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Naturally, as part of my job, I travel a lot. Whenever those trips are with a tour operator, I breathe a little easier, because I know that I’ll be in the hands of professionals who are used to making sure that the details of a trip go off without a hitch. After all, tour operators specialize in getting people in and out of a destination and seeing to every detail — as well as making sure travelers have the experience of a lifetime.
Perhaps every client will have their own personal list of perks of using a tour company. Here are my Fave Five benefits to traveling with a tour operator.
Airport TransfersIt’s easy to forget just how comforting it is to arrive in a foreign city, where no one speaks your language, and to have a friendly face greet you at the airport. For a lot of people, those first few minutes after clearing customs can be stressful, confusing and downright scary. Every time I’ve traveled with a tour group made up of people who are not used to being on a tour, they’re always impressed and relieved by being met in the airport and whisked off to their hotel with hardly even a care for their luggage. It’s a mistake to underestimate just how important this perk is to getting a trip off to a good start.
Special AccessOne of my most memorable tour experiences happened in Vienna, Austria, when I was able to have dinner in the Emperor’s Pavilion in the Vienna Zoo. The 240-year-old Emperor’s Pavilion served as the breakfast room and salon for the Emperor himself. After a terrific dinner in this old-world Baroque setting, I walked back out through the empty Vienna Zoo at night — the sounds of the animals all around me in the darkness.
The experience was a once in a lifetime, and was only possible because of the special access that my tour company had in the destination. Whether it is getting exclusive access to parts of the Vatican, or touring the Louvre before it opens to the public, opportunities like these are especially valuable to travelers because they simply cannot be experienced on one’s own without going through a tour operator.
Local ExpertiseOn one trip to the Czech Republic, my tour guide recounted her time living for years under Soviet control, and the exultation she and her countrymen felt when they were finally free. On a trip to China, my guide told us stories of what life was like for him growing up in rural China, and how he felt now — a relatively short time later — watching the seemingly endless skyscrapers rise up almost daily in Shanghai.
There is nothing like the firsthand, local experience provided by knowledgeable tour guides. Going way beyond just a peek at a local site and relating textbook versions of history — or even sharing tips on local favorites — tour guides provide insight on what it truly means to live in a place.
Fellow TravelersOne of the most difficult benefits to describe to someone who has never taken a tour before is the camaraderie that develops between travelers. It might sound hokey to some clients, but one of the best parts of any tour is getting to know people from all over the world who share similar interests. This is especially true when families travel. Parents are generally way too busy worrying about their own family to even notice the people around them, let alone make small talk. On a tour, however, parents and kids have a built-in social scene. In some cases, the parents may even end up trading off watching both sets of kids, so the other parents actually get some downtime. Many times, your fellow travelers end up becoming good friends for years to come.
Something for EveryoneI like to golf. My wife is a cyclist. We both want to get off the beaten path in Italy. Oh, and did I mention we want to learn more about vegetarian Tuscan cooking?
Whatever a client’s interests — no matter how specific or complicated — there’s an escorted tour for them. Long gone are the days when a typical escorted tour covered the same basic countries and the same predictable sites; today’s tour operators offer so many variations on an itinerary, and at so many different price points, you can no longer even talk about the “typical” tour.