Travel Planning: Budget Myth Busting—Part 3

Tom Merrill • Travel/Festivals • March 2, 2018

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In this final (for now, anyway) installment of this series, we’ll discuss some myths related to motorcoach travel and expectations at hotels when traveling with your ensemble.

We’ll save money by riding on the buses through the night

This myth is currently evolving and could have a major impact on how long-distance travel is accomplished. For years it’s been typical practice for groups to drive overnight to their destination. Bus companies would station relief drivers to meet the buses at predetermined locations and “swap out” when the first driver reaches their limit of 10 hours behind the wheel, making 15 to 25-hour drives (or more) possible without having to stop for an overnight en route.

Today, fewer bus companies are utilizing this practice…due to both safety factors and a shortage of drivers available to be stationed as relief drivers. If a group needs two drivers per bus to get to and from their location, it takes a driver “out of service” for another group. Multiply that times multiple buses per group, and then multiple groups during the busy spring months, and it quickly becomes an economic challenge for transportation companies – with buses sitting idle during peak times because no drivers are available.

So while currently this statement might be CONFIRMED, in the near future this myth could be BUSTED.

We’ll just have pizza delivered to the hotel

This depends, but often falls into the same category as bringing your own popcorn to the movie theater. Sure, we’d all prefer to sneak it in under our jacket and save the $10. But the reality is, the restaurant or catering service at a hotel is a revenue source. So, having Domino’s show up unannounced with 50 Ultimate Pepperoni pies is typically frowned upon – not to mention staff cleanup costs for those 50 empty pizza boxes, paper plates, napkins, soda cans, and other debris.

Additionally, requiring groups to use their designated catering can be a liability protection for the hotel against an unaffiliated caterer coming onto their premises and serving a meal that makes a bunch of people sick. It allows them to oversee and properly control the food handling and preparation.

That all said, some hotels are happy to work with you on things like pizza delivery for the group. The key here is to plan ahead and talk with them in advance. (NOTE: on your cell phone at 9 p.m. while you’re loading a bunch of hungry kids on the buses and leaving the theme park to return to the hotel does not qualify as “in advance.”)

Incidentally, in the festival field this same rule often is applied to concert venues as well. Many concert halls have negotiated contracted agreements with approved caterers, and those have to be followed by all groups using the building. PLAUSIBLE.

We’ll just ask the hotel to let us use a meeting room for a rehearsal (or storing our instruments, our uniforms, etc.)

Yes, you’ve bought a huge block of rooms at the hotel and they’re grateful for your business. But just like the catering item above, meeting room space is a source of revenue…and using it for a morning rehearsal or for multiple days of storage takes it out of circulation for rental to outside sources. Therefore, you’re certainly welcome to ask about using a room, but realize that there is likely going to be a cost involved.

If told in advance that this is something you are going to need, your travel planner can sometimes negotiate the use of a meeting room into your hotel contract. Which makes this myth PLAUSIBLE, and also leads to our final myth.

I can plan the tour cheaper on my own

The answer to this one is often actually “yes,” but, let’s define “cheaper” as opposed to “value” – tangibles first.

The value of working with a professional planner comes in many forms. Because they work in bulk, sending multiple groups to the same vendors year after year, they often obtain lower pricing than the public “rack rate.” Subsequently, they’ve developed a long-term relationship that translates into a higher level of client care for their groups. If they are a member of an industry association, like the Student and Youth Travel Association, sometimes there are member rates as well.

The intangibles relate to expertise of planning and knowing what locations are student-friendly that provide the best combination of quality and value – both of which come only from experience and being involved in the industry. They also provide liability to your experience…which can mean financial protection of your investment and taking the responsibility to make things right if an experience turns sour. None of these apply when you go it alone.

You, or an ambitious booster parent, could go on the internet (see myth from the last article) and find a cheaper hotel. And cheaper buses, restaurants, and attractions. And places where you can perform for free. And you could play the part of the tour director and manage all the check-ins and bus routing.

The thing is, we have all seen what happens when a student buys a cheaper instrument. Or you go with a cheaper piece of music. Or you buy cheaper choir robes. It robs you of an experience that is of value.

Can you organize a performance tour cheaper by working on your own? CONFIRMED. But is it worth the sacrifice of time, value, quality, liability protection, or stress-free experience that an expert can provide? BUSTED.

Tom Merrill is the Executive Director of Festivals of Music. He has over 25 years of experience as a music educator, travel planner, and festival organizer.

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