In this insightful opinion piece, the former CEO of Insight Vacations, John Boulding, tackles the many myths surrounding escorted touring, and why it can actually be quite a pleasant way to travel.
‘Other tourists are the pits’ writes Jan Moir in the Daily Mail today. Her take on this is that a vacation can easily become a horror story.
Apart from airplane window the cost, there’s a litany of other issues that could bring you to your knees in despair. We’ve all experienced them, or at least read about them.
Abusive drunks on flights with airlines who just don’t care; rip-off car rental firms that sting you with hidden extras; banks, restaurants, waiters and snack vendors who will fleece you as soon as look at you; expensive hotels that don’t deliver on their promised service or advertised standards; and a totally mismatched collection of fellow guests in all the experiences you encounter, many of whom have an absolute disregard of the etiquette and rules that keep normal society ticking along somewhat coherently back home.
And in many ways she’s completely right. Holiday makers are often treated like cattle. You only have to type ‘holiday nightmare’ into search, as I did this morning, and you’ll pull up 29 million results. Crikey.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Admittedly, you’ll have to you have to get to your destination somehow and it is likely it will be on a plane. Air-travel is not what it used to be. Unless you have a private jet you are somewhat at the mercy of the cost-cutting accountants.
Of course there are some fine, award-winning international airlines (and business class helps), but not everyone is travelling that way, so it pays to prepare for your flight and minimise the discomfort by getting ‘in-the-zone’.
I covered this and other air travel tips in my earlier blog article ‘Travelling Well’. Zip back there for a further read if you want to minimise the pain of your journey!
When you do eventually get where you are going, there are many choices of how you take your vacation – you’ve only got to read the classifieds or look online to gauge the sheer scale of vacation options on offer.
If you want to really make the most of your hard earned vacation time however and avoid the pitfalls, then your travel agent will help to sift through the mountains of detritus to find gold. That’s what they are there for.
But I have a recommendation based on personal experience and insider knowledge.
Now I know you’ll think me biased – because of my career of nearly 40 years has been in escorted journeys – but I can tell you a touring vacation is a seriously good option and it is really worth considering – even if it is just an entree to your broader trip or overall holiday experience.
You’d be surprised just how much escorted journeys have changed these days and how good they really can be.
Let me tell you a couple of truths:
‘I’d never get on with a bunch of strangers’ is a common misconception.
In actuality, guests on any given journey will generally have similar values and share common interests, because an escorted vacation acts as a highly tuned natural selector of like-minded people.
Trips with reputable tour operators are carefully outlined, explained, curated and escorted so expectations will be consistently met or exceeded. Not many vacation types can carry that accolade. Guests choosing an upmarket tour, with five star hotels, quality dining and unique VIP experiences, will be travelling with others who selected the trip for largely the same reasons.
Price didn’t really enter the mix as a deciding factor. Those who choose a budget vacation will do so because it is a budget vacation, as will their travelling companions.
The fact is that rich and meaningful, lifelong friendships are made through meeting others on a tour because of this commonality. You can’t say that about a week in a rental car.
‘If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium’ as a descriptor of today’s escorted tours carries about as much truth as suggesting all British businessmen still wear bowler hats.
In the sixties and seventies you could probably say yes on both counts, but not any more.
Today’s trips can be very relaxed indeed, with real leisure time, shorter journeys and a slower pace with multiple nights in each destination built in right from planning stages.
At Insight, we even introduced leisurely starts a couple of years ago, with departures no earlier than 09.00am. Guests want to get to know a place and its people properly and enjoy each local experience to the maximum; and today they will.
‘Location, location,’ I hear you chant: ‘I wouldn’t be seen dead on a tour as we’d be stuck miles out of town.’
It’s an understandable fear given some of the local market budget products out there, but it’s not true if you choose the right product. My team ‘always, always’ went for the best locations, and they are essential for the best experience.
If you are staying at the right address, then you can step out of your door and be in the heart of the action. Let’s face it, if you are in the sticks you’re going to be landed with finding taxis or other transport to take you in and out of the city, often in rush hour traffic.
That carries a really high additional cost as well as wasting your valuable time. It’s easy to check the hotel listings on your selected itinerary and your travel agent will confirm the best operator.
‘But I want to meet the locals…’
Well hello, we listened to that too… About five years ago Insight introduced the concept of in-depth local experiences on our holidays. These are opportunities for you to meet local people who’ll share their unique take on things.
It is experiencing life as seen through their eyes. Sometimes they’ll be chefs or artisans, growers or designers. Other times they’ll be art experts or historians, lords or counts.
One thing is certain you’d not get the chance to meet them personally or visit their establishments, kitchens and farms were you not travelling on a tour.
You’d never be invited to join them on private out of hours tours with unique access or join them for dinner in their own homes. It’s a massive change and quality escorted tour operators today are at the forefront of the travel industry. We are versatile and flexible.
Key to the mix of course is the travel director. They take care of all your vacation details, making sure everything happens effortlessly and ensuring the finest standards of service and quality.
They’ll also make the introductions to these local experts and raconteurs and it’s eye-opening. If more people could experience things first-hand, in the way we do, would help rid the world of misconceptions and make all our lives that little bit better.
So, other tourists needn’t be the pits. Not on some vacations at least.