The Internet is crammed full of glamorous travel tour websites sporting gorgeous photos of happy women standing in front of the Taj Mahal or the Leaning Tower of Pisa. How do you go about choosing the right one?
Trips can run into the thousands of dollars (your hard-earned dollars), and the travel may also include complex itineraries, using up your finite pool of valuable vacation days. With so much at stake, you need to ensure the tour company you pick is not going to go belly up, without a hope of recouping your money or they won’t abandon you in a foreign country to fend for yourself.
In the past, simply being able to accept payment via credit cards was a dividing line between the ‘real’ companies and the fly by nights and sophisticated websites stood out against the flat amateurish ones. Today Paypal and its descendants have erased the credit card barrier and many companies offer sophisticated self-driven software for sites. Unless you do a lot of digging, you have little information to make an informed decision. This article gives you an overview of how to choose your dream tour using smart information directly from a tour operator herself.
Top Ten Tips to Choose an All-Women Tour
1. Start with the ‘About Us’ Section of the Tour Company Website. This area should include actual names of employees, so you can do some further investigation via Linked In or other professional sites. You need to know the background of the staff and agenda of the company to find a good fit for your personality and interests.
2. Check that the company has membership in one or more travel industry trade groups such as IATAN, ASTA, USTOA etc. Membership in these groups require adherence to standards. Next you should contact the actual trade organization to check if the tour company is truly a member. Some companies will display the organization’s icon on their website and promotional materials hoping no one will verify their membership.
3. The prospective tour company should sell Travel Insurance not just mention it. Companies selling travel coverage will need to have an insurance license and getting one can be rigorous. Background checks will include no bankruptcies, fraud convictions and or other criminal records right down to child support fines.
4. Does the tour company arrange airfare and/ or allows you to use your own ticket? Some companies do not offer airfare; this omission can be critical if someone is sick and has to change her flights mid trip, or if the whole group has to leave because of a crisis. Check that the company has a 24/7 telephone emergency number.
5. Once you’ve decided on your destination, make sure to check all trip inclusions: hotel quality, Tripadvisor descriptions and Mapquest or other physical location, meals and whether wine/water are part of them, sightseeing method (Private bus? Seat in bus? — This means you are with other groups. Public transport? Walking?). Go step by step through the sightseeing portion of the trip (Guided with in country professionals? Chitchat only from an escort from the US? In depth lectures with museum docents?).
Call the company during office hours, and expect a human being to answer the telephone. Email the company and expect a response within an hour. Many small companies feel it is ok to answer within 24 hours; travel is expensive-answers to questions about it should be prompt.
6. The company’s Facebook page should include comments from past travelers; scan it for real photos of travelers, not just scenes and places. Do these women look like you? Are they your age and type of person: casually presented versus photo-shopped models?
7. Buzzwords to know: Shopping or private store visits (do you really want to pay to go shopping?) Free time (free time should be free at home, not at $500 a day overseas), Wander on your own or Photo Ops (this means no activities planned). Highlights or city tour is a bus tour where you stay put. Optional meal or tour costs $$ and you might be left alone if others book it.
8. Size and composition of group will make or break your trip. More than 20 women means you will not meet everyone and the pace will be slow. Less than 6 gives you few choices for a pal. If you are joining a group within a larger group, this might or might not make you feel welcome. If this is a very mobile group, expect to keep up speedily (ask how physical the trip is before you enroll). Conversely if this is a very slow, bus only group, you might get antsy.
9. Read the first paragraph of the trip and its introduction if any; compare it to competition and see if something unique stands out. Festivals? Home Visits? Educational component? Speaker? Reading List? Tips Tailored to that Destination alone? Pretend you are in a conversation with the website; does it feel right? Read the cancellation policies and all small print and again does it feel ok!
10. Finally a word about prices. Price is always the first thing we look at, which is why I am putting it last. Do not be fooled by low prices. The biggest price factor is size of group (more people lower price), then hotel quality – especially location, transportation type, the length of trip and escort or guide involvement. The most common price savings for tour operators is usage of public transportation for part of the trip (schlepping your bags to/from a train?), driving long distances rather than flying, an inconvenient location of what sounds like a nice hotel, options including transfers to/from the airport and if the company owner or travel agent goes as the guide not with the guide. Finally if the tour is not a Guaranteed Departure the price might be a touch lower. A guaranteed departure goes no matter how many sign up.
This list is by no means comprehensive, but use it as a guide. We should all do our homework before dropping $thousands of dollars on travel. We should be able get all questions answered patiently, not allow ourselves to be swept away by glamour. Happy Travels!
Phyllis Stoller was an international corporate banker, before starting her own business. The idea for the women’s tour company came from her need to find travel friends. Her first company became the national leader in women’s travel, and Phyllis was recognized as Top in Women’s Travel by Travel & Leisure Magazine. The company was acquired in 2006 and Phyllis subsequently restarted as The Women’s Travel Group, with strategic partners USTOA active member: SITA World Travel.
Phyllis specializes in smart tours with speakers and insightful itineraries for women. She believes women’s tours should see the country not the carpet emporium and listen to insightful speakers not jewelry hawkers.
Arthur Frommer recently described The Women’s Travel Group as a valuable asset for women who want to travel with other women.
PS Phyllis’ name appears in the film, Fun with Dick and Jane, as the travel agent; the movie was written by her son.