When you hear the word tour what comes to mind? Do you imagine a group of people at a museum listening to the tour guide? Do you think of your school days, taking class field trips? For the average person, you hear tour and almost cringe internally. They seem dull and outdated. One can picture groups of people stuck together for long amounts of time going to museums. I used to feel this way about tours. But since I’ve studied tours a little more in depth, I no longer feel this way about them. Tours today are so much more and they can come with some really great perks! I could actually see myself taking a tour, which I would have never thought possible a year ago. Let me explain what makes a tour, the benefits of touring, and the different types, then you can decide for yourself.
What Makes a Tour?
The first thing that travelers need to understand is that not all tours are created equal. Some tours are all inclusive, meaning everything from travel and activities to food and entertainment are included. What is included will vary based on the package and vendor. Other tours only include a minimum of items, like transportation and lodging. To get a basic idea of the components that may be included there could be any combination of:
- transportation– air with type, class, and airline, departure point, –ground type and class, and transfers;
- itinerary- the number of stops and how long at each, amount of time travelling, and leisure time;
- lodging- class and room type, location of lodging, location of rooms;
- meals- number of meals, at lodging or restaurant, different choices offered;
- other- luggage allowance and handling, single supplement charge, side trips, tips included or optional, host or guide, excursion included or optional.
All of these need to be taken into consideration when booking a tour. How much would you want included, or how little? For example, if you’re taking a weekend getaway to the beach you may only need lodging, meals, and transportation. You wouldn’t need an itinerary because you may just want to relax at the pool or the beach.
Types of Tours
There are 5 main types of tours and theses can be broken down even further into subcategories, but I will just skim the surface. It is important to know the different types of tours out there, so you can know which one would better fit you.
- Custom-Designed aka a FIT Tour. FIT is an acronym for foreign independent tour. This could be domestic or internationally based. These tours are tailor made for the customer around their dates, needs, interest, and specifications. For this reason they typically cost more, are more time and labor intensive to plan, and do not get as many wholesale discounts and perks. The benefit for this type of tour is you get exactly what you want, when you want it, and how you want it. It’s like a tailor made dress versus one off the rack.
- Independent Tour. This kind of tour has no group or tour leader. You may not even realize you’re on a tour! They are often referred to as packages. If a customer is willing to fit their plans into a package, such as the operator’s choice of hotels or airlines, there can be big savings. Customers would travel independently, choosing the tour length, they would set their own pace, and arrange each day to suit themselves. A good example of this would be a fly/drive package which may include flights, car rental, and a number of hotels.
- Hosted Tour. This tour usually offers flexibility in departure/arrival, hotels, and length of stay. Also in each city there are transfers from the airport to hotel, one sightseeing tour to help get you oriented, and the services of a host should you need one. Participants may arrive together, but spend the tour as independent travelers, not as a group. The host is there to greet participants, give a brief orientation, and lets them know they are available for further assistance. The host is typically at a desk in the lobby of each hotel or can be reached by phone otherwise. Optional entertainment and outings are available for purchase as well.
- Escorted Tour. This would be the group tour, with a professional tour escort. These are structured programs of sightseeing, meals, transportation, and lodging. Usually you do not choose specific hotels, only which grade of tour: budget, economy, classic, or deluxe. A tour escort (sometimes called tour director) is different from a tour guide. While the tour escort is making sure everything goes smoothly with your tour, a guide might join for an afternoon to show you local sights or attractions. These tours are not for everyone, especially if you are not one to compromise. However, they can be really nice because all the details are out of your hands. You are able to fully enjoy your vacation because someone else is worry about the logistics. They are a good choice for frequent cruisers as well.
Special Interest Tours. Designed to appeal to people with an interest in a particular topic or activity, like photography, cooking, baseball, or Buddhism. A good example would be a wine tasting tour of France, going to many vineyards all of the country. The tour operator and the tour leaders of this type of tour will have a more in depth expertise and focus.
So Why Tour?
There are many benefits accompanied with touring, the most obvious being saving money! Maybe a tour appeals to you solely to save money on airfare. It could also be a great way to meet people with like interests. If I haven’t quite sold you on the value of a tour yet, let me give you 9 reasons why you should try one.
- Known costs. For the same reason many people like cruises, the same is true for tours. You know what to expect. There is also protection from currency changes.
- Save that money! Because the tour operators by in bulk, they can offer their tours at a better price. And this also means that the suppliers they buy from can pass special perks onto you that you may not have otherwise gotten.
- Guaranteed Entrances. Remember how I mentioned tour operators buy in bulk? They do this with tickets to major sights and attractions too. So they may have tickets that may be impossible to get elsewhere. Another perk that usually accompanies these tickets, is you can skip the lines! No 2+ hour wait for you at the Colosseum!
- Reliable Sightseeing Features. Tour operators know what is worth your time. They go with the tried-and-true sights so you won’t be disappointed.
- Security. This is a biggie in other countries. It can be good to travel with a group for this reason. Especially to places like Mexico or Africa.
- Peace of Mind and Relaxation. For some people, the escorted tour are the most relaxing way to travel. They know that if problems arise, the escort is there to help. They also don’t have to worry about getting from the hotel to attractions, or waste time finding hotels. On a motor coach, you can sight-see, then it magically stops in just the right places. Border crossings, airport arrivals and departures, hotel check ins, and baggage are all handled by someone else.
- Efficiency. Tours are carefully planned by people who know the area. You can get the best use of your time and money. Not to mention they know when certain sites will be closed.
- Expertise. They know the area inside and out. The escort can point out things that the traveler may otherwise miss.
Sociability. This is especially true on group tours! Many tour members make lifelong friends.
Now you have the tools to decide if a tour might be right for you, and if so which kind. You may have even went on a tour in the past and not even knew it! I can honestly say that I really want to go on a tour now that I know more about them. There is a tour for any mood I’m in too, from super structured, to as independent as I want to go. I love the idea of someone else handling all the boring bookings and I get to enjoy my vacation to the fullest, all while saving some time and money! Buon viaggio! (Happy travels!)
References: Gagnon, Patricia J., & Sarbey de Souto, Marty. (2012). Travel Career Development. (9th Edition). Printed in Canada: Board of Trustees of the Travel Institute.