How to choose the best group tour
The “best” of anything is always hard to determine. Everyone wants value and great experiences but we're all different. With group tour companies, "the best" for you might not be the same for someone else. The best of anything is subjective. When trying to find the tour that will give you an outstanding experience, check the details! It's sometimes the small things that make or break a trip. Read on to find out how to evaluate your options and find the group tour that will be the best fit for your next holiday
We’ve used our many years of experience as travellers and tour operators to present a guide to choosing the best tour group. Use this guide for your travels anywhere in the world. We all have different tastes and preferences but there’s a wide variety of tour options out there so don’t settle for second best. A combination of the most reputable tour operator and your personal preferences is the key to happy group tour travels.
Research your tour options:
Step 1. Find the main group tour operators for your destination
Research the options. Start with a Google search for group tour companies. For adventure tours around India, try “adventure tours India”. If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand and the young backpacker crowd is not your thing try “new zealand group tours comfort”.
Find a few tour operators that look interesting and add them to your list.
Step 2. Take a closer look at one tour from each company
Check Google reviews and Facebook reviews to see what people are saying about the companies you’ve chosen. This will give you an idea of what past customers liked (and disliked). Even if you're not totally sure this is the tour for you yet, just start looking to see if you like the feel and style of the trip. Unfortunately TripAdvisor don't allow multi day tour companies to list on their site, so you'll have to check other sources for reviews.
Ask as many questions as you need to. If the tour company is dismissive or unclear in its responses, then find a company happy to help. Of course not everything is possible, but a tour operator’s willingness to help is a sign of professionalism and standards.
Step 3. Evaluate
This is where an excel spreadsheet or notebook might come in handy. Jot down the pros and cons. The following section will help you choose which important points to include. Once you've found a few options you think might be a good fit, now's the time to start diving a little deeper.
How to choose the right tour company
You don’t have to include everything in this list. Some might not be important for your needs. And it shouldn’t take too long to decide. Seeing everything written for comparison will help the decision process.
Joining a group of 100 people might seem exciting when you’re, say, 20 years old. More mature travellers will generally avoid large groups. Ask or find the size of the group tours because if crowds bother you, the small group tours are the obvious choice.
- Small tour groups advantages: more personalised, better individual attention, faster travel.
- Large tour groups advantages: opportunities to meet more people, enjoy cheaper activities and tour prices, more variety.
Group tour price, included extras and tax
Price is important. Nobody likes to spend more than they should and everyone wants to feel like they are getting value for money.
But price alone should not be the only factor. The tour with the highest price might also include all taxes, and trip/activity costs. Low-cost tours often have hidden expenses that could well add up to make them not so economical. Make sure you have a detailed breakdown of what’s included and what’s excluded from the cost of the tour.
Handy questions to ask
- Are activity costs (local tour, attraction entry, excursions, events) included in the tour price? If not, what should you expect to pay
- Are meals included? What is the typical meal cost on the trip?
- Are hotels included and are they listed on the itinerary before booking?
- Are the hotels far from the town/attraction/transport?
- Is tipping (to the tour guides and the local businesses) expected?
- Is tax included on both the trip price and the daily expenses?
Don’t like the exact routes that a company offers? Talk to the organisers and find out if they offer customised tours. Is the itinerary flexible? Some travelers prefer a fixed, rigid schedule but others like to leave the possibility of serendipity spicing up their travels. With flexible tours, you have the option to spend more time at that beautiful lakeside retreat, enjoy another day at that winery, or spend more time relaxing in a mountain spa after a wilderness trek.
Maybe you’d prefer to alter the route and check out a place you hear about mid-tour. Flexible itineraries and schedules give you more scope to explore and discover something special.
It’s often the case that the most memorable parts of a trip can be the unexpected sights and unplanned events. Leaving room for improvisation is, for most people, the best option. You’ll have the chance to experience things unique to your particular trip. Great for the stories you’ll be telling back home.
How do you like to travel? By bus, bike, car, camper van, train, or plane?
Self-drive is a great option for the adventurous. Campervans give you the freedom to travel at your pace and spend more time outdoors. Tour buses are great for relaxing, enjoying the view, and having a stress-free holiday. Train travel brings a touch of nostalgic old-world travel to your trip. Travelling by air is the fastest but also the one with the fewest options.
An important point to remember: the world is split into two camps. Those that drive on the right-hand side and those that drive on the left. The United States, most of Europe, Asia, and South America drive on the right side of the road. The UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Japan, and a few other countries are left-hand-side drivers. If you’re not confident with switching sides, then self-drive might not be the best option. However, it’s not hard to change, and it doesn’t take long before it feels natural. But we know that this could be a deciding factor for some people.
Food & drink
This is especially important if you have particular requirements. Vegetarians, vegans and people with allergies/intolerances will want to get details of the meals beforehand. If you’re a big meat eater or you like a glass of wine with dinner, then it’s worth finding out where and when you can indulge. Ending your evening’s travel in your style makes the trip more enjoyable.
Location, location, accommodation
If a place to rest your head at night is included in the tour, ask the organisers for the accommodation details. Is it self-catering, 4-star hotel, bed & breakfast, or otherwise? If something doesn’t suit you, ask if you can change a night or two.
Find out if you have the option to book your own accommodation if desired.
Local v overseas leaders
Many people think the best tour guides are locals. The locals have the advantage of insider information. Their level of understanding of the country, customs, and culture would take outsiders years to match.
But it’s not that cut and dry. Tour leaders from other countries have first-hand knowledge of how visitors experience the country. Sometimes the people that know a city or area best are the expats. They arrive with fresh eyes and absorb the new information better than the locals. A mix of local and international leaders might just be the ideal situation.
When it comes to the tour lead, visitors from the United States to a European country might feel more comfortable dealing with a North American tour leader. The language barrier won’t be too much of an issue when visiting Australia, New Zealand, the UK or Ireland, but sometimes that familiarity is a nice thing to have.
Environmental awareness, sustainability, and eco-responsibility.
This words weight heavy with the weight of the world’s environmental challenges. We all want to do our part for the environment. As travellers and tourists, we understand the importance of minimising the environmental impact of travel. Check your tour operators website for information on their commitment to sustainability. Does the company take pride in the country? Do they work with local government departments when accessing important ecological areas? Is the company ethical?
This might not first on your list, but once you’ve enjoyed a visit to a country, you might wonder about your trip’s environmental impact. Responsible businesses take issues of the environment seriously. They understand that without proper management and care, there won't be anything worth visiting for future generations.
Online reviews are great for getting a feel for any business. Read the positive reviews but don't forget to check the negative reviews (if any) and see what made reviewers unhappy. Sometimes companies receive unfair reviews for situations beyond their control or for things unrelated to the management. So it’s worth reading the text and not just the rating or 'number of stars'.
Facebook & Google reviews are probably the most reliable places to look these days. As we said above TripAdvisor don't allow multi-day tour operators to list on their site so Facebook and Google are probably the best places for real independent reviews, but there are other options around.
Found a bad review? Try to understand the situation and see if the tour company responded. How did they react? With courtesy, apathy, or anger? You can tell a lot about a person or business by how they respond to criticism.
Reach out to previous tour clients on Facebook and ask them about their experiences. We recommend caution with that one. It can be effective. If the person has left a review online, they are probably happy to answer questions.
A good trustworthy tour company won’t hide their reviews, but make sure you can see independent reviews from real customers on their trips. Here’s where ours live.
What kind of people are on the trips?
Do you prefer to travel with like-minded people who share the same kind of travel style or are you interested in meeting people with different backgrounds and travel preferences?
Couples often prefer to travel with other couples. Young solo backpackers gravitate towards their own demographic. The over-50s rarely travel with the boisterous under-25 solo travellers. If you can't find what you're looking for, contact the tour operators.
Take a look on the tour company’s website or social media pages to see what kind of people are on the trips. This is a really good way to tell if you’ll fit in or not. Good tour company’s always make it really transparent and easy to see what kind of people are on their trips. To see who’s on our trips, take a look at our latest tour galleries here.
Reputation & history
We like to support new startups and budding entrepreneurial ventures in New Zealand and the rest of the world. But we don’t recommend taking chances on a brand-new travel tour operator unless you don’t mind the potential for logistic problems and you're not risk-averse. In any case, this might be better suited to young, solo travellers. For everyone else, not having to worry if your accommodation is booked or not or whether the bus arrives on time, is a load off the mind.
Choose an established company that has the systems in place to deal with unexpected events, changes in plan, and has established itineraries that people love.
Read the company’s website and look for the About page or the Contact page. How long has the business been in operation? If they’re not bragging about it, then it’s probably not long. A tour group business that has been around for 10, 20, or 30 years is doing everything right.
Are the owners local? Do they get involved with the day-to-day operations? Are they passionate travellers? Do they like to meet people? Find out what kind of culture the owners promote and see if it matches your values. Do you want to travel with the multinational Anonymous Corp. Inc, or a local business run by enthusiastic and friendly people.
Do the tours look fun?
Who doesn’t like some fun in their lives? We’re sure you will not want to spend your vacation time on a hum-drum, by the numbers tour. The element of fun can be the difference between a good tour and the best tour.
If you don’t get the feeling right away that a tour will be a fun experience check the reviews again and look for mentions of the words “fun”, “exciting”, “laugh”, and “adventure”. Contact the tour guides and ask them about some fun activities. Their response will give you a good idea of how much they value the fun element of their work.
Again, take a look at the latest pictures the company are posting on their website or social media pages, this is a really easy way to see how much fun is happening out there.
Commissions and shopping
If you’ve travelled anywhere in developing countries you might have noticed that your drivers, tour operators, or guides brought you to their preferred restaurant or shop during your trip. There’s a good chance they were rewarded by the business owners for bringing paying customers. This happens in developed countries too. In fact, affiliate commissions and deals between tour companies and hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions is a big thing. It’s a way for both parties to make money. But it can come at the expense of the group tour clients who might not get the best experience available.
It’s almost impossible to find out if arrangements between the tour company and the businesses they visit exist. However the more ethical the company, the less chance of this happening. Ask to eat in another restaurant or shop in another store/area if you’re not happy with it. If the price seems high, feel free to go somewhere else. If the tour guide isn’t taking commissions he won’t have a problem with this.
Final thoughts & advice
Ask yourself if you feel comfortable with this tour company. Are they friendly and relaxed with the sales pitch?. If the pitch sounds desperate, aggressive, or full of upsells, look elsewhere. This is your trip and you don’t want pushy operators creating a stressful environment.
Chat with the customer service or sales team and find out what kinds of people run the tours. An important question to ask is what kind of people take tours with this company. If you travel as a couple then you probably won’t want to be on a tour with one large ‘class reunion’ group. The point is, the tour group operators should be able to guide you and help you decide when and where to go. You will spend several weeks with the guides so you should feel like they have your back.
Choosing a group tour doesn’t have to be difficult
Start by deciding on the type of tour you prefer. It’s better to stick with a plan so that you can compare between tour group companies. A 5-day tour from one group tour company won’t be anything like a 30-day tour from another. Even if the price is the same. Pick a timeframe, choose the things you want to see, set a budget, and settle on preferred modes of transport. This makes it easier to find the right group for you. Go with your instincts and don’t sign up for something just because a sales agency sold you on the idea.
The best group tour for over 50s, for example, will in most cases be a company that specialises in tours designed for more senior travellers. Niche group tour organisers understand their ideal clients better than generalists. The more experienced leaders learn what their clients prefer and tailor the tours to suit them. In the end, the better a company can serve their clients, happier everyone is.
What's important for people when choosing a tour company?
Frank & Linda are a retired couple from sunny Florida, in the United States. They love to travel but like to leave the details to a professional local company. Having worked hard all their lives in high-stress jobs (doctors), they prefer to live the good life in their retirement. Neither of them wants to drive and they like a bit of pampering.
MoaTrek's clients rave about the luxury accommodation and small group tour sizes. This is perfect for Frank & Linda who are most happy away from crowds and free from the hassle of booking accommodation and transport.
Caroline from the UK, waited her entire life (50 years young) to visit New Zealand and she wants to make the most of it. She's into food, walking (tramping as we call it in NZ), and nice hotels. She'd prefer to save time on preparation but dislikes dealing with large crowds.
Small group tours with an emphasis on food, wine & the outdoors are the perfect choice for Caroline. At the end of a day of hiking or walking around vineyards, Caroline can enjoy delicious food and hospitality in a luxury New Zealand hotel.
We hope we’ve made it easy for you to choose a tour group. We’ve put together extensive handy information about MoaTrek tour timetables, our guests, attractions, tour dates, transfers and more on the website for everyone to read. Don’t forget to check the Review page where previous happy clients talk about what made their tour special.