Written By: Tom Ogg
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If you plan on selling affinity groups directly and to also escort them, there is a shopping list of talents that you will need to gain in order to be effective at it. Since your expertise that allows you to successfully organize affinity groups is already possessed, we will focus on the necessary skills that you may want to acquire.
Remember that being an escort of a group is quite a bit different from being a group member. The escort is responsible for many things including the group’s safety, health and well being and guaranteeing that the elements that make up the travel event unfold without problems. Just as important is setting and maintaining behavioral standards for the group while it is a cohesive unit.
The best escorts handle all of these tasks without any of the group’s knowledge and the travel event seems to operate flawlessly all by itself. The last thing that any group member wants is to have drama from the group leader. It should always be about the group members, not the group leader. That said, here are some skills that you should have as an escort.
Medical Training: Every affinity group escort should be certified in several aspects of medical training. The American Red Cross offers this training to anyone that would like to receive it and from my perspective, you should get the training and certification and stay certified the entire time you are escorting groups. Here are the areas that you should explore.
First Aid: You will need to be certified in first aid and should have enough knowledge to identify medical problems quickly. Knowing what to do as a first responder is critical to your group’s safety and well being. First aid is taught at the American Red Cross and also at many local colleges and universities. You should get as much training as possible.
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) There is absolutely no reason that you should not have your CPR certification. You never know when you will need to use it, and having the ability to save someone’s life is of great comfort to your group members.
Automated External Defibrillator Training (AED) Depending on the type of groups that you are moving, getting AED training should also be considered. In fact, if you are escorting seniors, I would invest in a portable AED device that you can travel with. Again, get certified and stay certified and make sure that the battery is fully charged and ready to go on a moment’s notice.
Walkie Talkies: While not medical training having a walkie talkie available for group members that are having potential medical issues will put them in touch with you on a moment’s notice. This is a huge comfort to a group member that may be having any number of medical issues.
Psychological Training: Conflict resolution is a very necessary skill to possess especially if traveling abroad with a group. There are numerous training venues where you can learn the basics of understanding and dealing with conflict before it becomes a crisis. The plain truth is that you may be required to save a group member from themselves, especially when traveling in completely new environments.
Physical Training: People always laugh when this topic comes up, but when you might need this skill you will wish that you had obtained it. Knowing enough self defense will give you the confidence to confront problems and by using your conflict resolution training, make them go away virtually always without lifting a finger. Knowing that you have the ability to handle physical challenges gives you enough confidence to spoil any aggressor’s attempts to escalate a confrontation.
You do not need to formally study the martial arts, but you do need basic self defense training to the level where you gain the necessary confidence. Visit any martial arts studio in your area and explain what you are after and they can lay out a program for you. This skill is absolutely necessary for women that are escorting groups.
Set Standards: Here are some of the most important responsibilities for a successful group leader. Always remember that one bad apple in the group can bring the entire group down and it is the escort’s responsibility to make sure that this doesn’t happen. Right from the minute the group comes together it is up to the escort to set the behavioral standards for the group. These standards deal with what is expected of each and every group member and covers a pretty broad range of topics. The standards also define the solutions that will be used if necessary.
Timeliness: Explain the standards for each group member to follow regarding when they need to appear for events. Every group has the proverbial couple that always shows up late for everything. It is completely unfair to make the entire group wait in a motor coach for the couple to eventually mosey onto the coach 20-minutes after the coach was supposed to depart. Explain to the group that the motor coach leaves at a certain time and that you understand if they would like to extend their stay and find their own way back. Then do it.
The first time you may leave a number of people that were late back to the coach, but it will be the last time. Never deviate from this standard.
Social Behavior: The escort is responsible for maintaining an acceptable level of social behavior and cannot tolerate group members that are invasive to other group members. Drinking too much alcohol, taking drugs, disrespect towards other group members, overt sexual behavior or any other aberrational behavior should not be tolerated.
If the behavior persists after discussing the issue with the group member the only solution is to remove the group member from the group. Believe me, when you expel a trouble making group member everyone in the group will thank you profusely.
Tools of the Trade: Every escort should travel with a notebook computer, portable printer and 4-color preprinted newsletter and flyer shells. There should be layout software on the computers such as InDesign or some other product that can layout flyers and newsletters. Both HP and Canon offer portable ink jet printers that can be used to communicate with the group. And, companies such as Idea Art (www.IdeaArt.com) and Paper Direct (www.PaperDirect.com) offer beautiful preprinted 4-color travel oriented newsletter templates, flyers, paper frames, awards and so on that you can use while escorting a group.
A digital camera is also an excellent tool to have. Nothing dazzles group members more than presenting them with their own “on tour” newsletter complete with pictures and memories.
Tips and Tricks: There are some great ways to enhance the group’s experience and here they are.
* The $50 Rule: You can generally solve any problem with a $50 bill. Lost luggage, room delays, crowds and so on can all be resolved with a $50 bill.
* The Reconfirmation Rule: Reconfirm EVERYTHING at least once. Never get caught by surprise by a cancelled function, late motor coach, rooms not being ready upon arrival. Reconfirm everything.
* The Never Borrow Trouble Rule: Never get involved with individual group members. Your focus is the group, not any one individual. Never get involved in spats between group members unless it becomes a problem for the group.
* Motor Coach Travel Rule: They break down so have an alternative activity for the group. Trivia quizzes, scavenger hunts, stand up comedy can turn what would be a complete negative into a total positive.
* Hotel or Resort Lost Luggage Rule: 99% of the time your group member’s lost luggage is in the room on either side of theirs or one floor above or below their room. Problem? Use the $50 Rule. Ditto for Cruise Ships.
* The Cruise Group Rule: Always board there ship early and meet with the Hotel Manager, or the Group Coordinator to reconfirm everything for the group. Sales and Marketing may have made concessions, but once on the ship, the Hotel Manager is in charge of who gets what.
While there is a lot more to escorting groups this covers the basics and should be able to let you discover if you are cut out for escorting, or not.