This is the first in a series of blogs written by one of our colleagues with 20+ years in the travel industry. I hope you’ll enjoy the benefit of her insights. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks. Edward Piegza, Classic Journeys President and Founder.
Over the past 20 years, it has been my privilege to research many small group adventure trips for my intrepid clients, as I plan their next exotic vacation. In doing so, I discovered that even within the small group adventure travel community, there is a large variance in the way each tour company handles the guiding of their trips. When following up with my clients after they returned home, I found that a tour company’s guiding style played a big part in the experience travelers had on their vacation. While few people choose a trip for the guiding style, it is their guide that many people remember most when they return home, and who has the greatest power to make or break a trip for the traveler.
In this blog, I’m going to describe the most common approaches companies use toward guiding, the rationale, and what to look out for with each approach.
The Rah-Rah American
Some tour operators employ a young, energetic tour escorts to travel with the group for the entire trip, and then include a regional guide for select sightseeing.
• The Rationale: The thought is that the tour escort doesn’t really need to know much about the region, with their main task being to confirm the group’s arrangements along the way, and put out any fires that may arise.
• Potential Pitfalls: While your twenty-something, American-grown tour manager may do a great job making sure the entire group makes it to the bus on time, she will have not be able to tell you much about the culture or way of life in the area….at least not first-hand.
The Scholarly Headliner
Another common approach is to send a renowned scholar to accompany the group.
• The Rationale: They may be professors or historians, and will provide a wealth of information about the history and sociology of the area.
• Potential Pitfalls: While you learn a lot about important historical names and dates, after a while, your vacation starts to resemble a history class! At the end of the day, though, they likely have very little experience managing a tour group, not to mention that they were not hired for their bubbly personality, or because they are fun to travel with!
Jack of All Trades, Master of None
Still other tour companies send their own, very experienced guides around the world to accompany each group.
• The Rationale: Each group of travelers gets a guide who knows the tour company, and its policies and procedures well.
• Potential Pitfalls: While these guides are very adept at managing tour groups, and often have a fair amount of knowledge about the region, they may have guided a trip to Scandinavia last week, and are guiding the rainforests of Costa Rica this week.
See You on the Flip Side
These guides and the companies they guide for meet the travelers at breakfast, then sit down with their charges and go over walking options for a day, arming each traveler with a route map and a plan, and telling them he’ll meet them in the other side.
• The Rationale: Each traveler gets to set his/her own pace.
• Potential Pitfalls: What if you read the map wrong and get lost? If you don’t speak the local language, how will you find the other side? And who will tell you about what you’re seeing along the way?
My Professional Conclusions as a Travel Agent
I have found that cultural adventure travelers prefer to spend their cherished vacation time with a friendly and knowledgeable tour guide who lives in the region and knows it like the back of their hand. He or she is friendly, fun to travel with and can tell you the name of the baker that makes those incredible croissants, or whose cousin owns an olive press and would be happy to share the experience with you. He is your new, well-connected friend whose passion to share his home is infectious. She can tell you stories about the one room schoolhouse she attended as a child, and pick out an awesome variety of local wines for the group to try. Not only will he tell you about the important local historical sites, but he will join you on daily walks and tell you about the beautiful wildflowers that are native to the area, make sure you don’t get lost, and introduce you to his cousin along the way.
A closing note from Edward: At Classic Journeys, we hire local expert guides who are with you throughout your tour. In this way, you get the benefit of their local connections, along with the opportunity to take advantage of unique events, and a well-connected friend who makes problems disappear when they invariably pop up while traveling. To speak with any of our well-traveled and personable Guest Services team, call 800-200-3887 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.