On becoming a G.O.

By Randy Keck

In the travel industry, G.O. is the abbreviation for the term “group organizer.” Most ITN readers probably know at least one person who has functioned as a G.O.

Who are G.O.s?

The definition of a group organizer, broadly stated, is someone who organizes a group of people to travel together with a common group itinerary. A group is usually defined by the travel industry as 10 or more passengers traveling together. A G.O. can be anyone with a following or who otherwise has the ability to procure travelers for a specific group travel itinerary. Sometimes G.O.s are referred to as pied pipers for their ability to attract others to the group travel experience.

Many G.O.s are from captive-audience types of occupations (such as teachers or church ministers) or group or club affiliations (such as service organizations or sporting clubs). A significant portion of G.O.-organized travel is definitely special interest in terms of either touring activities or destinations or both.

However, much G.O.-originated custom group travel is also general interest, with itineraries similar to those offered by tour operators selling seats on scheduled departures. Some G.O.s with significant, loyal followings lead several trips per year to both domestic and international destinations.

The G.O. opportunity

The travel industry operates similarly to many other sales/service-oriented industries in that there is always a demand, a role and an opportunity for any party who can produce paying customers.

In the past, G.O.s each typically worked with and through travel agents in their local area, agents who in turn usually worked directly with tour companies and airlines to secure land and air arrangements.

The evolving role of Internet technology and other changes in the travel industry now has almost all tour companies eagerly working directly with end consumers on both individual and group travel. Enter the G.O.

The varying G.O. role

Beyond the basic role of procuring passengers for group travel, the G.O.’s role can be difficult to generalize about. A G.O. may have anything from limited to total control of the group’s itinerary and activities, depending on many factors, including personal “destination knowledge” and the policies of the specific tour company being worked with.

Depending on multiple considerations— including the size of the group, tour company policies and individual G.O. experience, capabilities and skills — the G.O.’s group may have a tour director from the tour company traveling with them from the group’s point of origin, gateway city or arrival destination. If so, the tour director generally will be responsible for all practical aspects of the tour related to accommodations and touring.

In this situation, the G.O. confers with the tour director regarding all applicable matters, but his/her primary responsibilities are social and involve looking after the special needs of the tour members.

With some groups, the G.O. may take on more tour leader/tour director responsibilities with guiding, with perhaps some tour director responsibilities being assumed by local or regional guides. There are many variations of how these roles can be designated. Clearly, the more tour director-type responsibilities assumed, the more training and experience is required by the G.O. for the group to operate cohesively and professionally. Some tour companies provide training programs for qualified G.O.s.

Beyond the standard G.O. role

Operating professionally as a full-fledged tour director requires training. Learning on the job as I did originally is definitely not recommended.

Those who think they might like to function beyond the standard G.O. capacity in the complex, expanded role of tour director are advised to investigate the training program offered by the International Tour Management Institute, or ITMI, in San Francisco (800/442-4864, www.itmitourtraining.com). The ITMI tour director training program was the subject of my April 2007 column.

Often people investigating the group travel arena ask me about operating their own tours. Operating a tour makes one a tour operator with all incumbent legal responsibilities and liabilities. This is not advised unless one has actually worked in operations for a tour company or has equivalent industry training and/or work experience.

G.O. strategies for working with tour companies

If you are a budding G.O., it is advisable to learn everything you can about the tour companies you are contemplating working with.

Most tour companies would be reluctant to turn down guaranteed G.O. customer business. However, many tour companies formally seek G.O business, as reflected by the homepages of their websites.

I have compiled, below, a list of several tour operators I am aware of that each have at least one link to G.O.-related business on their homepages. All are ITN advertisers. The actual heading for the link is a bit different for each company, as you will note.

If you have a possible interest in investigating the G.O. opportunity, my suggestion is to investigate all of these companies to get a feeling for the types of G.O. relationships they encourage. Additionally, I would suggest investigating other tour companies, especially those which may specialize in destinations that you wish to travel to with your groups.

G.O. benefits

Typically, tour companies that work with G.O.s offer one free-of-charge (FOC) trip for every 15 paid passengers. This usually includes the G.O.’s airfare, if it’s an air-inclusive tour, and land arrangements, including group meals. Nongroup meals and other expenses are usually borne by the G.O. Keep in mind that this is typical for a standard G.O. arrangement.

If the G.O. is acting also as the tour director, additional remuneration may be in order. Also, if the G.O. is trying to derive some income from the tour, the tour company may be willing to mark up the cost of the tour and rebate that amount to the G.O. A multitude of potential options is possible. The motivations and needs of individual G.O.s are quite varied.

What next?

If the above piques your interest, you may wish to check out the following list of tour companies. Keep in mind that, usually, G.O.s work hard for the travel and any other benefits they receive. A G.O. generally will be successful because he/she likes organizing, looking after people and helping to insure that tour group members have a fun, memorable travel experience.

Tour companies that work with G.O.s

GOWAY TRAVEL (www.goway.com, homepage link “Groups Only”) — operates to Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Pacific islands.

ADVENTURES ABROAD (www.adventuresabroad.travel, homepage link “Custom Groups”) — operates to destinations worldwide.

MIR CORP. (www.mircorp.com, homepage link “Custom Group Travel”) — operates to Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Asia.

PACIFIC DELIGHT TOURS (www.pacificdelighttours.com, homepage link “Special Interest Groups”) — operates to Asia, India, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

SUN HOLIDAYS (www.sunholidaytours.com, homepage link “Welcome Travel Agents and Group Organizers”) — operates to destinations worldwide.

CHILEAN SPECIAL JOURNEYS (www.chileanspecialjourneys.com,

homepage link “Custom Group Travel”) — operates to Chile, including Patagonia and Easter Island.

Final advisories

The subject matter of this column assumes that potential G.O.s already have substantive access to the types of people they would like to have on their group tours plus ideas of the types of group travel itineraries they wish to be involved with. How to go about obtaining tour members for proposed groups and planning itineraries are separate subjects.

I strongly urge potential G.O.s to discuss their group planning, including itinerary specifics and ideas, with several tour companies to get a feel for their different styles and philosophies. Ask about each company’s policies in working with G.O.s. Some tour companies may even assist with marketing efforts, if applicable. No two will be the same.

Ask any and all questions and assume nothing. If you can orchestrate opportunities to speak with other successful G.O.s, you will find the information and advisories received to be invaluable. Remember, G.O.s should work only with tour companies they feel entirely comfortable with.

Finally, this column is only a brief G.O. primer and is intended to be a base for continuing explorations for those readers interested in this exciting lifestyle opportunity. Readers may e-mail me with questions concerning the subject matter of this column.

Keck's Beyond the Garden Wall

❝ To know the pure joy and privilege of being the conduit to the experiencing of wonders great and small, in lands near and far, by those entrusted to your guidance and care. ❞
— Randy on the nonmaterial rewards of being a G.O.