How to Choose an Escorted Tour
by Celece Seegmiller for The Spectrum Newspaper, January 14, 2014
It was the spring of 1991 and I was at a crossroads in my life, trying to figure out what I wanted to do for a living. I took a break from college and started employment as a secretary for a large tour company in Salt Lake City. We specialized in the beautiful Western United States and Canada as well as ski packages, conventions and meetings in Salt Lake. I worked with clients from all of over the world and helped them discover the beauty of our national parks and Salt Lake City. That temporary job answering the telephone lead to a life-long career in the travel industry. During my time in Salt Lake, I had the opportunity to not only make all of the arrangements for escorted tours, but to also work with large tour companies when they would bring their groups to Salt Lake City. I learned a lot about the group tour business and also saw many differences among the tour companies when they were in town. That experience has been invaluable and one thing I know for sure is that not all tour companies are alike.
There are many advantages when it comes to traveling on an escorted tour. Many travelers, especially in foreign countries, don’t want to worry about anything. On a tour, someone else is concerned with all of your transportation, getting you to and from the airports, hotel arrangements, meals, sightseeing, entertainment, safety, language translation, and pointing about the best shopping and restaurants during free time. Tours include a local, knowledgeable tour escort who teaches about the local customs, history, and language. The tour escort provides a vacation experience that you would not receive on your own. Having the convenience and security of a local driver will also allow you to spend more time enjoying the beautiful scenery vs navigating maps, and avoid some of the challenges of driving and parking in a foreign destination.
I often get requests for the lowest price tour available and when it comes to making escorted tour reservations, the lowest price may not always be what the customers want. As a general rule you will find that in escorted tours, as in almost anything you purchase, you get what you pay for. This doesn’t mean that the most expensive is the best and the least is bad; what matters is to get the best value for your dollar, according to your taste. Regardless of your travel style, it is important to consider a the following suggestions when it comes to selecting an escorted tour package:
How many passengers are on the tour? Escorted tours vary greatly and range from 58 passengers on a motorcoach to private customized packages for a single traveler. If you like large groups, then traveling with 57 new friends might be what you are looking for. If you prefer a smaller, more intimate experience, consider a company with a maximum capacity of 16 or perhaps a private tour.
What type of hotels are included and where are they located? If a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons is your idea of a nice hotel, then it is important to select a luxury tour operator. Many of the discount tour operators offer hotels located outside of the cities and a lot of time is wasted traveling to and from attractions.
How many meals are included? Meals vary on escorted tours and can really add up if they are not included. A good tour company will most likely include a breakfast each day, a welcome and a farewell dinner, a few lunches in addition to unique dining experiences along the way.
Are attractions included? This is a big one that can significantly add to the cost of your vacation. Some tour companies keep the initial price low, but then sell “optional tours” to most of the attractions. While it is nice to have options for various travel styles, the basic attractions should be included in the package price. Also, some companies offer special attractions and skip the line tours that the general public may not have access to.
Of course there are many other things to consider when it comes to selecting the perfect tour and a good travel consultant will ask the right questions and help you find the tour which best suits your needs and budget. When you are ready to plan an escorted tour or any vacation, consider the advice from Benjamin Franklin: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”