Usually synonymous with big buses and camera clicking holiday makers, organized tour companies can be quite good. They can be especially good for first time travelers unsure about setting out in the world on their own. It can give people the time to adjust to the travel lifestyle. And anything that gets people up and on the road is something that is good.
If you decide to take a tour, here are some things to look for in a good tour company:
1. Reputation- Look on travel message boards to see what a company’s reputation is. It might not always be what they claim and it’s important to find the truth. The biggest, most expensive companies might not always have the best reputations. Sometimes the little ones are just as good. After you find a few some companies you life, find out what people thought of them.
2. Cost- With tour companies, it’s not always true that you get what you pay for. Many tour companies overcharge while some are just really good at maximizing value. Ask where the money goes and how it is spent to find out if you are really getting the best value for your money. Moreover, make sure you ask if there are fees when you get there. Many companies require you to pay additional money when the tour starts. That cheap tour won’t be so cheap if you have to pay for everything while there.
3. Market- Research who their target market is. Again, travel boards can help here. Is the tour geared to older couples? Young people? Families? You don’t want to end up on a loud Spring Break tour when all you wanted was a quiet holiday.
4. Guides- Makes sure the company uses knowledgeable local guides. The guide should be a local or at least a long term resident, know the local language, have travel experience, and know live saving techniques. I’ve been on tours where the guide was a walking encyclopedia and on ones where the guide was a glorified time keeper. Tours with knowledgeable and helpful guides are always better.
5. Safety- Make sure the company follows all the proper safety requirements and is accredited by the local government, the government where they are based, and any other appropriate trade organization.
6. Schedule- You’re paying for them to fill your day. How do they do that? Are they doing that? Do they have a lot of activities organized or do they leave you to your own devices? Maker sure you get a schedule of all the activities and pick a tour that is balanced. Running around all day will leave you wishing you had a holiday form your holiday but you don’t want to be sitting around either.
There’s a growing trend among travelers called ecotourism. It’s about more responsible travel, not only towards the environment but also towards locals. This means using local guides, hotels, services making sure to reduce waste and your footprint on the local habitat. Moreover, these companies tend to offer better and more interactive tours that also give you a good degree of autonomy. For those interested, two more things should be looked at:
Follow the money- Who does the tour operator use? Are they using local companies or companies owned are by large corporations. Are you being shuttled from hotel to hotel in a big bus? Are you staying at the Marriott and using their services or staying at a variety of smaller, local owned hotels and using other local services? Ask the tour company where their money goes. Those who only use local operators follow the ecotourism ethos.
Environmental impact- Ecotourism is foremost about helping the environment. Ecotours seek to minimize their impact on the environment. That means avoiding big buses, ritzy hotels, flying, It means staying at places that conserve energy. It means taking part in environmental programs or, at least, providing information on the local habitat. It means only leaving footprints and not waste. Check with various eco-tour alliances and groups for a list of companies that have been certified “eco-friendly.” With so much money pouring into the industry now, you have a lot of companies fraudulently saying they practice ecotourism. Make sure you find a legitimate company.