At the core of successful tour management is mastery of the itinerary, its routing, locations, sights, dining options, every detail of the tour. At first it can seem overwhelming, as the details are numerous. For example, an 18 day tour could involve driving 2,500 miles, staying at 11 different hotels, stopping at 30 rest stops with or without accompanying gift shops, going to 10 or more attractions, visiting 10 or more restaurants for guests’ meals on their own. And those are just the predictable occurrences. Throw in detours and weather-closed highways, and the "fun factor" just increases.
Most tour operators provide TDs with what is usually called the technical itinerary. In creating the itinerary, the TO makes estimates as to how long it will take to go from attraction A to lunch at restaurant B, and so on through the arranged stops. The TI, as it is nicknamed, lists all the required stops and activities. The rest of the tour is up to the TD to create, and there is a lot of room for creative inventions in the itinerary. The TD takes these requirements and additions, and reviews the material provided to see if it makes sense, making adjustments as needed. The TO provides contact information for vendors, arranges menus and admission fees, and does the pre-work needed for the TD to manage the tour successfully. Yet the planners who create the technical itinerary cannot foresee all weather and road conditions, and the TD creates mental Plans A and B to be able to successfully address needed itinerary changes as the tour unfolds.
Some TDs use the technical itinerary as it is, others use it as the place to add notes about timing, about explanations to give at each attraction stop, about where to add stops to see things not listed on the technical itinerary.
How does a TD new to a tour learn its ins and outs? Most, but not all, tour operators will send the TD new to this tour on a training tour. The trainee will accompany a group taking the tour, and will shadow the TD managing the tour, watching the tour unfold from a seat in the back of the bus, asking questions when time allows, and simply learning the specifics of the tour. When the group gets off the bus, do they go in the left door or the one around the corner to the right? Where are the restrooms, which is usually the number one question passengers have after a ride of many hours? When we walk on this loop trail, is it easier on older legs to walk in a clockwise or counterclockwise fashion?
Mastery of these and other little details makes the TD appear competent and relaxed in the role, and adds immensely to the enjoyment of the tour for the guests. At the end of the day, as guests settle into their hotel rooms and their evenings, the trainee walks the property and neighborhood, looking for answers to questions guests on future tours will ask. Where are the laundry facilities here? What is interesting to see in this town if folks go for a walk? The trainee on a tour maintains a low profile, as this is the guiding TDs tour, and there should be no confusion as to who is in charge.