You yearn to see the world–or at least the Grand Canyon. The problem is that your dream vacation would be difficult to organize and expensive to finance. The answer for many is group travel. Whether choosing a commercial package tour or one of the many other options, the benefits of group travel can make it the answer for those who want to see as much as they can and spend as little as possible to get there.
Today there are almost as many group travel options from which to choose as there are travelers. Group travel offers great variety, ranging from one-day bus trips to month-long (or longer) expeditions. Group travel offers the opportunity to see and do just about anything that one might desire on a vacation while eliminating much of the hassle of getting there and scheduling what to do once you arrive.
For instance, group travelers do not have to worry about keeping the car full of gas or arranging flight schedules. They do not have to hunt for hotels or pick the sites they want to visit. Indeed, group travelers often get preferential treatment, ranging from not have to wait in line at Customs to getting special behind-the-scenes tours not offered to individual travelers.
That does not mean that group travel is the answer to all vacationing problems. As with anything else, there are trade-offs to be made. Simply wading through the options for group travel could require enough decision-making to justify the getaway. There are also concerns about safety, particularly when traveling to foreign countries, and the reliability of the trip organizers must be considered.
Group travel packages often are aimed at those with a particular interest or hobby. On these tours, you have a ready-made group of friends with whom to travel. On any group trip you can be assured that there will be people around to share the experience.
There also is less risk, particularly for people with health concerns, since there always will be someone around should you need help or medical attention. Many tours also offer insurance so you will have financial protection should any problems occur.
This guide provides an overview of the benefits of group travel. It provides examples of what is available to the potential group traveler, discusses the aspects of group travel you need to consider before making a decision, and provides ideas for planning a group travel trip.
Types of Tours
Wanderlust strikes. You have to get out of town, but you don’t want to go alone. Be it for a couple of days or two weeks, you need a place to go and people to go with you. Choosing a group tour takes care of the companions, but where do you go?
These days the answer is, “Just about anywhere.” Group tours can be arranged to just about anywhere worth going. The difficult part now is choosing where. Air trips can be very involved, particularly taking into account security concerns. These are usually reserved for longer trips, usually a week or more, but many can be found for as short as a weekend.
These are some of the most elaborate packages available but certainly not only ones worth considering. Some of the most fun group travel experiences can have you back in your own bed the same night as you started.
Here is a list of suggestions that can be gotten from an Internet search or any rack of pamphlets at a travel agency
Cruises–This is a separate category of group travel unto itself. Groups can book passage on cruises to go anywhere there is water, up to and including Antarctica. While trips with destinations in the Caribbean might strike one’s fancy, cruises featuring whale watching off the shores of Alaska or New England also are popular.
Weekend Tours–These might lack the glamour of an airplane trip abroad but can be a lower cost answer for the quick getaway. If you live in the Midwest and long to see Dolly Parton in Branson, Missouri, you can get there easily by bus. Tour companies also offer weekend trips to sporting events, such as NFL football or major league baseball. On the other hand you might find yourself at the largest mall in North America for two days of shopping. These weekend trips usually include overnight hotel fees, tickets to the game or show, and possibly dinner reservations.
Day Trips–These outings get you there and get you back and usually are offered in areas near major resorts or attractions. Travelers do not have to worry about packing or checking into a hotel. They also do not have to worry about driving or paying attention to the road. For example, on the bus from Pensacola, Florida to the riverboat casinos in Biloxi, Mississippi, travelers get to play bingo to pass the time.
Boats and buses are the most common but not the only means of transportation for group tours. Train trips also are popular, whether chugging through the wilderness in Alaska or Canada to covering the countryside of Europe or Asia. Tour packages also can be arranged
Bang for the Buck
Perhaps the biggest advantage of choosing group travel is that it can be cheaper than traveling on your own. While the up-front price tag might seem large (even short excursions can cost more than $1,000), the actual cost of the trip as a whole usually is quite a bargain.
For instance, practically all hotels, particularly large hotels and resorts, offer group discount rates. Hotel managers need to keep as many rooms as possible full as much as possible and offering discounts to attract larger parties is a good way to do it. Group tour providers also often have special arrangements with specific hotels that reduce lodging costs more than normal group rates.
Group travelers also can benefit at hotels by not having to spend as much time in line at the check-in desk or by not having to lug their own baggage around the lobby. It also is not unusual for hotels to make special offers to groups, such as reduced rate tickets to near-by attractions or restaurants.
For example, you might think that the four- and five-star Radisson Edwardian Hotels in London would not need to go out of their way to attract guests, but the hotels offer discount rates for as few as a group of 15 people. In addition, they offer what they call “priority group check-in,” group meal service, and even theater tickets.
The same is true for air fare, often the most expensive part of “seeing the world.” While cheap rates can be found through the Internet, these fares only are for a short duration. Group air travelers get the discount and still book far in advance of when they want to leave. Group travelers also get these benefits without having to spend the time searching and comparing rates from various websites.
In addition to the lower air fares, group travelers often benefit by being able to get into and out of airports more quickly. Passing Customs can be streamlined for groups, and your luggage gets sent straight to your hotel with you on the group’s special bus. That means fewer porters and cab drivers to tip.
The financial benefits of group travel do not stop once your group gets to the hotel. Presumably travelers on a group tour have at least a few group activities or excursions planned as part of the trip, usually included in the price of the trip. These also usually come at a reduced rate. Beyond that, group travelers often receive reduced-price or free tickets to area attractions.
For example, groups visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., get a behind-the-scenes tour of the amusement park not offered to individual travelers. Stay at the right hotel and you will get discount tickets to all the Orlando-area major attractions, not just the Disney parks.
Travelers on group tours do surrender some flexibility of going where they want to when they want to in order to get these discounts. But, as in the case of the Disney tour, you get to experience some things individual travelers cannot even pay for.
Group Tour Companies
For most people, the first place to start looking for a group tour is through commercial tour companies. If not having to worry about the details is one of the benefits of group travel, then choosing which commercial group travel company to use can be one of the biggest headaches.
It would seem that the easiest way to choose a tour company would be to check with an established tour group association or industry trade group, but that can be just as confusing. There are dozens of local, regional, national, and international trade organizations. Perhaps it would be best to start looking at a more general level, such as the local tourism board or a broad-based organization like the Travel Industry Association of America. Another good source for news and information is CrossSphere, formerly called the National Tour Association. It bills itself as “the global association for packages travel.”
Another source to check is the tourism agency in the locale you plan to visit. While this might be more difficult for international travelers, remember that these so-called Destination Marketing Organizations, or DMOs, want you to get there safely and enjoy the trip so you will come back. Any negative comments from them about a tour company should be taken seriously.
An Internet search for group tour companies will bring up hundreds of results, many of which are specific to a certain destination or theme.
Aside from destination, tour companies also specialize in theme tours. Perhaps the most common of these are religious tour groups. These conduct trips to the Middle East and the Holy Lands of Christians, Jews, and Moslems. Other group tours visit holy sites around the world, and some companies specialize in helping groups set up “mission tours” to various spots around the world.
Tours based on special themes are even more varied and offer both long and short trips. While not too many people would want to book a weekend getaway to the Middle East, lots of people go off in groups for weekends at shopping meccas or to sporting events.
These shorter theme trips can be less structured than most group travel. For instance, a weekend getaway to a nearby NFL city might be based around the football game, but also might offer accommodations at a fancy hotel with reservations at a nice restaurant. While the sports fan is at the game, the rest of the family is free to see the sites, shop, or visit other tourist attractions in town.
Commercial tour companies also offer vastly different itineraries. Some tours schedule each day almost down to the hour and some just open the bus doors when you get there and do not bother you again until they herd you back on to leave.
Price is the governing factor here. If you want to pay for your fun all at once, shop for a tour that offers a lot as part of the package price. Otherwise, choose an open-ended tour that offers members of the group more free time, at the cost of having to pay for your thrills as you go.
One of the most attractive benefits of group travel is insurance. While most of us are sure to have insurance on our cars, houses and lives, few think to insure our vacations. Group travel companies allow you the option of buying temporary insurance that will pay for you to see a doctor if you get sick and even ensure that you get back home safely if you are badly injured.
The most widely known type of travel insurance is the life insurance you can buy at an airport that will pay off if the plane crashes, but this is not by any means the only type of policy available. These policies can be purchased by private groups taking trips and often are offered by tour providers as part of the tour package.
Although traveling as a group usually means you spend a lot of time in the company of others, knowing the tour provider has provisions for health care goes a long way to easing the concerns of people with special needs and conditions. Knowing that someone is there to help you if you get sick can take a lot of the worry out of travel, particularly on long trips where you are away from home, possibly in another country.
Basic group travel insurance policies pay for medical treatment, especially for international travel where your regular health insurance is likely no good, but the really valuable part of the deal is that it pays to get you home safely. In situations of serious injury or illness, the added cost of medical transportation can be quite high.
In addition to medical insurance, group tours also cover other potential mishaps, such as theft and weather emergencies. These benefits can include trip cancellation, trip interruption, lost and delayed baggage, travel delay, and other accidents, in addition to other medical or accidental death benefits.