March 2012 Issue
One of the best ways to see
the sights of Ohio is a motor coach tour. Veteran tour leaders and professional
motor coach organizers give tips for a successful trip.
Veteran motor coach tourists are easy to identify. No one has to explain the rules of Bus Tire Roulette to them. There are infinite versions, but basically the game is played by writing seat numbers or initials in chalk on the outside of the tour bus tires. When the bus parks at a rest stop or its destination, tourists whose tire numbers rest “on the pavement” win prizes including snacks, books or money.
The game works because it’s simple and isn’t a distraction for travelers who want to enjoy the scenery outside bus windows. And in Ohio, there is a lot to see. Group tours are a popular way for clubs, schools, seniors, families, churches, businesses and others to travel.
Professional tour organizers and group leaders play a pivotal role in successful trips, according to Joshua Howard, director, Sycamore Senior Center in Cincinnati.
“You can have the best time, but if the group leader is a Mussolini, that is what people remember. You need someone who is energized and fun, so the time on the bus goes faster,” says Howard, who arranges trips through Provident Travel in Cincinnati.
Paul Travaglianti, vice president of Great Day! Tours motor coach company in Broadview Heights, says volunteer group leaders should take advantage of a qualified tour operator’s knowledge. That way, leaders don’t have to “worry about the motor coach, timing of the stops, routing maps, payments, contracts, supplier penalties, typing itineraries or liability insurance coverage,” according to Travaglianti.
Great Day! Tours has arranged trips to The Wilds in Cumberland, the John and Annie Glenn Historic Site in New Concord, Malabar Farm State Park in Lucas, BibleWalk in Mansfield and Sauder Village in Archbold. Also, MAPS Air Museum in North Canton, The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Presidents’ homes and many other Ohio destinations. Group leader Carolyn Cooper and her assistant Barbara Macklin have been booking group tours with Travaglianti for more than 20 years. Cooper has arranged bus trips for Cleveland Heights AARP members to Ohio’s Amish country, Ohio canal regions and factory tours. The price of meals and luggage handling on multi-day trips is included to make it easier for her groups.
“We have more females than males on our trips. The group tours enable the ladies to go. It’s safety in numbers and we all know each other like family,” says Cooper, who has always enjoyed traveling and recalls “spreading out AAA travel books and maps on the middle of the floor” when her children were little and road trips were family highlights.
Group leaders often have a basic idea of what kind of places their groups would like to visit and Ohio Has It! offers specific examples. The new organization is comprised of 80 member destinations in Ohio and offers online resources (OhioHasIt.com) for group tour planners, operators and leaders.
Tiffany Gerber, tourism manager for the Tuscarawas County Convention & Visitors Bureau, is a founding member of Ohio Has It! Gerber says destination shopping, including Aurora Farms Premium Outlets in Portage County with more than 70 stores and Polaris Fashion Place and its surrounding shopping areas near Columbus are always popular. Group leaders sometimes benefit from discounts on shopping, an added incentive.
Younger group tourists go for zipline adventures, canoeing and hiking trips. And although traditional wine and cheese itineraries are still favorites for all ages, Gerber says more comprehensive culinary tours are being requested. Tourists want to bake cookies, dress fish and see where fresh produce is grown. The new casinos opening in Ohio are also expected to be popular motor coach spots.
Also big this year and beyond are event-related group tours. One of the best, according to Gerber, is the 2102 World Choir Games, July 4 to July 14, in Cincinnati. This is the first time the event will be held in the United States and it is expected to draw more than 20,000 participants from more than 40 counties. Tens of thousands of visitors from Ohio and around the world will attend.
Amish country is still a hugely popular tourist opportunity within Ohio. La Vonne De Bois, owner of Amish Heartland Tours in Millersburg, has cultivated relationships with the Amish and arranged group tours since 1993. De Bois works as an independent connection between tour operators and local sources. She also does extensive pre-itinerary planning with group leaders, asking questions about group size, trip duration, required lodging and if the group wants to travel by bus, van or vehicle tailgating. De Bois says to set a trip date as far ahead as possible. Comps may also be available for group leaders when certain requirements (usually a minimum of five people on a tour, etc.) are met.
“I like to customize trips,” says De Bois, who began her intimate knowledge of the area in the late 1980s when she was driving members of the Amish community to jobs. “For garden club groups, we have connections with gorgeous gardens that aren’t part of any commercial tour. We are also helping a group of furniture makers from Norway visit Amish country. They don’t want a buggy ride. They want to see finishers, lumber yards and tree farmers.”
Susan Trollinger, an associate professor of English at the University of Dayton, teaches an Amish culture class and takes her students on an Amish Heartland Tour every year. Students visit a two-room New Order Amish school and have dinner in an Amish home. Julie George is a group leader for Global Connections in Bowling Green, a non-profit organization for international students, their families and business professionals. Her group members also go to Amish schools, where they pinpoint on a map their countries of origin.
“It’s a nice opportunity for the Amish to meet people from outside the United States,” says George, who also enjoys listening when music students and the Amish sing songs for each other. She has also arranged trips to Put-in-Bay and Kelleys Island.
Sandy Sexton, owner of Sandy’s Travel in Chillicothe, also coordinates with Heartland Amish Tours and is planning tours for church groups and the general public this summer. Sexton says often there is one person who is in a bad mood on a tour, but that doesn’t seem to happen with Amish Heartland Tours.
Joel Pieper, director of group operations for Provident Travel in Cincinnati, says a group leader should be a “good socializer and someone who gets others excited about the trip.” While professionals can “do all the behind the scenes work,” group leaders still must be prepared for the unexpected. That can include someone accidentally locking himself in the bus restroom, an individual who insists on singing “One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall” or someone trying to sneak her dog on the bus.
But most of the time, Pieper, who coordinates about 150 trips a year, says group trips go well with good planning, and most have happy endings. That includes the overnight trip where a husband left his wife in their hotel room to get a morning cup of coffee. When the husband returned, he couldn’t find his wife, panicked, and alerted hotel security.
“They told him to go back to the room and think about the situation and about what could have happened,” says Pieper. “When the husband sat down on the bed, his wife screamed. She was such a tiny little woman that she had ‘disappeared’ under the covers.”
For More Information
Amish Heartland Tours, 330/893-3248. amishheartlandtours.com.
Great Day! Tours, 440-526-5350.
Ohio Has It!, OhioHasIt.com.
Provident Travel, 513/763-3095. providenttravel.com.