Comment: What agents really want to know about escorted tours

Newmarket Holidays’ Richard Forde dispels 10 misconceptions about the sector

There’s so much more to package holidays than fly-and-flop beach breaks. An escorted tour could take travellers on a train adventure across the Scottish Highlands, on a small boat tour of Spain, or give solo travellers the confidence to explore India, all with like-minded travellers and the full financial protection that packages afford.

Every month my team and I visit around 300 travel agencies across the UK, and the same questions crop up regularly when we talk about escorted tours. These are the answers that every travel agent needs to know:

1. What’s the benefit of an escorted tour?
Unlike the usual holiday package, escorted tours are meticulously curated journeys. The emphasis isn’t just on visiting a destination but immersing oneself in its culture and history, with a knowledgeable guide who can help travellers get under the skin of their location and ensure a hassle-free experience by providing recommendations, advice and bridging language barriers. And because tours benefit from group rates, they are great value for money.

2. How have escorted tours changed?
There’s a shift towards ensuring travellers have genuine local experiences to understand the essence of a place beyond its touristy veneer. Recognising the diverse budgetary needs of travellers, escorted tours have become more varied in pricing, with luxury options, mid-range tours, and even budget-friendly choices for the widest possible audience. There is also a growing emphasis on sustainability and many escorted tour companies now focus on accommodation that has clear sustainability goals, promote local businesses and educate travellers on responsible travel practices to ensure minimal environmental and cultural impact.

3. How do escorted tours handle local experiences?
Escorted tours put a strong emphasis on authentic local experiences. Carefully crafted itineraries and local guides ensure that travellers not only visit the popular spots but also the hidden gems of a destination, meeting local craftspeople, have dinner in a family home, or learning about traditional customs and ceremonies.

4. Are escorted tours rigid in terms of itinerary?
This is a common misconception. While escorted tours do have planned itineraries to ensure travellers get the most out of their journey, there’s are lots of extras that are optional, with time in the itinerary for guests to explore at their own pace. Think of it as a structured yet flexible way of experiencing a destination: the key highlights are covered, but there’s room for spontaneous discovery.

5. How does group size affect the experience?
The beauty of escorted tours is that they cater to various group sizes. Our own tours range from small groups to up to 40 passengers, and the experience is tailored to provide personal attention and camaraderie to ensure guests always have the opportunity for diverse interactions, often leading to lasting friendships.

6. What about solo travellers?
Escorted tours are perfect for solo travellers, and we’ve seen this sector grow significantly over the past few months. Tours give single travellers the confidence to explore wishlist locations, often going beyond the usual guidebook destinations, with the community and security of a like-minded group.

7. How does pricing compare to independent travel?
A carefully curated tour that includes accommodation, transportation, most meals, entrance fees to attractions, and the invaluable presence of a guide, often provides more bang for your buck than piecing together an itinerary independently. It takes the stress out of organising a complex trip, plus there’s full financial protection in case of any unexpected changes.

8. Which destinations are most popular?
The escorted tours market is truly international, with staycations, Europe’s most popular destinations and far-flung long-haul options all available. The benefits for guests are usually twofold: there’s a wide range of tours and activities included in their break, so they can see and experience more than if they are travelling alone, and they are travelling with other people, which provides a great sense of community and security for older travellers who may be holidaying on their own.

9. Can children join a tour?
Yes, escorted tours aren’t only for older travellers. Multi-generational bookings are another growth area for group travel, especially for families celebrating milestone occasions. Safaris are especially popular – look for ‘family friendly’ tags to assess the suitability of a chosen tour.

10. How does the tour handle unexpected situations or emergencies?
The presence of a tour manager ensures that immediate action is taken, and having a team that understands the local systems and language proves invaluable in such situations. Most tour operators, including Newmarket Holidays, have 24/7 support lines for emergencies.

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