about everything from passports to packing. Too many questions can take up your valuable time.


Confirm that the traveler has received any pre-departure materials. If it appears they’re just being careless and not reading the materials thoroughly, remind the traveler that their questions are covered there, and be prepared to re-send documents if needed (or ask your travel provider to do so).

Keep in mind there could be something more going on. If information has been sent electronically, it’s possible the traveler is not tech-savvy. You could offer some assistance, or your travel provider may be able to send printed copies of the materials. It’s also possible the person is nervous or an inexperienced traveler and might require a little extra hand-holding or personalized attention. In that case, it’s worthwhile to spend a little extra time easing their concerns.


The Disgruntled Dan

If you’ve done your due diligence before your trip and in the field, your travelers will likely return home with fond memories of their experience and excited for the next adventure. Once in a while, however, you’ll encounter someone who seems to be enjoying themselves during the trip, but expresses negative feedback after returning home, catching you off guard with a less-than-glowing review.


Negative feedback spread through word of mouth, a trip evaluation, or an online review shouldn’t be ignored. Resist the urge to become defensive, and instead, see if you can open a dialog with your detractor. Call or email them and try to find out exactly what went wrong; if you feel the criticism is founded, validate their position and thank them for bringing it to your attention. See if there’s anything you can do to mitigate the situation after the fact, such as explaining why an activity was substituted at the last minute or offering a credit for missed services, if warranted. If there was a logistical issue, work with your travel provider to ensure that things are handled differently in the future.

Ultimately, there may have been circumstances outside your control and you can’t always please everyone, but showing that you care about your group’s experience can go a long way toward smoothing over any bumps and restoring faith in your travel program.

Read Part 1: Dealing with Difficult Participants