The times are a’changin’ when it comes to guided travel. The stereotypical image of a motorcoach tour used to be older travelers rushing from destination to destination on a big bus. Well, escorted tours have evolved. Today, you can find small groups of people of all ages visiting off-the-beaten-path spots via luxuriously appointed vehicles. Get ready, as we debunk five of the top myths about guided tours.
Many tour operators now offer small group adventures with between 10-30 people. The itineraries include the best aspects of a destination, with visits to unique places, rather than the old-style, cookie-cutter trips.
Sue Richards, a travel consultant with 47 years of experience, working at Travel Leaders in Tyler, Texas, gave an example: “I took a group on tour to Italy, and there were only 11 of us on it. It was a guaranteed departure. It was very intimate. We visited the local wine pressers and had a hands-on cooking class. Small group tours are often focused on cultural aspects of a destination.”
Today’s escorted tours regularly visit places that are off the beaten path. On a small-group trip to Slovenia, Richards visited the little town of Bled. There is a small island there that houses a tiny village with a fairytale castle right in the middle. It’s a place she said she probably never would have gone to - that she would not have experienced the little country of Slovenia sandwiched between Italy, Austria, and Croatia - had she not been on that guided tour.
A traveler can spend a lot of time researching and figuring out where to go. Or, they can let the experienced tour operators - which already have great connections with local attractions, restaurants and hotels - handle all the details, so the traveler can sit back and enjoy the scenery, the special local spots, the people.
One of the biggest changes in escorted tours is that they have become more user friendly, meaning they spend more nights in one destination, instead of rushing travelers through an aggressive itinerary that covers too much territory on a broad, sweeping tour. Seasoned travelers, in particular, like to spend more time in one destination, where they can branch out on daily excursions. They often like to return to a destination so they can experience it in greater depth. Look for trips that spend at least two, or even three, nights in one location. Most tour companies offer optional side excursions, and plenty of free time.
Richards wanted to visit Croatia, but she didn’t have much knowledge about the destination. She didn’t know what the people would be like, how the food would be, and she didn’t speak the language. So, she opted to take a 12-day motorcoach tour of Croatia and Slovenia. “It was a delightful experience,” she said, “to find out that language was not a barrier, that the food was economical. I had free time, and I spent one day on a historic wooden boat. It was an alternative tour with a small group of folks. It was very economical, only about US$45. We swam, and they cooked on the boat. We immersed ourselves in the culture.”
Meeting the locals is one of the best motivations to travel. “Every destination is so different,” said Brenda Wachs, of Atlas Cruises & Tours, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. “Italians are so different from the German people, and they’re different from the Swedish. They look at everything so differently. You have to sit and talk with people … when sitting down at a café outside, you’re sitting next to a local and you can casually ask them questions. I like to mix with the locals. You get to feel a part of them. Talking to other people, you learn what they’re about.”
Richards would agree. On that boat excursion she mentioned, she made such “delightful local connections” that the captain even kissed her hand as she was leaving the boat at the end of the day. She said, “That’s how polite the people are in Croatia. Now, I tell my clients, ‘Don’t go to Croatia on a cruise. Go on a guided tour. Immerse yourself in the culture with the people.’”
And remember, the guides on escorted tours are locals. Their whole purpose is to expose travelers to the culture, customs, history, and nuances of the town, village, and region they are visiting.
Truth be told, the majority of people on many guided tours are over 50. One of the reasons is that these types of travel products appeal to a seasoned traveler. They want someone else to do the driving, handle the baggage, take care of all the details; they want an expert guide onboard talking about the history and the culture. They want it to be convenient.
But, even this is changing. Small-group, escorted tours are gaining ground with Millennials, in particular. And, more families are choosing them. Wachs said: “More families are going in groups now. And not just to Europe. There’s one tour in the U.S. that’s all about cowboys, and it’s dedicated to children. Group tours today include things that children are interested in, like cooking lessons, a boat ride, or other physical activities for the kids to do. There’s plenty to keep the kids occupied and to broaden their knowledge.”
Actually, guided tours are typically less expensive than traveling on one’s own. When a traveler puts together their own trip, “99% of the time, it will be more expensive, especially if you need a car and a driver,” said Wachs.
She went on to say: “There are the budget tour companies, the moderate tour companies, and the luxury tour companies. I have to find out where my clients fit in and which product is right for them. I always try to sell up, because people are always happier with those experiences.”
Independent travel has its place among the myriad travel styles available today. But so does guided travel. And, there’s no doubt that escorted travel has evolved tremendously in recent years, as new generations of travelers have set out to explore the world, and they have different needs and wants. As a travel advisor, take the time to learn about the latest offerings, so you can match up your clients of all ages with experiences that will meet their travel dreams.
FROM THE SPONSOR: Collette is a third-generation, family-owned company with offices in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Our worldwide travel collection features over 160 comprehensive land tours, river cruises, rail journeys, and single-city stays. Our travel collection also includes the newly reinvented Explorations by Collette – small group tours with an average of 15-19 passengers, allowing for a more immersive and experiential travel.
Our 100-year journey started with our travelers, who are at the heart of everything we do. We pride ourselves in building the perfect itineraries, getting the best professional tour managers, and making sure that your travelers are taken care of at every step in their journey. That means Collette gives you more peace of mind for you and your travelers, more expertise, more flexibility, and more time on tour. Guided touring of today is not the same as it was in 1918 - or even as it was in the last few years. These are handcrafted tours, planned by industry experts who walk the streets and experience them. They are a perfect balance of must-sees, unique cultural experiences, and plenty of free time.