Image credit: Sanctuary Resorts
Isobel Finbow recommends some of the best and most popular destinations to visit by escorted tour
A holiday should be the time to leave stress behind. But unknown languages, confusing transport systems, safety doubts and the anxiety that goes with planning a complex itinerary can make visiting some destinations a little intimidating. This is one of the occasions when an escorted tour can prove invaluable.
Not only will your client not have to worry about travel arrangements, accommodation and safety, but with local guides they can also get stuck in to the culture and make the most of their time away. But which countries are best suited to escorted touring? We take a look at the most popular destinations and what they have to offer.
Almost out of bounds to tourists before 2011, when the ruling regime relaxed its grip, Burma is an incredibly popular newcomer to the touring scene. Visitors will encounter a stunning and unspoilt country free of the trappings of capitalism, but one that also lacks tourist infrastructure.
An escorted tour offers the opportunity to delve into this mysterious destination with knowledgeable local guides.
Explore offers a two-week Burma Highlights adventure (£2,159, including flights) which takes in the gold-encrusted pagodas of Yangon and floating gardens at Inle Lake, and offers the chance to meet the Peluang hill tribe.
Travel Indochina’s nine-day Highlights of Burma tour (from £1,735, excluding flights) includes lunch in a nunnery with nuns, and a horse and carriage ride through the Bagan plains at sunset.
Say the word ‘India’ and you immediately think of spices, colours, elephants and dusty sunsets. However, with the mystique comes chaos and confusion and, at more than 13 times the size of the UK, it’s difficult to know where to begin.
Intrepid Travel’s Nicola Frame says: “Tours particularly appeal to first-time visitors, those who don’t want to navigate the railway system or roads themselves, and those who want to really get under the skin of the destination and see the real India.”
Intrepid’s Classic Rajasthan tour (15 days from £820, excluding flights) visits the golden triangle of Delhi, the Taj Mahal in Agra and the pink city of Jaipur, and also goes off-piste to small rural villages, with the opportunity to watch Bollywood movies alongside locals and take part in cooking lessons.
For a more relaxed stay, bolt on a Goa beach stay to Bales Worldwide’s nine-day Taj & Tigers tour (from £1,625, including flights).
Vietnam does not have the mainstream tourism infrastructure of nearby Thailand, but its cultural riches are a huge and growing appeal.
A tour guide is invaluable, from helping clients to cross busy city roads thronging with motorcycles to finding a tailor to make a good quality suit in 24 hours. It will also help them to cover the same ground in less time.
Wendy Wu Tours has a range of options including the comprehensive 18-day Vietnam Panorama (from £2,690 including flights).
Travelsphere’s 14-day Wonders of Vietnam tour (from £1,999) mixes popular highlights with authentic experiences, including exclusive backstage access to a water puppet show, a Halong Bay cruise and a Hoi An cycling tour. 4 PERU
Guinea pig for lunch, Inca ruins and a buzzing nightlife are more than enough to tempt the more adventurous traveller to Peru, but tourists new to Latin America may be overwhelmed by the thought of tackling it independently.
Journeys of Distinction’s Nichola Absalom has noticed an increase in demand for Peru, and South America in general, and recommends escorted tours there.
“Using an expert local guide, pre-screened and approved by a UK tour operator, is the best way to ensure you see and experience it to the full,” she says.
The operator’s Peruvian Mountain Lodge Trek is new (14 days from £3,375, including flights) and travels by foot along the famous Inca trail to Machu Picchu, staying in small boutique lodges along the way.
Cox & Kings’ Train to Machu Picchu (15 days, £3,219 including flights) takes the easier rail route, leaving time to explore the cities of Lima and Arequipa, and the stunning natural sites of the Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca.
Many may think Italy is too easily visited independently to warrant an escorted tour, but it can present the ultimate option for hassle-free travel and the opportunity to see a different side of the country and concentrate on a specific interest.
Active travellers will enjoy Exodus’s Walking the Amalfi Coast (eight days from £919, including flights), while Cox & Kings offers a range of expert-led tours in conjunction with the Royal Academy of the Arts that focus on art, architecture and archaeology.
G Adventures’ Local Living Italy: Southern Tuscany (six nights from £899 excluding flights) gives guests the chance to adopt the Italian lifestyle for a week – shopping in markets, taking cooking classes, tasting wine and olive oil – and doing a bit of desultory sightseeing along the way. This is escorted touring at its most relaxed.
Image credit: Bellini Travel
As one of the UK’s closest and most familiar neighbours, France may not seem an obvious destination for an escorted tour.
However, consider the type of client an escorted tour will appeal to. One of Treyn’s most popular tours is Dordogne by train (six days from £598 including return rail travel), and the operator’s Alex Roberts says: “For many travellers, the Dordogne was a holiday location for them in the 1970s. Travelling by rail is a great way for them to revisit the region.”
With the centenary next year of the outbreak of the First World War, demand for special-interest tours will spike. Sales have almost doubled for Leger’s Battlefield Tours, accompanied by specialist battlefield guides (four days, £259).
7 THE US
America: big portions, big cities, big personalities, and a mighty big country.
Escorted tours cater well to those with specific interests – music is always a favourite. Cosmos Tours’ Elvis & the Southern Sounds tour (nine days from £1,445, including flights) passes through Memphis and Nashville, visiting all the locations that helped to form rock ’n’ roll’s most iconic star.
Don’t forget the crossover audience for cruise and escorted touring – combining the two can make a dream trip and maximise your commission. Try Insight Vacations’ Jewels of Alaska with Cruise itinerary, which explores one of the world’s greatest wildernesses on land and by sea (14 days from £3,261 in an inside cabin, excluding flights).
Look beyond the beaches and you’ll find a destination that’s all about getting out and about and exploring – making it well suited to escorted touring.
Itineraries tend to profile the active, adventurous and cultural side of Turkey, but don’t have to be limited to the classic older market. The whole family can discover the ancient city of Xanthos, snorkel from stunning beaches and kayak over the sunken ruins of Kekova on Explore’s Legends of Lycia tour (eight days from £345, excluding flights).
Anatolian Sky Holidays offers various tours of western Turkey taking in the best of its historical and natural attractions, with its Western Anatolian Tour 1 (eight nights from £1,439 including flights), visiting Istanbul, Ankara, Cappadocia and Antalya’s archaeological sites.
Faced by an alien alphabet and a snowstorm of visas and paperwork, visitors to Russia often feel more comfortable experiencing the country from the safety of an escorted tour.
“Travelling in Russia can be intimidating for some people,” says One Stop Touring Shop’s Paul Melinis. “The language and culture are so different to ours it can make it difficult to explore independently.”
Trafalgar Tours’ Wonders of St Petersburg and Moscow (eight days, £1,450 excluding flights) visits the country’s two most iconic cities and gets clients under the skin of local culture with one of the operator’s signature Be My Guest experiences, which allows travellers to see students practise ballet on stage at the Theatre of Youth in St Petersburg.
10 NEW ZEALAND
When travelling as far afield as New Zealand it’s imperative to make the most of every moment. Collette Worldwide’s Peter
Traynor says: “Many people visit just once in their lifetime as it’s so far away, so want to make sure they see it all.”
On its Exploring New Zealand tour, Collette offers an in-depth tour of both islands and covers all the major cities and sights. Priced from £4,419, this 20-day tour visits Auckland, Napier, Wellington and Christchurch, and includes a cruise round the Bay of Islands and a homestay in Rotorua.
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