A neat side effect of my blog and our monthly e-newsletters is that I’ve received more personal email responses from guests than I can ever remember. Some check in to see how things are here. Others give me updates on their lives. I’ve never felt more connected.

Yesterday, I received a note from a prospective guest. He’s been receiving our catalog since 2005 and has spoken with our Guest Services team on a number of occasions about our trips in Normandy & Burgundy, the Dordogne Valley, our Swiss Alps Family Journey, and Vietnam & Angkor Wat. This email was…well…it was a little chippy, to be honest. He must have just received our enews in which we talked about our North American trips as a lower cost way to travel with us in 2009. And he challenged us to defend our North American trips as “affordable”. I’d like to share with you the contents of my email back to him as his note caused an impromptu team meeting in which a number of my colleagues weighed in with their thoughts on what does affordable mean in 2009, and is that how we define ourselves and our tours. Our guests seem to focus on the value they are receiving from their vacation with Classic Journeys. And a great majority of them seem to quantify value by the enjoyment and experience received on tour relative to the price and expectations they have for the trip. If we can deliver an experience that is greater than their expectations, they consider that we’ve created value in the tour.

Guest riding a camel in Morocco

Now, in addition to the value we try to create for our guests, we know that many people can define “affordable” in a variety of ways. For example, one person might look at a watch and determine that a Timex is affordable, while a Rolex is unaffordable. Both keep time very well. The person paying for the Rolex is expecting a certain additional experience presumably. If you can purchase the Rolex at a price that is less than your expectation perhaps that makes the Rolex affordable. I’ll continue the analogy with cars. A Lexus and a Toyota are both exceptional cars. In fact, both are award winning and made by the same company. A Toyota is less expensive and can provide years of enjoyable low maintenance driving. The Lexus is also a fine car and provides a great deal of value to the driver, along with presumably some additional experiential feeling of satisfaction. While the Lexus is much more expensive than the Toyota, if one can purchase it at a price that is less than they expected to pay for a car of its quality, then perhaps it too becomes affordable.

In the same way, we are not attempting to be (and have never promoted ourselves as) the low-cost provider of cultural walking adventures, culinary tours and family journeys. Rather, we are proud that we offer an exceptional vacation for our guests. We pay very careful attention to the details, and include elements that our guests tell us are important to them: exceptional local guides, visits with interesting locals and to historic sites in a creative manner, high-quality hotels and lodges, and memorable meals. We also have taken years to construct our itineraries so that we minimize the “hassle factor” for our guests and make every day of your vacation more impactful and enjoyable than it would be if you had to research and script it on your own. As a result of this careful approach to operating our trips and caring for our guests, we’ve been recognized on multiple occasions as a “World’s Best Tour Operator“ by Travel + Leisure magazine and as one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth” by National Geographic Adventure magazine.

hotel Nayara, Costa Rica

…all that said, we’ve been working to identify ways that we can lower prices, and so add additional value and make our trips more affordable for our guests. This includes an enews subscriber discount of $400 per couple on some of our North American departures and creating a deluxe camping trip in the Canadian Rockies that is priced $700 below our lodge-based trip in the same region. Is it affordable? That’s for each prospective guest to decide. The key for us is in operating the trip in a manner that creates value for those guests who choose to travel with us.”

I hope I provided him a well-thought out (and non-sanctimonious!) response that answered his comment about affordability. Among the things we’re proud of here at Classic Journeys is our relationships with our guests. If you have any questions for me or would like to weigh in with your own thoughts on affordability and value, I’d be keen to hear them. Just drop me a line at blog@ClassicJourneys.com.