How to plan a big group getaway

Bonnie Culbertson
·6-min read
Photo credit: Jack's Camp
Photo credit: Jack's Camp

Our current travel dreams are either focused on a long-delayed bucket-list trip or a retreat with the friends and family we’ve been kept from during Covid lockdowns. With both types of getaways now moving from reverie to reality, why not combine the two in one epic group holiday to a dream destination?

On paper, it sounds like the perfect idea. Yet, as with any planned event, the more people that are involved, the more variables need to be accounted for. To make sure the trip you’ve been dreaming of this year goes off without a hitch, we’ve gathered the best advice from hospitality experts the world over.

Accounting for different budgets

While many of us have been able to save money staying away from restaurants and hotels over the past year, there are still likely to be discrepancies in budget requirements among your group. “Budgets are often the trickiest part of group travel and another good reason to use a travel advisor who can act as a neutral third-party,” says Misty Belles, the managing director of global public relations at Virtuoso. “In fact, planning should begin with the money conversation. Honest questions should include: ‘What’s the financial threshold? Where are we willing to splurge and where can we cut back? What are the must-haves that will make or break this trip?’ Without these questions and parameters, there’s risk of upsetting or alienating some participants and what should be a joyful occasion will quickly sour.”

Even with these honest conversations, there are likely to be some irreconcilable differences of opinion among your group. To account for these, Kent Redding, the president of Africa Adventure Consultants, recommends planning a base trip that fits everyone’s budgets. From there, pre and post-trip add-ons can be offered for those willing to spend a bit more.

Finally, Tom Harding, co-founder of the ethical travel agency Nemo recommends picking hotels with a variety of room types. A great example is Goldeneye, a sustainable resort in Jamaica, which has everything from spacious family villas – including the very villa where Ian Fleming wrote many of his iconic Bond books – to their elegantly simple, one-bedroom beach huts.

Photo credit: Goldeneye
Photo credit: Goldeneye

Choosing your accommodation

Rental options continue to surge in popularity, given their ability to provide more flexibility, particularly at a time when privacy and social distancing are a top priority for travellers. For group travel, finding accommodation with the seclusion of a personal residence but the amenities of a hotel will ensure cosy, quality time while removing the burden of entertainment from those planning the trip.

“As we welcome in this new era of travel, groups of friends and families are increasingly seeking residential-style lodging options,” says Brenda McCollin, the executive vice president of Europe for Preferred Hotels & Resorts. Its Residences offer travellers a home-like space that also meets their specific needs in size, amenities, and comfort. Other examples include Richstone Collection’s portfolio of high-end, private residential properties or the recently debuted Nature Eco Residences in Santorini.

Whether you book a residence or a resort, travellers should still opt for accommodation that lends itself to social distancing, according to Melissa Peña of Barbados’ Elegant Hotels, where sprawling, white-sand beaches make this an easy ask. Beyond that, Peña recommends choosing a locale that provides guests with easy, on-site Covid testing as many airports still require a negative test for return travel.

A few other questions to consider, from Africa Adventure Consultants’ Kent Redding, include: “Does [the accommodation] have flexibility in case your group size changes? Are their vehicles, small planes, boats, etc. that can adequately accommodate your group size? And are there activities available in the destination that appeal to all members of the group?”

Photo credit: Nature Eco Residences
Photo credit: Nature Eco Residences

Planning your activities

Speaking of activities, finding things to do that are meaningful, memorable and of interest to everyone in the group is another challenge. We love our grandparents, but even a year spent apart won’t magically make our travel preferences align. Whether your group spans multiple generations or multiple personality types, it’s important to plan activities that account for all ages and demographics.

“The goal for any trip is to build lasting memories, especially for groups traveling together,” reminds Belles. “Look for meaningful experiences that everyone can enjoy so that it brings the group closer together.”

Carl Grupp, with Coastline Travel Advisors, agrees that activities should be thought of as opportunities to form deeper connections, but that not every activity has to be for the whole group. In fact, says Grupp, breaking into smaller groups helps the overall planning and, more importantly, provides for more intimate connections among family members or friends.

Look for places with a wide variety of activities available, some for the whole group and some for individuals, couples or smaller groups. At the Richstone’s La Bergerie villa in the South of France, for instance, the larger group can take a cooking class together or play a game of croquet, while other times can be used for couples or individuals to explore the area on bicycle, go wine tasting, lounge by the pool or spend time with the little ones at their on-site Kids Club.

Photo credit: La Bergerie
Photo credit: La Bergerie

Feeding your guests

The one activity you can all but guarantee your guests will enjoy together is gathering around a table for a shared meal. Make sure no one feels left out by having upfront conversations about dietary preferences and allergies.

“When travelling as a group, there is likely to be at least one person with dietary restrictions or strong preferences (this coming from a gluten-free pescatarian),” says Belles. “Identify those requirements head-on so that, if staying at a hotel or resort, you can determine if the restaurants can accommodate any issues.”

Even with advanced conversations, there are likely to be preferences that pop up at the last minute. Jason Adams, the managing director of Rockliffe Hall in County Durham has experienced this many times, which is why he stresses the importance of having a kitchen or caterer that can accommodate every nutritional need without needing advance notice. “So many times somebody in the group will have forgotten to mention their important dietary requirement,” says Adams, which is why Rockliffe Hall caters to any guest requirement at each of its dining destinations. It also regularly has vegan and vegetarian menu options available.

Photo credit: Rockliffe Hall
Photo credit: Rockliffe Hall

Matching travel values and ethics

In the past year, the conversation around traveling more sustainably has taken centre stage. Because of this, it’s likely at least a few members of your group will want to know what steps are being taken to minimise any negative impacts on the natural environment. Luckily, a slew of new travel agencies focused on ethical and environmentally conscious travel have popped up to make planning positively impactful trips a breeze.

Tom Harding created Nemo, for instance, so travellers could easily support local communities and the environment while planning truly unique vacations with bespoke itineraries. Similarly, Preferred Hotel Group recently launched Beyond Green, a guide for travellers seeking a more purposeful way to explore the world, and featuring a portfolio of 27 hotels, resorts, and lodges that prioritise sustainability. And Regenerative Travel’s curated menu of resorts and itineraries reveal how guests can not just minimise their ecological impact, but help regenerate the land they are visiting.