It has long baffled me why people often choose to travel as part of an escorted group. Making that decision usually sees them travelling with a party of strangers to a destination they have probably never visited before, whilst being looked after by a Tour Manager who they have never relied upon before. Who are these people? Are their lives so busy that they have no time to plan their own trips? Are they too nervous to travel alone? Or maybe it’s something more?
Last year, I found myself taking 30 minutes of ‘me time’ out of a very busy Isles of Scilly escorted group tour where I acted as a Tour Manager for the very first time. It was a glorious sunny day, where the sun illuminated the golden sands of one of the island’s many beaches. The scene before me was more reminiscent of a beach in the Caribbean. The waves were lapping against the sides of moored fishing boats and oystercatchers were probing the shoreline in search of shellfish.
Quite simply, it was idyllic.
It got me wondering once more about why people travel on these trips.
This time, the answer was slightly more obvious; over the previous six days, I had witnessed this group of strangers build up a bond and friendship that could not have been dampened by any amount of wind, rain or delayed flights that could have been thrown in their direction. These were not people who were worried about travelling alone—in fact, quite the opposite. These were seasoned and experienced travellers. They were also far from ill-informed about the destination and could have easily planned their own trip to the islands. They had done their research, and boy did I know it with the questions that were fired at me. But they were not trying to catch me out; they were genuinely passionate and desperate to learn as much as they could.
It struck me that this is a major factor in why people choose to travel on tours. It was the ability to share their knowledge of a common interest whilst being able to experience and complement this with a new adventure, whether, as in this case, it is a shared love of wildlife, or travelling to Sicily to satiate an appetite for baroque architecture, or following in the footsteps of an idol, like Lawrence of Arabia in Jordan. I met this group of people primarily as a list of details on a booking form or through an initial brief sales call. On day one of the tour they arrived as clients, but on that final day they left as friends—and in truth, I would miss them.
Since taking my role as Manager of Prestige Holidays’ Escorted Touring Programme five years ago, I have seen this market grow rapidly. Look on any Travel Agency brochure rack and you can be overwhelmed by the choice of tour operators offering escorted tours to worldwide destinations—and these are good tours, too. At first glance you may see almost identical offerings but all with very different price tags. It pays to look closer. Due to the over-saturation of product in this market, tour operators have all had to find their niche.
Group sizes and the number of inclusions are often the most obvious, but look even deeper—are flights included? Are meals included, and do they come with drinks? If meals are included, is it just slapping on half-board at the hotel, or are you dining out in carefully selected local eateries? Is there enough free time or even too much? Does the tour go at the right time of year to avoid crowds and travel in the best weather? Often, the best weather does not mean the highest temperatures; tours visit sites that are quite exposed, and in the heat of the summer, they can quickly become unbearable.
What is Prestige’s niche?
Here at Prestige Holidays, we do not pretend to be the cheapest, because we are not, but we do argue that we offer the best value. By this, I mean we include experiences and inclusions that would normally feature in tours at the very top end of the market but at a price that is affordable without compromising on quality.
We choose hotels not for the number of pools or TV channels, but for their character, their charm, and their location. Our itineraries are not copied but created, from scratch, by experts who not only know the destinations but are passionate about them. Lunch and dinner menus are hand-picked for variety and to showcase authentic cuisine and, wherever possible, are taken in local eateries as opposed to a buffet dinner in a soulless hotel restaurant. Transport used is always oversized — if we have 20 clients, we will book a 32-seater! We care on a personal level about our clients and do absolutely everything we can to ensure our tours not just meet expectations but exceed them. This is evident in the fact that over 75% of our passengers tour with us again, and our passenger numbers have increased year on year by anywhere between 60% and 90%.
Many of our tours also boast the inclusion of a special guest or an academic guide lecturer who will bring the destination to life and share their knowledge. Whether this be travelling to the former Yugoslav states with renowned former BBC correspondent Martin Bell OBE, re-living the memoirs of Gerald Durrell in Corfu in the company of his wife, Lee Durrell, or exploring the baroque architecture of Sicily in the company of Alex Polizzi, these personal touches combined with exclusive-access visits or sightseeing very much off the tourist trail are why people choose to travel with us.
Explore, Dream, Discover the Prestige Holidays way and let us help plan your next adventure!
-Lee Hamilton, Escorted Tours Manager