Kerry Golds, managing director of Abercrombie & Kent, discusses how innovation is vital in delivering extraordinary escorted tours

2018 was a turning point for us for evolving and inspiring our business. More consumers were interested in escorted tours and we’d seen a 15 per cent rise since mid-2017 but simply ‘being’ on a tour was no longer enough. Historically the term ‘escorted tours’ conjures up images of coachloads of people moving quickly between must-see spots with no time to linger there. But 2019 is heralding a new era – escorted tours that are authentic and experiential with freedom to discover whilst supported by the best expert care.

We looked at our approach and our five decades of small group luxury travel experience and decided there was more we could do. Travel like this which is transformational comes through personal exposure and experiences, best delivered in a small group and with passionate people. We have limited our escorted tours group sizes to a maximum of 18 people but we guarantee departure with only two bookings. Meaning if guests are committed to going, we are committed to taking them under the care of our expert resident tour directors and guides.

It also was clear that our global experience and handpicked properties lend themselves ideally to this choice of holiday. Why should group travel suffer in terms of accommodation quality or available experiences? All our tours feature high-end hotels and luxury lodges, the very best we can get in the locations we visit.

Setting sensible parameters about how to make an escorted tour so much more than a trip came easily, so then we looked at how to make these personal to our clients. Flexibility and choice were recurring themes. In all our Immersive Journeys, we have introduced a unique element called ‘Design Your DaySM’. On these tours we have extended the length of time spent in destination to make sure clients have enough time to learn, explore and immerse themselves how they want to with a choice of activities.

And then we looked at who might like to travel in this way. Solo travellers are often seen as disadvantaged but as they constitute up to 11 per cent of the market, it’s a growth area to be respected. At A&K, we recognise and want to encourage solo travellers so on each of our tours, the first four single bookings won’t pay any supplement. They get the same journey, same luxury, guaranteed at the same price.

We’re completely committed to delivering an experience that is part of the actual country, not the tourist trail. These are trips that are as specific as possible, but as special as desired – making them interesting, informative and inspiring.

Here are our top five questions to ask when booking an escorted tour for your client

Who is the guide?
Be confident that an A&K guide is a local resident who know the destination and can offer in-depth, insider knowledge

Does the supplier offer guaranteed departures?
Don’t risk a cancellation and the stress of finding an alternative trip. Bookings with A&K depart with a minimum of only two guests

What’s included in the package?
We ensure that entrance fees, taxes, tips and excursions are included in the price of an itinerary. With some other operators, local tours are often mentioned as ‘optional’ meaning your clients can be forced to pay an additional cost locally

What about tipping?
This can often be a large additional expense so find out what’s expected and pick an operator who is upfront and inclusive. With A&K, tips are included, except if client’s wish to give a gratuity to their resident tour director at their own discretion

How is the tour’s impact counter-balanced?
A supplier like A&K who advocates small groups and has a philanthropic arm will ensure longer term sustainability in all destinations