Remember the days when Granny would pull out the old Super-8 projector to “treat” the kids to her latest jaunt across Europe with her friends on that “lovely” escorted tour?
You probably also felt like you’d rather be undergoing a root canal. Without drugs. And a pit-bull chewing your leg.
Good news: Tours are changing. And they’re not just for Granny anymore.
Three years ago, I spoke with Paolo Mantegazza, the late chief executive of Globus & Cosmos, one of the world’s oldest and most respected escorted tour operators. He told me that today’s tour customers were younger, wealthier, more adventurous, and that they hated the bus.
Gone are the days of the quirky tour guide with the handheld sign identifying your group-well the quirky guide is still there (if you are lucky), but the sign is gone. Gone are the drive-by sightseeing tours. Gone are the seven-night, seven-hotel itineraries. And, while some of the larger busses still operate, for the most part, gone are those damned busses.
In fact, I’ve identified seven distinct “types” of tour customer. Which one are you?
1. The young traveler. We are not talking youth, we’re talking about experience. For many people, the first big trip abroad is a daunting experience. Just getting to a hotel in a foreign city can be frightening — especially if the language is, well foreign. With the escorted tour, once you clear customs, most of your worries are behind you and your English (or other language) speaking guide will be there to answer your questions and soothe those novice jitters.
2. The outgoing traveler. Travel is about the experience of seeing new sights and meeting new people. Often on an escorted tour, you will find outgoing people who are anxious to share this experience and others with you. This is the traveler who is a wealth of information and will undoubtedly have some influence on not only this trip, but your next one as well. His goal is to meet new people and see new things. My own father and mother would be among this group as they have met many good, lifelong friends while on an escorted tour.
3. The scholar. Often, an independent tour does not allow you to immerse yourself in the culture of the destination. Guide books only go so far and the brochures are only marketing materials. On the escorted tour, your guide is typically a local and can lend incredible insight to the history, and more important, the culture of a particular destination. Looking for a perfect pub? He knows it. Looking for “the” hot spot for disco (yes it is still alive and thriving in Europe)? He knows it — and probably knows how to get you in without waiting in line. A good guide knows the history of the town’s oldest building, or can bring you back to experience history as it was made. People who thrive on immersion also thrive on these trips.
4. The penny pincher. The worry-warts are alive and well on an escorted tour. With good reason. When you pay for a tour, most (but not all) of your expenses are paid up front. Your budget can remain intact. This is particularly helpful when your local currency is out of synch with the destination. An escorted trip can prevent the MasterCard surprise when you return — as long as you steer clear of Harrods.
5. The silver spoon. Perhaps this is not a fair moniker. But with escorted travel, most everything is handled for you. It is not an all inclusive vacation or a cruise. But, if you can handle packing a suitcase, making it on time for a meal, and forking over a tip, you will have a fabulous time with minimal worries and hassles. Your admissions to the sights, your meals, your transportation, your entertainment, and your baggage handling are all included for you.
6. The adventurer. With the advent of the smaller motorcoaches, the adventurer has embraced the escorted tour. Now the smaller villages can be seen. There is no need for a large restaurant to house the group. The adventurer can now see some of the smaller, off-the-beaten-path places that typically were the bastion of the independent traveler. You can attend a Chinese school, have dinner with a Romanian family, and even navigate The Peak in Hong Kong without having to close your eyes, hoping for the best, while the big bus tries to make that one hairpin turn.
7. The grandparent. OK, so yes there are some seniors on these trips too. But today’s seniors are very active and are looking for the same experiences as their younger counterparts. Very often, these seniors (because they have the time and the money) take their children and grandchildren on these trips — a true intergenerational jaunt. Tauck World Discovery (another well-respected escorted tour operator) has a spectacular intergenerational line of escorted tours called Tauck Bridges which offers such destinations as Europe, the Galapagos, and the jungles of Costa Rica. For the record, my parents would not be considered intergenerational travelers.
Since escorted tours are relatively complex, most are sold only through travel agents and not online or direct to the consumer, but be sure to check out the travel suplpier’s Web sites to become familiar with the offerings. But when it comes time to lay down the Visa card, your professional agent will be your best bet to ensure that your experience meets your expectations.
So the next time Granny pulls out the old Super-8, grab some popcorn, cancel the root canal, sit back, relax and enjoy this little bit of ancient history. Because today’s escorted tours aren’t your Granny’s tour.