As you know, I've been organising a tour group to Beijing FISM for Aussies who plan to attend the World Championships of Magic.
As I've run National Festivals and International Magic Conventions before, I felt this wouldn't be too difficult.
1 - I contacted an expert tour organiser who explained that everyone really needed to leave from the same city and stay in the same hotel to make this work. Problem - people were not only departing from different cities, but at different times too. Plus, some couldn't afford to stay at the "official" FISM hotel.
2 - I studied air timetables and came up with a way that people willing to leave at the same time, could all end up on the same flight with Qantas. I contacted Qantas Group Services and (once we were within twelve months of our departure date) they gave me a quote of over $2,000 per person. At the time, that was several hundred dollars more than booking the same flight through a travel agent.
3 - FISM promised all group organisers we would get advanced notice when the hotel bookings were about to open and we could get special group discounts buying rooms in bulk. Didn't happen. Suddenly the rooms were bookable online on the FISM website... at only marginally cheaper rates than if you booked direct with the hotels themselves.
4 - Alan Watson put me in touch with Graham Bennett of Singapore Airlines in New Zealand who came up with a great group price of $1750 per person. It was a fair price, but the airline is much nicer than Qantas. We came up with a great schedule where everyone could leave from their home city and meet up in Singapore, where we would all fly together in Beijing. Problem: You could book individually with Singapore and get a slightly cheaper airfare than if you travelled with the group. Plus, "due to the current economic situation", many in our group had decided they couldn't afford to go to Beijing, while a dozen others decided to fly in earlier to sightsee, or to continue on to 'Magic Live' in the USA... so our flight plan no longer worked for them. We now had too few people to qualify as a group.
5 - I searched Webjet to find alternative flights for our group and came up with flights on Qantas from Melbourne and Sydney which were $1384 and $1473 - which we posted on our Tour Group page. Last week we booked our flight. We decided to go via Sydney so we could escort a first time FISM traveller and booked QF105 - Friday July 24 departing Sydney at 10.10am and arriving in Beijing at 8.10pm. If we left from Melbourne we'd have to stop off in Hong Kong, so it was nice to get a direct flight. (Plus, coming back Beijing direct to Melbourne is a nightmare - remember this???) In true Qantas form, two days later QF105 ceased to exist. Instead we are on a flight via Hong Kong...
There are well over 30 Aussies in our group heading to Beijing, a new record for FISM, and we all hope to have a great time over there. However, with airlines facing hard times "due to the current economic climate", we can expect a few more flight changes and cancellations between now and July.
Our Tour Group still exists... and many are joining us on our escorted tour to the Great Wall of China on the day after FISM, and though we won't be flying together or staying in the same hotels...(?!) they are all getting email updates filled with travel tips, advice, and handy hints about travelling in China.
As for handy hints about travelling TO China... well, good luck!