Research, Compare, and Select the Best Tour Operator by Knowing the Right Questions To Ask.

It is summer vacation planning time again and knowing how to find and vet the best options is an important step. Following are Ten Tips to take you from research to R&R as you strategize when and where to spend precious vacation time and dollars.

“A little time and energy spent on the front end helps ensure the vacation of your dreams. “The planning process should be a fun part of the overall experience,”” says Dan Austin, owner of Austin-Lehman Adventures (ALA), named the World’’s Best Tour Operator by the readers of Travel + Leisure magazine for the past two consecutive years.

To help guide you through the maze of vacation options, the tour experts at Austin-Lehman Adventures offer these useful tips when starting the trip planning process:

#1 Build Files Organize brochures, maps, notes from conversations to website links.

#2 Google is Your Friend! 96% of all travel research is now done online. Use “long tail” search terms to hone in on your questions such as: “Best family adventure vacation to Yellowstone.” Bookmark the better sites you visit. 

#3 Shop for Information off-line Pick up travel magazines and regional guides reflecting your interests. Talk to friends and co-workers. Visit your local travel counselor for input.

#4 Create a bucket list Create a list of dream destinations and activities; cut it to a short list. Use logic. Is Mexico too hot in summer? Maybe. Then consider fall travel. Keep track of your thinking and why.

#5 Who Gets Your Business? Seek tour operators specializing in the kinds of vacations on your short list. Again, Google is your friend. For example, search for “best bike tour operator in Italy” and note results. Pour through travel magazines that often list the “best of the best” in special annual editions. Look for them online. In the end you will have created a list of operators that best match your short list of destinations and activities.

#6 Work Your Shorts List! With your A-list of destinations/activities and tour operators, begin emailing or calling. Track all interactions. If a company fails to get back to you in a timely manner and/or fails to answer your questions accurately and thoroughly, do you really want to trust your vacation to them? The best will rise to the top. 

#7 Ask Questions How long has the tour operator been in business? Is the owner involved in day-to-day operations? Does the company run its own tours or outsource? What are deposit/cancellation/trip insurance/satisfaction guarantee policies? What happens to a small group trip if nobody else signs up? Who takes these trips, what is average group size and guide-to-guest ratio? 

#8 Ask About Specific Tours/Itineraries How long has the tour operator been running a particular trip? What is/isn’t included? Where does trip begin and end and how do you get there? What’s the best time of year to visit? What’s a typical day and how many miles daily, on average, of biking, hiking, paddling? Describe the accommodations, amenities and food? Why is your trip so special and why are you the best tour operator to travel with?

#9 Digest and Summarize Digest and quantify everything learned. Narrow it down to a couple of options. Review final concerns, make some final calls, remove all doubt.

#10 Book Em! Make sure everyone agrees, pick up the phone and confidently book the trip!


About Austin-Lehman Adventures

Austin-Lehman Adventures, with a 37-year legacy, provides adventure vacations on five continents, has built an international reputation for small group active travel to destinations in North, Central and South America, Europe, the Pacific Rim and Africa. The company specializes in adult and family multi-sport, hiking, biking vacations that emphasize history, culture and nature’s charms. Trips are limited to 12 guests (18 on family departures) and feature excellent regional dining, distinctive accommodations and all-inclusive rates and services. In addition to scheduled group departures, ALA offers customized trip planning. ALA offers each traveler a money-back satisfaction guarantee.


Source: Austin-Lehman Adventures

Photo: Courtesy Austin-Lehman Adventures

1 Comment

Ellen Barone has been creating words and images for travel and tourism since 1998. She co-founded and publishes the group travel blog and is currently at work on her first book "I Could Live Here".