So you’ve decided to book a group tour. Perhaps you are a teacher or a school administrator, or maybe you just have a big family!.. There are several big companies out there that go to hundreds of destinations. They have very seductive advertising, and some even give bonuses (commissions) to teachers if you book with them. As tempting as travel with one of these big companies may seem, I want to give you my advice on why booking with a small travel agency or local company is a much better option.
- Throughout the booking process, you will be dealing with human beings instead of company policies and automation.
“Please dial 1 if you would like to make a booking, please dial 2 if you would like to change your booking, please dial 3 if you have already wasted 30 minutes on this phone call and just want your money back.” We have all been frustrated beyond belief with these types of phone calls. Talking to an actual human being is a miracle. And, once you finally get that person on the phone, they tell you, “sorry, that is against our company policies.” When you work with a small tour agency, you will often be booking with one of the owners of the company or, someone who is sitting right next to the owner. As a small business owner, my priority is understanding and working with each person’s particular needs. It truly brings me joy to come up with a solution together with my client.
- Local companies have personal relationships with the communities and providers of the country they are working in.
Oftentimes, I work with a community that actually feels like they are part of my family. I know their homes, their extended family, their dreams, their successes, and their hardships. We have been through good times and bad. We call each other and check up on each other during, say, a pandemic. These same communities also sometimes work with large companies. I have seen on a first-hand basis how these companies roll up in large tour buses and unload huge groups. The guides don’t know the community members by name. They eat lunch, and then head off to the next thing. There is no connection, no authenticity. It is something the large company can check off their list. “Yep, we took you to an indigneous local community. Done.”
When you travel with a small company, you get to know the country like they do. You learn about people’s lifestyles, their families, their hopes and dreams and their hardships. It is real and you make profound connections with that community.
- You run the show, not the tour company!
A small company can offer something those large agencies can’t: flexibility. The big guys sell you a package, and can sometimes do an upgrade or an “add on.” But, if there is something you think would be interesting to do outside of the itinerary they offer, forget about it. They often don’t know the destinations that they are selling to you. They might have traveled there once or even a few times, but they don’t know what else that country has to offer. When you travel with a local business, the owners have usually lived and worked in the country for years. They know hidden gems that aren’t even in the guide books. If you say, for example, “ hey, is there a waterfall that we could go to?” Even if it is not on the itinerary, most likely, the small company will say, “oh yeah, I can take you to the local watering hole that tourists rarely visit.” Adventures can pop up out of nowhere. You can end up somewhere that few foreigners have seen, because it is a local’s spot.
This is related to reason number 3 but deserves a point of its own. Let’s say you are really interested in poetry. Your dream vacation would be to go to a foreign country and go from one poetry slam to the next. You also would love to visit antique bookstores that might have old poetry that is difficult to find online or in other larger bookstores. You can’t exactly go to a large company and say, “I want a poetry tour of Ecuador.” They might say, “well here’s our itineraries and we can stop by Guayasumin’s house and there is some poetry there. “ But, that is not exactly what you had in mind. If you were to ask us, we would respond, “great, let’s talk to a friend who is an expert in poetry in Quito. We will make this happen!” The possibilities are endless with small companies, whereas larger ones must create limitations to be successful/ stay competitive.
- You will walk away with true friendships
I have stayed in the homes of many past clients. I have gone on rock climbing trips, yurt trips, and lunches with past clients. We call each other on special occasions. My participants know my husband and my dog. Instead of being “clients”, they are now a part of my community. Small companies are just that: small, but with strong communities. They are a sum of the wisdom and experiences of the people who have participated on trips. They are a product of everybody’s knowledge and each participant has helped build that small tour company. If you want to be a part of something larger than yourself, and actually have a lasting impact, you should definitely travel with a small company.