With the world at your technology-enabled fingertips these days, trying to fathom the myriad choices around travel can be daunting.
Where to go, how to get there, the type of travel, finding the best deal, insurance, transfers, hotel ratings, stateroom class … it goes on and on. Access to too much information is quite overhwhelming for many of us.
So in this series of articles, we ask industry experts to strip it all right back and give us the benefit of their vast knowledge on key subjects.
Today is about GROUP TOURING and it’s an area Sue Elliot knows very well as Australia’s Sales and Marketing Manager of global tour operator and specialist luxury river cruise company, Gate 1 Travel.
Sue, what type of travellers are best suited to escorted, group tours?
Group tours really suit travellers who have a limited amount of time and want to see as much as they can and learn more about new destinations. It’s also fantastic for solo travellers or people who enjoy getting to meet other travellers from around the world. Plus it’s definitely a great way to travel on a budget and be able to plan for your holiday expenses.
What is the benefit of group touring over independent travel?
This question reminds me of when I’ve bought the wrong train ticket, missed connecting flights and struggled to read maps in a foreign language. They all make for great stories when you get home, but these blunders can cut into your holiday time and if you’re not careful, blow your budget. So having travel experts plan your itinerary can be a big bonus that saves you time and money. Many of us have enjoyed our time backpacking, but are now looking for something a little easier. Group travel can be a real relief, because your tour manager is there to take care of everything and all you have to concentrate on is enjoying your holiday.
What questions should people ask of their travel agent or company before booking an escorted tour?
My first recommendation is look closely at the itinerary. Will you be spending enough time in the places that you really want to see? What are the inclusions, such as meals, sightseeing and gratuities? Are there any extras that you should budget for? Each of the Gate 1 tours have every detail listed, so you can compare hotels and inclusions and also be well-prepared before you travel. Then before handing over any money, make sure you know the booking conditions. Some companies have strict payment deadlines for early bird deals, but at Gate 1 your normal deposit will lock in the discounted price. Also Gate 1 Travel doesn’t charge any credit fees and offer an extra 5% off your balance if you want to pay by cheque or bank deposit.
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What is the ideal group size to keep the experience an intimate one?
Gate 1 offers a range of different group sizes to suit a variety of travellers, but for our Discovery small group tours we take a maximum of 22 travellers and on average there are 16-18 people on most departures. We’ve found this to be the optimal number to enable our travellers to get a deeper appreciation of local cultures and stay in niche accommodations or visit areas that are less accessible for larger groups.
What is the experience like for solo travellers on small group tours?
We have many solo travellers joining our trips and I think this is because it’s such a social and worry-free way to travel. Whether choosing our affordable Classic tours, or our Discovery and Signature tours with smaller groups, it’s a great way for singles to enjoy the comfort and security of group travel, whilst taking advantage of our buying power and paying less than you would normally if travelling independently.
Are itineraries generally quite rigid or do travellers get the chance to do their own thing if they wish?
We like allowing time for our travellers to explore at their own pace, as well as enjoying the included sightseeing. Part of the fun of discovering somewhere new is having time to sit back and people-watch from a sidewalk cafe or get to the local market early to see it in action. If you don’t want to join in the optional tours, this is also an opportunity to visit other places of interest and our tour managers are a wealth of local knowledge if you’d like recommendations of where to go.
Are there some destinations or situations that work better than others for travelling in a group?
If you want a ‘plonk-and-play’ beach holiday, then there probably isn’t much benefit in doing that as a group, but I’d especially recommend group trips for destinations that are more demanding. Countries such as China and Russia are more difficult to navigate on your own and there are visa issues, so you’re likely to get to see and do a lot more with a group. If you’re anxious about travelling in countries where English is not widely spoken or have security concerns, then travelling with a group and local tour manager is another shortcut to having a more enjoyable time. The other time when group travel can work better is during festivals or major events, because finding accommodation or buying tickets during peak periods can be difficult.
If you had to recommend one bucket list trip to everyone, what would it be?
With over 30 years experience in the travel industry, trying to narrow it down to one favourite trip is too hard, so I’m going to be cheeky and choose two! India is one of my most-loved destinations and Gate 1’s 11 Day Kaleidoscope of India is top of the bucket list because it includes Jaipur, Varanasi and the majestic Taj Mahal. Secondly I can’t go past Croatia. It’s such a stunning place to visit and with our 11 Day Affordable Croatia & Slovenia from $1239 per person, it has to be one of the best value destinations in Europe.
What is Gate 1 Travel’s most popular escorted tour among Australia’s mature travellers?
Our European river cruises are hugely popular, mainly because they offer a deluxe cruising experience at a much more affordable price than other river cruises – forget the prices that you see advertised on tele, a 7-night cruise starts from only $2339 per person in 2018! The other really popular destination is South America and our 18 Day Classic Brazil, Argentina & Peru is a favourite with our travellers. This is another big bucket list trip and we make sure our itineraries are carefully suited to senior travellers, so that you’re not having to rush about at altitude and get to see all the highlights as well as the hidden wonders.
Finally, any tips to make the most of a group tour?
Your tour manager is a walking encyclopaedia, so don’t be shy about tapping into all that local knowledge and asking questions – they love any excuse to share more about their home country. And my number one tip, do all the things that you probably wouldn’t do at home! Group travel presents opportunities that you’d rarely have the chance to experience on your own, so get a buzz out of trying new things, like learning how to tango in Buenos Aires, taking a Vietnamese cooking lesson in Hoi An, dining with a local family in Fez or going on a dawn hot air balloon ride over Kenya’s breathtaking Masai Mara!