Let’s face it, when it comes to student travel, we are all aware that cost is one of the most important issues – now more than ever. It’s easy to get excited by a brochure that offers your group 5 days in New York for $995, or a week in London for $1299 (both offers I have recently seen), but when you look beyond those headlines, any other offer that seems a little too good to be true probably is. Regardless of where you are considering traveling with your group, or what type tour you are planning, there are a number of questions that I always recommend you ask:
- What hotel are we staying at? If you are not familiar with the hotel, ask about its location. Staying in New Jersey, or the Garment District, is NOT the same as staying in the heart of the theater district or by Lincoln Center. Often tour operators will promise you will be staying in a “centrally located 3-star hotel”. What does centrally located really mean? What does 3-star really mean? I would never book a group tour without a written guarantee of the specific hotel in which my group will be staying. If you are dealing with a tour operator who can’t provide you with that kind of guarantee – find someone else to help you.
- What shows are we GUARANTEED tickets to? What is the location of those seats? One of the biggest factors in pricing a performing arts tour is the location of seating and selection of specific performances. Can your tour operator guarantee, in writing, that you have tickets to your preferred shows? Can they tell you what area of the theater your seats are in? There is a huge difference in hearing “We have confirmed seats in the Orchestra for West Side Story and 33 Variations with Jane Fonda” and “Tickets to One Broadway Musical, One Broadway Play.” The most common complaint we hear from teachers is that before working with us, they often did not get to see the shows they requested, or they did not get the type of seats they expected. A reputable tour operator will tell you what they can guarantee, and what is pending. It is not unusual for a tour proposal to leave some for future confirmation, especially when it comes to performance tickets. New shows are announced all the time, and shows sometimes close before anticipated. That being said, a tour operator should always be able to guarantee the category of seating your group will receive, even if you may choose your shows at a later date. Never accept a tour itinerary that says “tickets to 3 Broadway shows.” Find out: what shows (when possible), what type of shows if the specific shows are not yet confirmed (because musicals are typically more expensive than plays, opera tickets are more expensive than tickets to the ballet, etc.); and always get a guarantee of the seating locations/price category or you may be in for an unwelcome surprise.
- How many and what day tours are included as part of the program? Many brochures list multiple sights and neighborhood tours as being included in a tour program when in fact, it would be impossible to tour all of them in a few days. Others indicate ‘visits’ to neighborhoods which really aren’t really tours at all. Make sure you have complete control over your day tours, and that your tour coordinator is willing to work with you to customize your program based on your interests. You’ll quickly find that when you start customizing the pre-priced packages offered by some companies, they aren’t quite the bargains that they may have seemed to be!
- Ask for what you want! Remember that it is your tour. You should work with a tour operator who is willing to bend over backwards to make your program an incredible experience for your group. But… BEWARE of a tour operator who blindly says that anything is possible. Look for a tour coordinator who knows your destination well enough to give you a realistic sense of how much you can see during your stay, and how long it takes to get from place to place. It is one thing to make your tour ‘action-packed’; it is another to try to do too much and not really have a chance to enjoy any of it! Find a tour coordinator that you are comfortable discussing your preferences with, and who can offer you options that fit within your budget.
- What will give you peace of mind? Planning a tour for your group is a big responsibility. First and foremost – find a company and a tour coordinator that you are comfortable with, and ask for references. In addition, see what sort of insurance your tour operator provides. At Pro Musica, we offer a comprehensive package for students that includes cancellation insurance due to illness, protection against trip cancellation due to terrorism, and even protection from the default of a travel provider. As some very prominent tour companies and airlines have gone bankrupt in recent years, this sort of insurance can provide additional peace of mind for parents, principals and school boards. (Offering this sort of coverage doesn’t imply that a company is not secure; rather, it means the company is looking out for its clients best interests regardless of what might unexpectedly happen down the road.) If the tour operator you are working with doesn’t offer you the peace of mind you need, look into other options.
- Shop around! If you are considering traveling anywhere, you will likely get quotations from different tour companies. Compare those proposals, and if they do not contain enough detail (i.e. specific hotel, shows, seating location, tour details etc.) insist on getting that information in writing. If a tour operator cannot or will not provide you with this detail, you cannot really compare one quote to another.
There is no reason to be unpleasantly surprised at any time during your tour. A good tour operator knows your destination and bends over backwards to give you what you want. At the same time, a good tour operator doesn’t make false promises. If something is pending in your itinerary, that should be completely clear. Pending items should also have some qualifications and not be completely up to the discretion of the tour operator. During the planning and contracting stage for a group tour, there is no reason that you should not feel completely confident about what your group is going to get for their money. If you have doubts or questions, get answers to those questions and erase the doubts. If you can’t get the answers you need – look elsewhere!