The role of a coach holiday tour manager is mainly hidden from guests, because much of what they do goes on behind the scenes.
Having been a coach holiday tour manager for a few different companies for over 25 years, here is my insider’s guide to what a Tour Manager does. This is of course based on my experience which has been of working with larger coach holiday companies and taking kcoach holidays overseas as well as the UK.
Firstly, let’s just clarify some language. Tour Manager, Tour Director, Program Director – these all generally describe a similar sort of role. A Cruise Escort is something else as is a Tour Guide. More on those roles later.
For now let’s find out more about one of the most varied roles that I think it is possible to have.
Coach Holiday Tour Manager – Pre Tour Work
Before the holiday departs the Tour Manager will receive the tour pack. Initially this will be the operation manual for the tour which will give information on how the itinerary operates for each day. This will include details of suppliers including transport operators such as local coach companies, local guides, agents and of course hotels. It will also include details of suppliers for excursions such as museums, restaurants, boat trips and any other sort of activity.
If the Tour Manager hasn’t done the tour previously there might be a phone briefing with someone more familiar with that particular tour so they can give them more details on the itinerary. This is often where a Tour Manager learns how a tour really operates, which can sometimes be nothing like the operational manual, which by it’s very nature can go out of date very quickly.
As the tour departure date gets nearer the Tour Manager will get the customer information. This will vary from company to company but will generally include rooming list, customer list with special requests and if travelling overseas flight details, passport details and travel insurance details.
At this point, if there is time before the tour departs, some Tour Managers might get in touch with suppliers to confirm all the arrangements in advance. This is certainly something I would always do as it saves a great deal of panic and last minute phone calls, plus everything is in writing due to using an email which handy in the event of any issues.
Confirmations include things like room requests, arrival times, meal times, special meal requests, any other guest requests, any particular driver requests and departure times for tours etc.
If the Tour Manager has been advised who the driver of the tour is going to be then they will generally get in touch with the driver just to introduce themselves if they haven’t worked together before and just confirm everything for the first day or two.
If the driver has done the tour before then any sensible Tour Manager will ask them for any advice or tips in relation to the program and take this into account when planning the operation of the tour.
Some companies expect Tour Managers to get in touch with passengers before they arrive on tour. This can be by phone or email or sometimes both. Whilst this can sometimes seem like a lot of extra work it can pay dividends when the tour runs because it can save a great deal of time, and also give the Tour Manager an idea about the likes and preferences of guests in advance. (Generally this applies to guests travelling from overseas such as US guests taking a UK tour for example.)
If the Tour Manager hasn’t visited a location before they need to do a great deal of research beforehand. This will cover practical information such as the nearerst ATM, local transport and facilities located in and around hotels.
Research also needs to cover other information about the destination. This may include how to get around independently if there is free time, options for free time, and cultural information about the location
If the Tour Manager is going to be providing commentary for the tour then they need to research this. This involves looking at the routes in detail and then researching places and points of interest along the way to talk to people about.
If all this sounds like a lot of work – it is.
Research can take days to do thoroughly.
If you are imaginging that Tour Managers get paid for all this work in advance, they generally don’t. They generally only get paid for the days that they are on tour. As such it is beneficial for a Tour Manager to get several tours to the same place so that they don’t have to keep repeating all that effort.
48 Hours Before Departure
Some companies have a requirement that Tour Managers have to ring in very close to a tour departing to get any last minute changes or cancellations that perhaps haven’t found their way through the systems yet.
There is generally some last minute queries to discuss with the holiday company.
Tour Departure Day for Guests, Tour Arrival Day for Tour Manager
However guests join a coach holiday, whether directly joining their coach, using a transfer service, arriving independently at a hotel or flying out together to start the holiday the coach holiday Tour Manager will meeting them on the first day of the tour.
Some coach holiday companies arrange for the Tour Manager to stay the night before departure to make any arrival arrangements, generally if the group is arriving at a hotel for example. Sometimes the Tour Manager has to stay overnight somewhere due to the distance they live from the departure airport or coach pickup point.
The first day generally involves lots of logistical arrangements. If the Tour Manager is flying with the group they may have to introduce themselves at the airport or perhaps during the flight so the guests know who to look for at the arrival airport.
If the guests are arriving independently to the first hotel then the Tour Manager will be liaising with drivers and transport companies to make sure everyone arrives. They will also be liaising with the hotel team to try and get rooms ready for guests as soon as possible, and sorting out luggage and meal arrangements.
If guests are arriving on a coach pickup service then the Tour Manager doesn’t usually start until they board their own tour coach, at which point the group will be together for the first time and they can introduce themselves.
The Tour Manager will also be dealing with any additional requests that guests make as they arrive and if they have flown to the start point dealing with any issues such as missing luggage.
The first day may involve some sort of welcome briefing or meeting and perhaps some sort of orientation tour or walk depending on the timings.
Coach Holiday Tour Manager – On Tour
Once a tour departs the Tour Manager is responsible for delivery the itinerary, as described, to the guests, on behalf of the holiday company. This is the holiday contract that has been made between guests and the holiday company so it is important that everything that has been described is delivered.
A Tour Manager will be constantly liaising with hotels and suppliers, ideally one or two days in advance to reconfirm arrangements and make any adjustments in terms of timings, weather, routes etc.
For some coach holidays a Tour Manager may have a local guide with them throughout the tour. This is often the case in countries where language might be an issue – Morocco is one example of where I have had a local guide. For other coach holidays there might just be local guides for each place visited. All the local guides need to be confirmed and itineraries discussed to make sure the local guide delivers what guests have been advised in the itinerary.
Local guides may not have seen the itinerary so this is always an important check. A Tour Manager will also brief them on any interests that the group may have so these can be included in a local tour
The Tour Manager will also be working closely with the hotel to make sure that guests are happy. This includes frequent contact with the reception and portering staff to stay up to date with any issues and ensure they are dealt with promptly and to the guests satisfaction.
Probably the easiest way to understand more about what a coach holiday Tour Manager does it to look at a typical day on tour.
Typical Day On Tour – A Day When Moving Hotels and Visiting A City
- On call overnight in case of any issues.
- Check luggage is being collected by portering staff, paying any portering fees on behalf of the holiday company.
- Meet the coach driver and check all the luggage by label before it is loaded onto the coach.
- Any onboard preparations for the day such as giving out information sheets, maps, booklets and information passengers may be interested in.
- Display the new seating plan if seat rotation is being used and perhaps label seats, depending on guests and coach holiday company.
- Have some breakfast.
- Greet guests as they come to board the coach, directing them to their seat.
- Checking with reception that all guests have checked out and settled their bills before departure, with any keys returned if required.
- Do a final headcount before departure and if any guests are missing locate them – quickly.
- Welcome guests to the day and briefly outline the program for the day.
- Give any commentary on the places you are driving through on the way to your visit for the day.
- If there are any comfort stops en route during journeys then help the driver to give the coach a quick tidy. If guests are staying on the coach then perhaps pickup a coffee for the driver if they are staying on board.
- Confirm meeting point and time with local guide for city tour. On arrival introduce the local guide to the group.
- If the tour is using headsets then check the headset is working for the local guide, deal with any problems with guests headsets and then head off on tour with a supply of batteries and spare headset in case of problems.
- Help keep the local guide on track and on time, ensuring they walk at a pace that suits the group and that they cover all the points in the guest itinerary.
- If there is a comfort stop during the walking tour liaise with the local guide and the driver.
- If there is some free time for lunch give local recommendations and arrange with group where and when to meet for departure.
- Provide any commentary in the afternoon while travelling to the next hotel.
- Confirm with the hotel an arrival time, double check all the room requests and if possible check the rooming list issued by the hotel in advance.
- Ring the hotel 10-15 minutes out to advise arrival.
- Assist with guests checking in to their rooms, giving out room keys, dealing with queries and directing guests to rooms.
- Once guests have departed help the portering team to label luggage so it can get to guest rooms.
- Double check the coach for any guest belongings.
- Liaise with the driver about coach parking and the drivers meal for the evening if this is included. If not confirm arrangements for the following morning.
- Double check with restaurant staff the arrangements for dinner, including confirming the special requests, seating arrangements, drinks arrangements etc.
- Check into own room.
- Greet guests at dinner directing them to tables and advising them of anything they need to know in relation to the meal i.e. local dishes, self service meal, served meal etc.
- Check guests are happy during dinner service.
- After dinner deal with any guest queries.
- Confirm any departure or arrangements with hotel and porters for the following day.
- Confirm arrangements for guides and other suppliers for the next day.
- Write up any notes from the day in case of future issues.
- Complete any tour paperwork such as tour diary or report.
- Go to bed – being on call in case of any issues.
Other Responsibilities Whilst on Tour
Dealing with Sickness/Ilness and Other Problems
This is a really important part of being a Tour Manager and often when I feel as if I can be the most help to my guests, because my knowledge and experience of having dealt with medical issues before can enable me to help them through the process.
Let’s look at an example of an arrival into St Petersburg and what my role involved dealing with in the first 3 days of the tour;
Hospital Admission Day 1 of the Tour
I visited the guest, ascertained her injuries were quite bad and had the staff call for an ambulance. In the meantime I got a local to help the lady while waiting for the ambulance. I went with the guests to the hospital in St Petersburg and helped to liaise between the hotel staff and themselves. The lady needed an operation and an overnight stay so I spoke to the insurance company to advise them of all the details of the hospital and the procedures being undertaken.
The guests did not have any mobile phones that worked in Russia so I contacted their family and kept them posted on what was happening.
The following day I liaised with the hotel staff, hospital and guests to get them returned to the tour. Once they returned I made arrangements for them to have meals in their rooms as the injured guest was unable to walk. I also spoke with them about curtailing their holiday, which they decided to do after realising they would be unable to do any of the tour activities.
Once the decision had been made for them to end their holiday I spoke with the insurance company about a hotel in St Petersburg, flights home and transport to the hotel and to the airport. I also spoke with the insurance company medical team and throughout wa advising the holiday company of what was happening.
On the day they left the tour I was concerned that the injured guest was still in a great deal of pain and contacted the medical team to raise my concerns. They contacted the guest and established that she had not taken her pain medication correctly, and were able to give her advice which helped her be much more comfortable for her return journey.
I kept in touch with the insurance company, the guests, and their family until they returned home to the UK.
Two of the guests arriving on the trip hadn’t received their luggage when their flight arrived. I liaised with the airline and airport and established that it would be arriving late the following day. They were due to bring the luggage to the cruise ship on the day the tour was going to depart from St Petersburg.
I knew from experience that if the airline courier missed getting the luggage that day it would be very difficult for guests to get their luggage back due to the fact we mvoing on every night.
I went to the airport and collected the luggage for the guests and delivered it to their room on the 2nd night of the tour.
Resolving complaints is an important part of any coach holiday Tour Manager’s job. This may be something fairly simple that involves a room change at a hotel or it may be more complex, where a passenger has not understood the itinerary or there has been a change to the operation of the tour.
This can include things like flights being cancelled due to weather, weather disrupting travel or perhaps local event meaning that a visit or excursion has to be changed or cancelled.
A Tour Manager will want to do everything they can to resolve a guest complaint, because they want to have happy guests. They will also be required to keep detailed notes of the complaint to pass back to the holiday company in case of any future correspondence or action required.
Resolving Guest Issues
Not every issue a guest has is a complaint. Sometimes they have not brought the right charger for their phone, or they require ionised water for a sleep apneoa device, or chilled storage for their medication.
They may have forgotten their prescription medication, or need some more medication. They may have lost their passport, or other belongings and need to report and replace these.
Resolving Issues Between Guests
Very rarely there is a problem between guests on a coach holiday. This could include a couple having an argument and deciding they don’t want to travel together. This has happened with travelling companions alongwith travelling couples and has involved sorting out additional accommodation and redoing seating plans at times.
Guest issues can be varied and include single travellers joining in with others where perhaps they haven’t been invited. Again this is very rare thankfully, but it does require a great deal of tact and diplomacy to sort out.
One of the best parts of the job of being a coach holiday Tour Manager is helping guests. It is one of the most rewarding parts of the role.
It may involve helping guests to visit a particular place they have always wanted to see, helping them to do visit family or just helping them to have a really lovely an memorable experience. Here are some of my favourite examples of where I have particularly enjoyed helping guests;
A group of American guests arrived into London and visited Highclere House as they were huge Downtown Abbey fans. I had given them the details of how they could get there and they had a great day. They were absolutely delighted to be in the UK when the Downtown Abbey film came out and I gave them all the details of where they could watch it while we were in Edinburgh as there was a cinema very close to the hotel. They were delighted.
A couple wanted to renew their wedding vows while on an overseas holiday. I contacted a local Church and made all the arrangements for them. They had a very private and personal renewal which was very moving and memorable for them.
In the Azores we stayed very close to a nesting site for Cory Shearwaters. I took the group up for a walk at dusk and we stood in awe as the adult birds flew in from fishing all day to feed their hungry, and very loud chicks who were calling to them. Guests described it as a very memorable experience and one they would have never experienced on their own. It gave me tingles too!
Guiding Tours and Giving Commentary
Tour Managers will often give guests a commentary when travelling on the coach about places they are passing, points of interest, geographical information and anything else they feel is relevant.
This information is not usually supplied by a coach holiday company, with each Tour Manager having to do their own research. This can be a very lengthy and time consuming process. If you have ever had to do any public speaking you will know how much prepartion is required.
Thankfully research now is somewhat easier thanks to the wonder of the internet. Online maps can help with directions and there are generally websites about visitor attractions, places to eat, things to do as well as hotel websites.
That said it still takes a lot of work. I spent several weeks preparing notes and researching for a tour of the UK where I needed to guide tours at each stop and provide commentary inbetween.
Another important role for Tour Managers is to organise optional excursions. Often this will involve taking bookings, taking payment details and then making the bookings for the tours themselves.
Some companies give Tour Managers a commission for making these arrangements, some don’t – it depends on the coach holiday company policy.
Working with Drivers
Drivers are an important part of any coach holiday – and drivers will often tell a Tour Manager that the tour can’t run without them, and they are right.
An important part of a Tour Manager’s role is working closely with a Tour Driver, agreeing routes, timings, activities, pick ups and anything else that involves the tour coach.
Often it means spending a lot of time together, and eating meals together so it is important that you both get on because a bad working relationship will have a big impact on the tour.
Liaising with the Coach Holiday Company
There will always be paperwork to complete as you go through a coach holiday. This will often include feedback on hotels, meals, activities and guides as well as drivers, coach companies and suppliers.
Any day to day issues will need discussing with the operations department who will be the main point of contact for a Tour Manager while they are away. They will be helping with any changes due to travel disruption, or issues such as hotel changes.
Any Other Duties
There are lots of other tasks that a coach holiday Tour Manager has to do. These include;
- Confirming return transfer details
- Booking airport assistance
- Booking flight upgrades
- Buying birthday/anniversary gifts
- Arranging special dinners such as welcome dinners and farewell dinners
- Guest correspondence – advising of any changes, confirming departure times and luggage requirements
As you can see the role is extremely varied!
A cruise escort is there to just accompany the cruise on behalf of the holiday company. In theory there is little for them to do because everything should be organised and resolved with the cruise ship company, who will be arranging all the excursions, activities, accommodation, entertainment and meals.
The pay is much less to reflect the difference in work. I have worked as a cruise escort and been paid £45 per day. Out of this I have needed to pay for drinks, optional tours and any other cruise expenditure over and above meals which are generally included.
Tour Guide (In the Context of Coach Holidays)
A tour guide is a qualified trained guide who is an expert in a particular place or destination. They will generally have had to take an exam to prove their knowledge.
They have a huge depth of knowledge about their specialist location and deliver visits and walking tours. Generally they will be used as ‘step on’ guides for coach holidays, leading tours for guests and liaising with the Tour Manager about the details.
Hopefully you have got a good insight into the role of a coach holiday Tour Manager and have a bit more understanding of the complexities and diverseness of the role.
It’s a fantastic role and Tour Managers love their jobs so don’t feel sorry for us, but do feel free to say thanks and of course tips are always most welcome!
Coach Holiday Series by The Coach Holiday Expert
- Coach Holiday Myths
- Coach Holiday Trends
- 9 Reasons to Choose a Coach Holiday
- Coach Holidays are Not All the Same
- 10 Things You Absolutely Need to Know Before you Book a Coach Holiday
- Coach Holiday Terminology
- 6 Reasons to Avoid a Coach Holiday
- Coach Holidays and Covid19
- Coach Holiday Comparisons – Holidays to the Azores
- Coach Holiday Comparisons – Australia Tours
- Coach Holiday Itinerary Review – Scottish Highlands Tour
- 10 Coach Holiday Hacks
Coach Holiday Companies
Here are a couple of coach holiday companies that I know if you want to start looking at holiday ideas right now 🙂