Escorted tours: Go the extra mile

Escorted tours: Go the extra mile

Enhance an escorted tour with add-ons and extensions

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Sometimes less is more. When you’re talking black eyeliner, cleavage at a black-tie do, or scotch bonnet in a spicy dish, a little can go a long way.

But when you’re talking travel, the opposite is almost exclusively true. There’s always something more to see or do, another sight waiting to be discovered around the corner, or another once-in-a-lifetime experience to squeeze in if only there were time.

That’s where add-ons can help tailor an escorted tour to each client: by slotting in a stopover en route or a beach extension at the end, spending more time in a favourite location or delving deeper into an area of interest, a tweak or two can clinch a sale.

But first, it’s vital to know which add-ons sell best and how to bolt them on to a tour.

Off to a good start



When people picture their holiday, they don’t envisage seeing the Great Wall of China through a jetlag-induced haze, or waking up to the Taj Mahal but being too sleepy to open the curtains. That’s when a stopover or a few extra nights pre-tour can come in handy: while fellow travellers have just stepped off their long-haul flight and spend the first few days craving early nights, your clients can be rested and ready to go.

Don’t discount stopping over on departure: Great Rail Journeys always recommends a night in a hotel such as the Pullman London St Pancras or Comfort Inn Kings Cross, from £220 and £140 respectively, before tours that depart by Eurostar.

For long-haul trips, schedule a couple of nights on arrival so visitors can explore their chosen city before the group departs. Lesley Wright, commercial general manager at Insider Journeys, says: “Escorted tours can have busy itineraries, so pre-tour nights are a great way to recover from a long flight and adjust to a change in time zones, especially where the first day of touring is intensive or mainly on foot.

“There are also practical benefits: adding pre or post-nights can enable the client to enjoy a direct flight home or reduce waiting in airports.”

Insider Journeys’ most popular gateway cities are Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore thanks to their flight connections and cosmopolitan atmosphere, while fellow Asia operator Wendy Wu Tours finds Hong Kong and Macau top the list. A three-night stay in Hong Kong with a day tour to Macau or Lantau starts at £290 with Wendy Wu Tours.

Hong Kong

Similarly, Inside Japan finds that because most of its tours begin in Tokyo, British clients often book extra days to explore the buzzing capital before setting off on their tour of Japan.

Before the tour



These stopovers and city stays are well-suited to independent travellers, but for those who have chosen an escorted tour because they like the security of a guide and the ease of having their sightseeing sorted out in advance, many operators can arrange mini-tours to bolt on before the main itinerary begins.

Intrepid Travel finds many of its customers book a few nights to acclimatise in their departure city, especially when the tour starts in a major hub but doesn’t spend much time there, such as in Beijing or Shanghai for China tours, or Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires on South America trips. Flight times can also play a part. For example, on Cuba tours, where departure dates don’t always coincide with flight arrivals, guests often have time to add day trips such as the Old Havana Walking Tour or Classic Car Tour (both £34 with Urban Adventures) before their Intrepid trip begins.

Looking east, Singapore is an ideal stopover en route to tours in Australia or the Far East, but tourists will get a lot more out of the cosmopolitan city with a guide to show them the way. Trafalgar has a three-day Singapore Experience which visits the city’s oldest Buddhist-Taoist temple, Little India and even has time for a Singapore Sling in the grand-dame Raffles Hotel (from £325).

And with sister company Insight Vacations’ growing India collection, it’s hardly surprising that the Fascinating Mumbai tour – also three days, and easily bolted on to any tour departing from the former colonial hub – is a popular choice. It comprises a full-day city tour, a cruise to Elephanta Island, then seeing art and artefacts in the former Prince of Wales Museum before a visit to the Hanging Gardens at the top of Malabar Hill (from £685).

On the road



Even once your client’s escorted tour has started, there’s still plenty of scope to tailor it to their needs. Aside from the obvious flight and accommodation upgrades, which not only enhance their comfort but boost your commission too, often there are extra activities that can be pre-booked on top of the regular itinerary.

Cox & Kings and Collette both include most activities in their prices, but some tours still offer scope for optional extras. For the former, that includes soaring over the Bagan temples in a hot-air balloon on The Golden Land of Burma tour, or adding a touch of class with a night at the opera during the Classic Russia itinerary.

Burma

And for Collette, it means being able to offer extra activities such as ziplining across the Arenal Volcano Rainforest, which wouldn’t appeal to everyone on its Tropical Costa Rica tour but is a great selling point for the daredevils who do fancy having a go.

Equally unmissable, Riviera Travel’s most popular add-ons include spending the night in a ryokan on its Japan tour (an extra £79, including a multi-course kaiseki dinner followed by a night on a futon with traditional tatami mat), and indulging spy-movie fans on its James Bond Experience, available for a £24 supplement on its tour of Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland.

Second helpings



The majority of add-ons come after the main tour, with clients keen either to see more of the destination or to add some much-needed rest time after their busy tour (see ‘Secret Beach Extensions’, page 52). Some are simple geography: customers on Cox & Kings’ Splendours of Chile tour almost always add a four-night Easter Island extension, at £895, because it’s so close that most can’t resist pairing it up with a mainland trip. Likewise, Collette finds most of its Australia and New Zealand travellers want to make the most of their flight fares and long travel time by tagging on a four-day Fiji extension, while Saga has added an extended stay in Tasmania for Australia tours next year.

Extensions also give clients an opportunity to delve deeper into the culture or explore an area they’ve always wanted to visit even if it’s not included on the main itinerary.

Travelsphere’s Epic Peru tour ticks off a lot of the country’s main highlights, but book its suggested add-on – a three-night stay in the heart of the Amazon rainforest – and clients will come home with a new perspective on the country (from £449 accompanied by a tour guide). Also in the same region, Travelsphere’s Machu Picchu, Ecuador and The Avenue of the Volcanoes tour already promises some once-in-a-lifetime experiences, but tag on a short cruise through the Galapagos Islands and clients will return with enough bragging rights to last until their next epic adventure.

Sister company Just You also encourages single travellers to work through their bucket lists with a collection of add-ons known as See and Do More. With options such as crossing into Cambodia to see Angkor Wat after the Discovery Vietnam tour, or visiting Victoria Falls and cruising the Zambezi River at the end of the Experience South Africa itinerary, it’s a good way to top up on commission while giving clients an even more memorable holiday.

Get busy



Most escorted tours have a jam-packed itinerary, but active add-ons can provide a further opportunity to up the activity quota for clients with energy to spare. So if your clients have opted for a more culture-focused tour around Vietnam, tagging on some light trekking in the mountainous, rice-terraced region of Sapa (one of Insider Journeys’ most popular add-ons) will complement the rest of the tour.

And if visitors to the US have spent their tour shuttling from one iconic city to another, it’s worth adding some time outdoors to appreciate the country’s striking landscapes (and work off some of those hot dogs into the bargain). Great Rail Journeys can tag on a two-night Yosemite Experience to any US tour for a chance to admire the national park’s impressive rock formations, waterfalls and giant sequoia trees (from £364).

Diving

An active extension can even serve a useful purpose, teaching clients a new skill to deploy on their next trip. Contiki can arrange a Padi-certified Learn to Dive course for any Australia itineraries ending in Cairns, with a couple of days in the classroom followed by time visiting nine of the Great Barrier Reef’s best dive sites, and ending with a qualification that will allow customers access to many more diving holidays in future. The five day course costs £640 with two nights’ accommodation in Cairns and two on the boat.


DO
Look out for brochures that list the most suitable add-ons alongside each tour.

DON’T
Forget to check alternative flights, as a cheaper fare could give clients the spare cash to book an extension.


5 of the best secret beach extensions



Ngapali Beach, Burma
Burma’s beaches are on the rise, according to Insider Journeys, with unspoilt coastlines such as this little-known spot near Thandwe attracting post-tour sun-seekers.

Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Despite its chequered civil war history, the glorious beaches of this Cambodian coastal resort are attracting travellers to relax after busy southeast Asia tours. Wendy Wu Tours has a five-day extension here from £100.

Ishigaki Island, Japan
For a chance to see how the Japanese do beach breaks, Inside Japan recommends this island, a short flight from Tokyo, for those who fancy diving with manta rays or exploring via water buffalo-drawn cart.

Ile Sainte-Marie, Madagascar
After a fast-paced lemur-spotting trip such as Rainbow Tours’ Madagascar Wildlife Discovery, the beachfront hotels of this island off Madagascar’s east coast beckon. Princesse Bora Lodge is a particular hit during whale-watching season in September.

Isla Roatan, Honduras
This volcanic island is home to Mahogany Bay, a port of call for Carnival Dream on its seven-night Caribbean cruise. Cosmos Tours & Cruises pairs it with an action-packed itinerary in the Deep South on its 15 day Memphis, New Orleans & Western Caribbean cruise-and-stay, starting at £1,849.

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