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Travel Economics: Understanding Travel and Budget Options

31 Oct, 2009

By: John Anthony

 

Photo courtesy of ExpressJet
Photo courtesy of ExpressJet

Travel and budget issues can be two common sources of stress, even in the best economic times. In a struggling economy, traveling within a financial plan takes on even greater significance.

For sports teams and organizations at all levels of competition, the strain of limited resources is multiplied by the need to manage inescapable travel expenses. Add to the financial pressures the ever-changing turmoil of the travel industry and the excess of internet travel options, and it can be downright daunting to plan team travel.

Although intimidating at first glance, there are some simple ways to economize your group travel while taking into account the unique requirements of sports travel. Evaluate the depth of your travel needs. Decide which amenities and benefits are the most important to the travel experience. Determine the level of assistance needed to negotiate those details.

Purchasing travel for teams or groups is not unlike preparing an annual tax return. There are different levels of assistance required, as determined by the depth of need and details involved in the return. You can relate sports travel planning to a comparable three levels of tax returns: basic, enhanced or complex.

Basic Needs
 

Photo courtesy of ExpressJet
Photo courtesy of ExpressJet

The simple tax return is basically do-it-yourself. Many free on-line resources are available to answer basic questions. The outcome of the return is probably the same as it would be if additional money was spent to hire a professional. In travel terms, your sports travel needs are basic and require no outsourcing for assistance or negotiations. An example of this level of sports travel would be the travel basketball and baseball teams that drive to regional tournaments all season.

  • Most likely source to turn to: online travel site or hotel website.

  • Role of person providing answers: to help you follow the rules and answer basic questions; no protection of your interests.

  • Need for negotiations: minimal.

  • Opportunity for savings through negotiations: minimal.

If your travel needs are minimal and you opt to do-it-yourself, here are some tips that can be helpful in negotiating savings while planning group travel:

Evaluate your travel destinations. Consider locations your teams return to regularly and work to establish loyalty with hotels and ground transportation vendors.Lay the groundwork for future negotiations or multi-year deals. (The latter are especially desirable in the current economic climate.)

Think about eliminating one or two hotel nights. Can the expense of a hotel night be saved by arriving the day of a game? What is the difference of total price of driving instead of flying, including total costs for ground transportation and nights in hotels?

Enhanced or Particular Needs
 

Photo courtesy of ExpressJet
Photo courtesy of ExpressJet

An enhanced tax return requires some professional assistance. The majority of the return can still probably be completed on your own, but there are details that require professional input. At this level, seek out a low-cost transaction service with the ability to answer questions and provide some advisory services. In travel terms, you can manage most of the details, but have a large group to plan for and significant questions that could change the outcome of your final costs for the trip. For example, a soccer club that hosts one tournament a year, or an NAIA or NJCAA team that travels once a year when it qualifies for a national championship. This creates a need for specific assistance in multiple areas - air, ground, lodging, logistics, event planning, etc.

  • Most likely source to turn to: airline group desk or hotel sales manager

  • Role of person providing answers: to answer questions and work with you to ensure all travel needs are met

  • Need for negotiations: group pricing for room nights and for flight seats

  • Opportunity for savings through negotiations: fair, but negotiations will be difficult. Travelers may be desperate and lack knowledge; suppliers may know that and dictate solutions.

If your travel needs fall in this "in-between" realm, there are ways to further stretch your travel dollars. Recommendations for these situations include:

Negotiate everything. Ask for amenities in the agreement up front and avoid surprise charges after the fact. Items to negotiate include free breakfast, internet access, parking, late check-out, comp rooms, meeting rooms and upgrades for coaches.

Consider partnering with an experienced third party. A sports travel company will already have relationships established that can provide benefits for you. Consider a company with such high travel volume that they have top level status with several airlines' group desks.

Talk to the sports desk at airlines. The airlines' secret is that they don't necessarily want group travel. They want to fill the seats with higher paying passengers. As a result of the economic downturn, there aren't many group seats available and they aren't going to be offered at prices as low as the consumer wishes.

Therefore, you want to work with the people who value your sports business. An airline group desk or travel company with relationships will help you navigate the system to obtain pricing and benefits that can't be obtained online or by cold-calling the airline yourself. Maybe their relationships and experience can help you avoid airline and hotel charges if you get eliminated from your tournament and have to go home early.

Complex Needs
 

Photo courtesy of ExpressJet
Photo courtesy of ExpressJet

The complex tax return has multifaceted issues requiring the services of a knowledgeable, accredited professional who can ask probing questions and offer creative solutions. This person is hired to save you money and maximize the outcome of the tax return.

In travel terms, you may be managing large numbers of flights and room nights throughout the year or a major event. The best way to save money is by taking advantage of the volume and relationships already established by an experienced sports travel expert. Examples of the sports travelers with complex needs would include Disney's Wide World of Sports® Complex hosting a soccer tournament with 128 teams participating from around the country which requires a managed housing plan, or the Notre Dame athletic department that has 24 teams playing a national schedule.

  • Most likely source to turn to: experienced sports travel management company
  • Role of person providing answers: to answer questions, provide creative solutions and negotiate best possible combination of price and benefits; looking out primarily for your interests
  • Need for negotiations: high
  • Opportunity for savings through negotiations: high.

Opportunities for greater successes and greater failures abound, so...

Hire an Experienced Expert
Identify your needs and options and interview candidates who can meet your needs. You have specific challenges and the right expert should have specific solutions for you. A few ideas you might hear from an expert include:

  • Nationwide team bus and hotel programs with hundreds of participating suppliers; providing teams with the greatest savings and most benefits for your dollars

  • Special sports programs offered by Marriott and Hilton Hotels

  • Ways that airlines like American, United, Delta, Continental, Southwest and Alaska can offer flexibility to accommodate particular needs of certain teams

  • When chartering an airplane makes good financial sense, when it doesn't, and a creative option that offers the best of both

  • Strategies for housing plans for tournaments with large numbers

  • Restaurants offering special menus and pricing for teams.

Whether your needs are considered by others to be basic, complex or somewhere in between, they are critical to you. It's your money, so take advantage of every tool and resource you can. In 2009, you may get deals much better than you could in 2007. That will change back again someday soon. So, travel, form strong relationships, and enjoy the ride. It's a big world; play in all of it!

About the Author

John Anthony

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