Our Tips for Searching for Great Tour Companies
Our lives are becoming increasingly busier which means many of us find it impossible to match schedules with friends and partners.
For some of us this means that travelling and holidaying alone has become the norm and the demand for great tour companies continues to rise.
If you’re looking to escape to some far-flung exotic location then tour companies are a great option if you’re travelling solo or in a couple and are looking to meet people to share your experience with.
Tour companies also provide the advantage of local knowledge meaning you get to do more, see more and experience more without the headache brought on by hours of researching, planning and trying to book things by using Google Translate.
You work hard enough all year, right?
But there are different kinds of tours and packages out there, so make sure you do your homework.
Fortunately, we’re here to give you a headstart on your research.
We’re going to be taking a look at the different types of tour companies available and how to best choose the right match for you.
Who Are We?
We are Steve and Marcela – a 30-something British / Colombian married couple and founders of Other Way Round.
We have travelled extensively throughout the world – often using tour companies to facilitate our trips – before deciding to take the plunge ourselves and start our very own travel tour company here in Colombia.
We’ve experienced the full variety of tour companies out there – the good, the bad and the distinctly average – and so here we share some of the tips we’ve picked up along the way.
Different Tour Companies and What They Offer
Have a quick Google search for ‘different type of tour companies’ or ‘different type of tour operators’ and you will no doubt be bombarded with a bunch of rather generic travel industry terms which don’t quite tell you very much.
‘Travel agents’, ‘mass market tour operators’, ‘specialist tour operators’, ‘outbound tour operators’, ‘inbound tour operators’, ‘ground operator’, ‘domestic tour operators’, ‘direct sell tour operators’, ‘retail tour operators’, ‘wholesale tour operators’,
and the list goes on.
Honestly, we’re in the industry and still don’t make sense of it all.
What does it actually all mean for you, as a traveller, looking to book an awesome vacation?
Generally speaking, we’ve found that you have these four main options –
1. The classic package holiday
Not really a ‘tour’ at all but we thought worth mentioning.
You know the sort.
You walk into a travel agent (yes, they still exist) or find a package holiday online which typically includes flights, accommodation, airport transfers, sometimes food and drink and then you spend your entire vacation more or less laying by the pool surrounded by other people from your home country.
And you know there will definitely be some form of karaoke involved!
2. Day tours or trips
Sort out the big ticket items yourself – flights, hotels, transport, meals etc… – and bolt on a some ‘day trips’ with the local experts.
They could be a local guide or niche experiences like walking tours, hiking tours, biking tours, boat rides, food tasting experiences and a whole lot more.
The majority of these type of tours will normally appear in local guide books and on travel booking sites.
If you have everything else covered for your travels but want an excursion or two to a specific place then these guys are the tour operators you need.
3. Country specialist tour operators
You typically have to make your own way there and back (i.e. book your own international flights) but they will then take care of everything else from the moment you land.
They will arrange things like transport, accommodation, activities, experiences and often provide vital translation services helping you to get around.
These companies are typically run by locals who know their own country inside out.
4. Multi-destination tour operators
These tour operators typically promote and sell tours in many locations around the world, often partnering with the local ‘country specialist tour operators’ for actual execution on the ground.
They typically cover everything involved in the trip and specialise in bringing together groups of like-minded travellers.
What Type of Tour Company is Other Way Round ?
We don’t particularly think we fit completely into any one of the specific categories above – we probably sit somewhere between 3 and 4.
In our experience the country specialist tour operators are a great option for getting you around and taking the hassle out of travel, but they do tend to be more generic one-size-fits all tours and less concerned with the social element of group travel.
And while the multi-destination operators do tend to put a lot more emphasis on bringing together like-minded groups, they don’t specialise in one particular region or country meaning that their tours can sometimes become a box-ticking exercise of the main tourist sites.
We feel that we offer the best of both worlds.
We absolutely know Colombia inside out and can therefore take our guests to the less explored locations but at the same time are also super focused on bringing together people of a similar age and with a similar philosophy on travel
We put great emphasis on creating a social environment where our trips become more about the overall group travel experience rather than just going to see a bunch of sites.
We are an immersive tour company.
We organise transport, accommodation, experiences and activities, specialising in travelling around Colombia, acting as the group’s personal tour guide and interpreter.
Think of us as travelling with your buddy who has that local insider knowledge.
In other words we don’t just deal with the logistics of the trip.
We travel with you throughout and use our knowledge of the country to show visitors a more realistic side to Colombia.
Our Tips for Searching for Great Tour Companies
1. Make sure they REALLY know the country they’re taking you to
There’s nothing worse than being promised a trip of lifetime only to realise that you’re constantly bumping into other tour groups.
Ever get that feeling you’re on a conveyor belt?
However, if you choose a tour company with in-depth local knowledge then they should know where to take you that’s a little more adventurous and away from the crowds of tourists.
This is an essential tip if you’re looking to get an authentic feel for a place.
If this is your objective then make sure the company you choose really are experts in the destinations they advertise (and not just claim that they are).
2. Culturally aware
Another important aspect of knowing a country inside out is having a good understanding of the cultural norms, the do’s and don’ts, and the etiquette that should be upheld.
We personally believe that as visitors to another country, you should respect their cultural differences and embrace their customs wholeheartedly.
Getting involved and being respectful will make you way more approachable for the locals and you’ll ultimately get a lot more from your holiday.
If your tour company can’t tell you about correct etiquette then they probably aren’t too familiar with the country they’re taking you too.
For example, on our Colombia tours we’ll tell you how to dress appropriately to fit in – like wearing jeans in Medellin – and why you should avoid Pablo Escobar tours out of respect for the locals.
Be sure to look for tour companies or guides that ARE locals or have a vested interest in the place.
Nail this and you’ll stand a better chance of getting up close and personal with the locals and away from the tourist traps.
3. Responsible tourism
Do your research and find out what efforts they make to minimise the impact of tourism whether it be to reduce carbon footprint or make a positive social impact in the communities they visit.
Do they give something back to the locals?
Do they educate you about the history, culture and social challenges that the county faces?
Here at Other Way Round, as well as taking our travellers to visit various inspiring social transformation projects in Colombia; for every tour booked with us we give a portion to our partner charity Poder Joven.
This is an important charity very close to our hearts.
For several months, we volunteered at Poder Joven and got the chance to experience firsthand the amazing work they do for the youths affected by displacement, poverty, social degradation and parental separation in Colombia.
If this is something that’s as important to you, then it’s well worth looking into.
4. Incredible itineraries
When looking for a tour company you want to make sure that their itineraries are, well, out of this world. The key things to look out for are:
- Activities that fill you with excitement:
Maybe you’re an adrenaline junky; love to hike; to bike; are a foodie; love the buzz of big cities; want to explore quaint little villages; are all about the nightlife; prefer to relax and soak up the sun; or are up for a little bit of everything.
Make sure that the activities listed in the itinerary leave you counting down the days until the trip begins.
- Off the beaten track:
The best thing about opting to go on holiday with a great tour company should be their ability to get you away from the typical tourist traps.
Dissect their itineraries to see if the things included are things that you’d struggle to organise yourself.
This will also give you a good indication of their local knowledge and their ability to arrange logistics in the local language.
- Include YOU time:
By far the best itineraries will be those that include plenty of time to relax with ample opportunity to break away from the group and explore your own personal interests.
Yes, a packed itinerary may look great on paper, but in reality you tend to miss out on actually experiencing the place when everything is just a fly by.
If you don’t see any time on the itineraries allocated to down time then ask the tour company what they have in mind before making your decision.
If you’re going abroad and you’re short on time you’ll probably want to make sure that absolutely everything is already planned and booked by the tour company so that you can just rock up and enjoy the experience.
At OWR our tours include all meals, activities and internal travel so that you can just show up and enjoy, rather than worrying about where you’re going next and how you’re going to pay for it.
5. The people
Take a look at the tour companies you have in mind by examining their photos and reviews.
I know we shouldn’t ever judge a book by its cover but this will give you a good idea about the type of people who go on their tours and the type of people you’d be travelling with.
Most tour companies will give you an overview of their typical travellers or travel style or who they are targeting.If you don’t feel that you fall into their niche then chances are you’re not going to find like-minded people on your holiday.
Don’t underestimate the importance of this point otherwise you may find yourself arriving to something akin to an 18-30 party holiday!
Now, this may have been exactly what you were looking for, but, if wet t-shirt competitions, all day drinking sessions, late starts and a ‘spring break’ crowd isn’t exactly your type of thing then we’d suggest really doing your research about who your prospective tour company is targeting.
Needless to say that OWR is NOT of the party holiday variety (although we do like to have fun)!
Most of our travellers are solo travellers, or in couples, in their late 20s-40s, and up for an adventurous experience packed with cultural encounters and authenticity.
6. Check out their ethos
Our main ethos, aside from offering an authentic experience of Colombia, is the social aspect of our tours.
We believe that while travelling alone is cool, travelling with a bunch of link-minded people is way better.
Imagine going to a brand new country and being able to share all of your new and amazing experiences with others. Besides, you really do need someone to take all of those awesome holiday snaps for you!
Since we are careful about the type of people we target for our tours we’ve always found that our travellers form hard and fast bonds.
Many of them connect with each other, enjoy each others company and some even form lifelong friendships.
7. What’s their personal backstory
Before buying from anyone it’s always good to know more about a business.
What are their motivations for doing what they do?
What can they offer you and how will their stories shape and influence your own experiences?
When researching tour companies look at their ‘about us’ page and be prepared to do some digging.
We recently dedicated an entire post to carefully explain why we do what we do. Take a look at our Travel Tour Company on a Mission to Share the REAL Colombia.
8. What is it you want from your trip?
Can they deliver?
Think carefully about what you want to get out you trip and whether a tour company is even the best option for you?
For example if you’re looking for some solitary space then perhaps any sort of tour is the wrong move.
9. What do other people say about them?
It probably goes without saying that you should always check some reviews.
They may have reviews on their website, on their social media pages or even on Google.
Travel forums and places like reddit are also really useful places for an independent investigation.
10. A dash of luxury
Along with all the other tips listed above we personally believe that it’s always nice to treat yourself to a little bit of luxury while on vacation.
Since we cater for busy, hard-working, professional people, we make sure that although you’re travelling, you’re not roughing it.
We carefully pick our accommodation so that you get a mix of authenticity combined with luxury. You won’t be sharing dorms or hostel rooms but instead staying in lovely boutique accommodations and eating at top-notch Colombian restaurants.
So make sure to ask your tour company about the type of accommodation they offer.
Making Your Decision
At the end of the day, the decision about which tour company you choose is down to personal preference.
However, it is definitely in your interest to do as much research as possible on the tour company to ensure that their itineraries, ethos, and the people they attract on their tours is in keeping with your own ideals.
Making sure that your tour company has local knowledge is in our opinion probably the most important thing if you want an authentic and truly immersive experience.
Without a good understanding of the country, local know-how and even the language it would be hard for any tour operator to provide you with something other than a trip taken straight from the guide books.
If you’re wondering what Colombia has to offer as a destination then check out the reasons it’s regarded as one of the best holiday destinations.
And if you want to come to Colombia, travel with some awesome people and experience the REAL insider version of Colombia then go check out our Colombia tours.