So you think you know… Escorted touring

So you think you know… Escorted touring

Aren’t tours just for old people? Don’t you get herded from one place to another? Katie McGonagle challenges these misconceptions

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Touring is often seen as a love-it-or-hate-it sector – perfect for clients who want to pack in as much as possible without the hassle of finding their way around, but a no-no for those who like to strike out on their own.

But what about all the people in between? There’s a huge untapped market of travellers who might like the benefits of an escorted tour, but are put off by misconceptions that are outdated or untrue. Here, we put those myths to rest with ideas for itineraries that don’t fit the stereotype.


Different tours suit different clients, so if you’ve got younger customers, steer them towards one of the specialist providers such as Contiki, which caters exclusively for 18-35-year-olds, or Explore’s new brand Edge, for 18-30-year-olds.

Paul Melinis, director of sales at One Stop Touring Shop, says: “Together with our energetic and passionate tour managers, Contiki ensures young travellers enjoy legendary experiences including the hottest new festivals and events.”

Its eight-day Pamplona & Bilbao BBK Live tour combines the Running of the Bulls with a huge music festival, which this year features Radiohead, The Cure and Snow Patrol, from £425 per person, land only, including accommodation, meals and festival entry, departing from Pamplona on July 10. – 020 7468 4335

Some operators also offer dedicated family packages with options to suit younger children and teenagers. Carl Burrows, sales director for Explore, says: “Escorted tours are great for families as they take the stress away from planning the trip. Our family adventures cater for all members of the family, meaning parents do not have to compromise on their holiday for the sake of the kids.”

Explore’s 16-day Viva Cuba tour is open to families with youngsters aged 11 or older, featuring a zip wire through the jungle, a salsa lesson and a cruise around Havana in a classic 1950s car. Prices start at £1,949 per adult and £1,803 per child, including return flights, B&B accommodation, some meals and transport. – 0845 2914541


In an age of direct booking and easy internet research, holidaymakers often think they’ll get a better deal by going straight to the supplier – so it’s up to agents to show them how tours can offer better value.

Many operators stress being able to book in bulk means they get more competitive prices than individuals, plus the added value of an experienced guide and ease of having a pre-determined budget.

Manuel Mascarenhas, managing director at Wendy Wu Tours, says: “Our commercial relationships allow us to offer unbeatable value with prices including accommodation, all meals, national guides and local expertise, entrance fees, visas, international flights and local transport.

“An independent traveller would struggle to put together such a comprehensive itinerary that would match the price of a Wendy Wu Tour, and would not get the levels of service and expertise that our local guides and national escorts offer.”

Lesley Taylor of Cosmos Tours & Cruises recommends agents break the price down to a per-day cost for customers, so they can see how it compares to booking a package and paying for extras themselves. Also check out some of the operators’ budget options. Explore has a low-cost range using simpler hotels and local transport.

Tours can also be good value for single travellers – Solos Holidays and Just You pride themselves on not charging a single supplement, often making it a cheaper option than travelling independently. Julie Franklin, national account manager for Page & Moy Travel Group, which includes Just You, says: “Each guest has their own room and the peace of mind that they are with like-minded people, without the worries associated with travelling alone.”


Some tours are jam-packed with activities but there are also plenty that emphasise their relaxed pace and build in free time.

Trafalgar’s At Leisure programme – which offers relaxed tours with plenty of time in each place and departures no earlier than 9am – has proved so popular, it has been doubled in size this year with new worldwide destinations. One of the additions is the 10-day Spanish Island Serenade to Barcelona, Palma, Majorca and Ibiza, from £1,799 with a luxury coach. – 020 7468 4335

Great Rail Journeys’ Italian Riviera tour includes two days at leisure and opportunities to get away from the group and explore, from £1,375 including travel, nine nights’ accommodation with breakfast, some meals, excursions and a cruise to Portofino.

Peter Traynor, UK general manager of Collette Worldwide Holidays, says its tours usually include a minimum of two nights in each place. “Our tour managers are very experienced so they can advise clients on where to go and what to see when they are exploring on their own,” he says. Collette’s Best of Eastern Canada has two nights each in Quebec City, Montreal, Ottowa and Toronto, from £1,949 including most meals, four-star accommodation, flights and door-to-door pick-up within 100 miles of the departure airport. – 0800 8048701

APT’s Freedom of Choice touring allows guests to choose which sightseeing activities they like best, most at no extra cost, and decide when and where they want to eat.

For clients who want the best of both worlds, On the Go Tours recommends starting with a tour then adding a few extra days, such as teaming their eight-day Taj Express trip with a week on the beaches of southern India.

Escorted Tours 2


Dozens of operators offer small-group tours or luxury options with fewer seats – although clients should be willing to pay a bit more for the privilege.

Insight Vacations has introduced six luxury itineraries to India with no more than 25 people per group, while TransIndus can have as few as 10 guests. Neil Sealy, business development manager at TransIndus, says: “We run small group tours because they are far more personal than large groups. Guests don’t feel they are being herded about, and it is possible to be much more interactive – guests can ask the guide questions and receive answers without holding up a large group.”

Page & Moy’s average group is 30, but this falls to 20 for wildlife tours such as the 12-day Pandas and Pagodas trip through China (from £1,849 including flights, transfers and most meals.


Things have come a long way since the days of rickety old coaches and lack of legroom, with a new breed of luxury coaches and an emphasis on comfort. Touring isn’t just about coaches though – Wendy Wu and Explore use boats and trains, as well as rickshaws, tuk-tuks and even the odd camel trek.

Grand UK, the over-55s specialist, has introduced upmarket tours on Gold coaches for 2012, with reclining leather seats, extra legroom, air-conditioning and an on-board library. Leger Holidays’ Silver Service luxury coaches account for 70% of bookings, and Shearings’ Grand Tourer coaches include extra legroom, adjustable seats and footrests and personal air-conditioning controls. The latest addition to its Grand Tourer range is Treasures of Morocco & Southern Spain, new this year, which travels across Fez, Marrakech, Tangiers and up to Granada, Madrid and Gibraltar, from £1,569 for 16 days including B&B accommodation, dinners and excursions. – 0844 8246351, May-October


Understandably, clients can be nervous about spending a lot of time with people they don’t know, but there can be good surprises too. Tour-goers have common interests – they’ve all chosen the same trip, after all – so it can be a place to meet new friends.

Nichola Absalom, direct marketing executive for Journeys of Distinction, says: “Although our customers set off as strangers, they don’t stay strangers for long. The camaraderie of a group tour is fantastic and there’s no doubt our customers have returned home with some lifelong friends.”

Customers might even find more than they bargained for. Grand UK sales director Harold Burke says: “We have seen many friendships struck up, and we’ve even seen romance blossom on our tours – our tour managers have been invited to several weddings of clients!”


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