Lead a Group

Having decided that you want to become a leader for a Soul of India tour, the process is very straightforward.

The first thing is to get in touch with us, so we can discuss the main parameters: the focus and ethos of the tour, destinations and itinerary, tour length, group size and budget.

A general proposal can then be created, and Soul of India will prepare a detailed itinerary and costing, and a draft tour leaflet for your approval. Once approved, the full tour itinerary and prices will be published on the Soul of India website and promoted.

As per legal requirements, and to be able to protect clients’ monies, bookings and deposit payments should go directly to Soul of India tours, who will issue an appropriate receipt for the payment and ATOL certificate to the clients. The tour leader will be notified each time a booking is received.

1.1          Your Role in Promoting the Tour

While Soul of India markets and promotes all of its tours through our website and databases, we also expect tour leaders to assist in promoting by spreading the word among your own communities and contacts, to help us secure the minimum number of bookings for a tour to go ahead.

Soul of India will provide leaflets and booking forms for the tour, and will take care of all financial management and travel logistics.

The pricing of the tour will be structured in such a way that your place will be free, provided that the minimum number of participants is achieved. There is also a tour leader’s fee which will be discussed on a case-by-case basis.

1.2          Your Role in Leading the Tour

Your free place also entails that you act as tour leader when the group is in India (see section 2, below). It is important to emphasise that you do not take on any legal responsibility by virtue of being the tour leader. Legal responsibility for the tour always remains with the tour operator. Your focus is on the successful management of the group, rather than of the travel.

What qualifications, therefore, are required in a group leader? The primary requirement is not necessarily a deep familiarity with India, although you will probably feel more comfortable with the role if you have visited the country before. The main requirements are that you should be confident and competent at handling the group, and that you have sufficient understanding of the tradition(s) on which the tour is focused, in order to be able to create the right ethos and spirit of enquiry within the group. You should also have travelled sufficiently to appreciate the rigours and occasional exigencies of journeying outside the Western hemisphere.

1.3          A Briefing Day

It is recommended that the group get together for an introductory day about four to six weeks prior to departure for India. You should arrange a suitable location and facilities. At the briefing day, participants can introduce themselves to each other, receive more detailed information about the itinerary and other aspects of the tour, and ask questions. The day also provides an opportunity to finalise administrative questions over visas and passports.

1.4          What else can you expect from Soul of India?

Every Soul of India tour is tailored to the particular requirements of the leader and group concerned. You can therefore always expect the individual attention that is appropriate. Soul of India will support the process from beginning to end, and inspire confidence in your group. We will provide the group with individual briefing papers relating to their travel to India, including suggested reading, contact addresses and telephone numbers for each place of stay, and hints on what to take with them, and what to expect.

Soul of India will provide ticketing and travel arrangements to the highest standards, to ensure the smooth operation of the tour. Soul of India tours are operated by Indus Tours and Travel Ltd under its ATOL license 4586. Indus Tours and Travel is also a member of ABTA and is a strategic partner to the Foreign Office “Know Before You Go” Campaign.

On conclusion of the tour we will provide individual appraisal and feedback sheets, and any follow-up that may be required.

  1. In India

Leading a group of travellers in India is challenging. It requires constant awareness of individual and group needs and expectations, skills of diplomacy and interpretation between the group and the Indian context, patience, energy and resourcefulness. You wouldn’t be doing it if you did not also believe it to be very worthwhile and rewarding.

The role is primarily one of leadership. You are the group’s figurehead, the focus of its decision making, and its spokesperson. You are also to some extent the group’s inspiration, pastor, nanny, arbitrator, problem solver, and general factotum.

The ethos of the journey, and — at the end of it all — whether people believe they have had an enriching experience, are largely down to you.

2.1          Ethos of the Journey

Soul of India tours have an ethos which is not found among the generality of group travel to India. People sign up to a Soul of India tour partly because they want the spiritual engagement that Soul of India promises. It is important to maintain this ethos as far as possible. We are encountering a country, and cultures, which are formed by explicitly religious traditions, and we engage with them as far as possible on those terms. As far as possible we want to be open and generous towards the religious and cultural practices we encounter, even — perhaps especially — when they are opaque or strange to us.

People will therefore often raise the question of participation. To what extent, in a temple, mosque or gurudwara, are they observing, and to what extent are they worshipping? The question needs a good deal of exploration as the journey progresses, and different people will come to different answers. People should feel free to come to their own views, and if there are people who want to impose their views on the group they need to be contained!

“Pilgrimage” is an important element in the journey. Of course that means different things to different people, but from the point of view of leadership it means that a balance has to be achieved between individual and group responsibility. People have responsibility for their own personal and spiritual explorations; they also have responsibilities to the group. Pilgrimage is both a private and a corporate undertaking. People have their own stories to tell and to develop, but the group also has a story to tell.

2.2          Travel Management

You should set some limits to your responsibility. The travel management side of a Soul of India tour, ie the tour operation, is the responsibility of the tour operator. It is the tour operator’s responsibility, through its suppliers, agents and contractors, to ensure smooth operation of the travel arrangements. In India things do not always go according to plan, and arrangements sometimes have to be adapted to circumstances. If that happens, it is not your responsibility to make new arrangements; but you will have to liaise between the group and those responsible for the tour operation.

2.3          Information and Briefing

People need to know what is happening, and what is going to happen next. Every day you need to give a short briefing, an introduction to the day’s plan, and some information about practical matters — e.g. how long is the journey, what arrangements for lunch, etc. It is better to give briefings little and often — you may be surprised at what people seem to forget. It is also important to give briefings to everyone together, and not just to a select few.

Finding the right opportunities for group briefing is not always easy. You can give information when you are on the bus (usually there will be an almost serviceable microphone). You can also get people together before dinner in the evening. You will probably need to talk to the hotel management about finding a quiet enough place to meet in.

If the group’s plans have to adapt to unexpected circumstances, it is especially important to give people as much information as possible. You will then become the focus of people’s concerns; it is helpful if you remain calm, and convey your confidence that in India no problem is unresolveable.

2.4          Culture Shock

Do not underestimate culture shock. Sometimes it hits people the moment they step off the plane; the sights and smells, the crowds, noise, insects and animals, can be suddenly and unexpectedly overwhelming. More often, however, it builds up over the first few days. People think they are coping wonderfully, and then suddenly, after four or five days in India, it all becomes too much.

Culture shock can have many symptoms. Often it will focus on poverty; people may become very distressed when they encounter beggars, or drive past slums. Sometimes it will be expressed as extreme irritation, or anger, at Indian bureaucracy, or at a waiter’s inability to understand what seems to you to be a simple request. It may also be expressed as a vague homesickness, or personal angst.

Everybody suffers culture shock to some extent, unless they are simply skating over the surface. The question is not how to avoid it, but how to deal with it.

It is right that people should be disturbed when they visit India. Everything challenges our assumptions about what is right, and about who we are. Perhaps the most helpful image is that it is akin to bereavement. And some of the same strategies must be adopted to deal with it. Most important is that it concerns our emotions, that it is unpredictable, and that it simply has to be endured. Encourage people to practise a little detachment from themselves, to stand back from themselves, almost to observe themselves.

It is simply not possible to resolve everything that is happening to us, because India presents us with so much in a short space of time. Nevertheless, some opportunity must be given to reflect on, and to begin to process, the kaleidoscope of experience. It is strongly recommended that, whenever possible, at the end of each day, a decent amount of time is allowed for the group to reflect on the events and impressions of the day. Half an hour or an hour is probably needed, and the best time is usually before dinner. India is a spiritual country, and people will expect that this period of daily reflection should be a spiritual time.

2.5          Names

It may seem obvious, but one of your first responsibilities is to know the name of everyone in the group. If the group is large, you may need to work at it for the first couple of days. You should also, wherever possible, know the name of your driver and his assistant, as well as of any representative who accompanies the group. It is also a good idea to ask, and remember, the name of someone in authority in your hotel. If you have a large group, for instance, make a point of meeting the hotel’s Restaurant Manager (often called the “F and B” — food and beverages — Manager).

2.6          Food

Almost nothing is more important to a group than what it eats. Meeting the F and B Manager can help to ensure the group’s needs are appropriately catered to.

First of all, at the beginning of the tour, you should remind people of the “rules” of healthy eating. Everyone should know these from their own briefing papers, but experience shows that the more you reinforce them the healthier the group will be. Most important is that i) people should have clean hands when they eat, and ii) green salad, fruit salad, ice cream and ice should always be avoided.

Some members of the group are likely to have particular dietary requirements that need discussing with the hotel. There will rarely be a problem in catering to such requirements.

It is a good idea to discuss meals with the F and B Manager. They will usually respond well to your interest and suggestions. Sometimes it is necessary to explain carefully your expectations about meal times — especially if you need an early breakfast.

2.7          Tips

You should explain to the group that you will take responsibility for all tips that relate to services enjoyed by the whole group. That means tips for drivers, guides, porters and hotels. Individuals should take care of their own tips for eg laundry and room service. You should collect a reasonable sized contribution from everyone to begin with, and then again as necessary.

Tipping is a sensitive subject, and there is no right — or even best — way to do it. In hotels it is often better to explain that you will tip everyone at the end of your stay, rather than piecemeal as you go along. You want to ensure that your tip gets to the people who have provided the service, which is not always straightforward.

Calculating suitable amounts is not easy. In hotels you could work out roughly the cost of your meals, then tip 10% for the whole hotel staff. Guides should be tipped (see below), but if you have a representative of the travel company with you, you should not tip them.

2.8          Guides

All guides are licensed by the local tourist office, and will have passed tests to prove their competence in English and their knowledge of the places in which they are guiding. Mostly they are competent, friendly and helpful. They are at your disposal, so you can tell them when to talk, and when not to, and you do not have to follow their suggestions. It is important that you should remain in charge.

2.9          Travel, Transfers and Timing

One of the things that first impresses visitors to India is the number of people. As India’s population has surpassed 1.3 billion it often seems that most of them are sharing your railway platform or your stretch of road. Group travel therefore requires some attention. On a station, or in a bazaar, people need to be reminded not to get too far separated from the group.

You need to know — always — where all the luggage is. This means that you need to count it at frequent intervals — in and out of the bus, when checking out of hotels, on the platform, etc. People should take charge of their own hand luggage, but you should always know how many pieces of portered baggage there are. (A group of twenty people has nearly half a tonne of luggage, by the way).

You will be praised for efficiency of transfers. When you reach a hotel, people will want as quickly as possible to get to their rooms. You should therefore get room keys without delay, allocate rooms, and give people their keys, making a note of who is in which rooms. You can then get people’s luggage sent up after them, and then complete check-in formalities. Most hotels will understand your priority, and good humour on your part will get it all done swiftly. If the process is dragging a bit, a quiet “Jaldi, jaldi!” (“quickly, quickly”), spoken with appropriate good humour, will speed the process up.

If your group is large it will take a surprising amount of time simply to get everyone on and off a bus. Even if the group is small, no-one will want to be kept waiting by one or two late-comers, especially if it is always the same ones. It is important that you establish a pattern of good timekeeping, and let people know that you intend to leave at the stated time. If someone consistently delays the group then choose the right occasion (not when you have a plane to catch) and leave them behind. That usually solves the problem.

2.10        And Finally…

Don’t forget that you are a member of the group, too. You will have done a good deal of preparation in getting the group together, and you want to enjoy your time in India. You are a participant in the pilgrimage as well as leader. Like everyone else, you have responsibilities to yourself as well as to the group. That can mean setting boundaries for other people, and if necessary telling them where to get off. Sometimes you may need space away from the group.

Soul of India will only have succeeded if you enjoy yourself so much that you want to do the whole thing again next year or the year after!