By guest blogger Phyllis Stoller
If you're considering going on a professionally-arranged group tour, there are key things to ask about in the first ten minutes of your research. Here are the 10 most important things to consider:
1. References: Make sure the references the wholesaler gives you are for similar groups to yours. Example: if they only take European travelers, you might find group needs differ from those of Americans.
2. Small print averse? At least read cancellation penalties and figure how much you can lose if your trip does not meet its numbers. Airline ticket cancellations are usually the surprise loss. Note: a substantial group organizer will have some pull and flexibility with your hotel/airline choices.
3. Hotel quality: Google the hotel used in the capital city on the itinerary for a general flavor. If the hotel is a condition of your contract, make that clear up front. Many group contracts only specify X hotel or similar.
4. Red flag the word "from" on pricing. It means you are looking at the lowest price.
5. Trip pace: If breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included, you'll be on a leisurely moving trip. I recommend usually 2 meals a day for groups over 25; it moves the trip along. Ask where the meals are held: hotel or restaurant.
6. Financial security: Most group deposits are payable by check only, so credit card acceptance will not gauge financial stability of your wholesaler. But check for travel insurance availability and, if the group tour organizer/operator offers insurance, make sure you know the name of the insurer.
7. Trip length: Forget number of days, most wholesalers include "travel days."
8. Check trade association memberships like ASTA, BBB, and length of time the company has been doing groups exclusively. Many agents doing individual reservations will tell you they also do groups. Other gauges: a 24-hour emergency number, ability to issue tickets themselves, country specialists, pre-printed customized labels, luggage tags, etc. will tell you this is a real company.
9. Prompt responses from the company mean they are group-friendly. Prompt email responses means they cater to Internet savvy travelers.
10. Customer service: Check that the company has a street address and more than one person in their group department.
Get a few quotes and don't be shy to ask for more information on any issue.
Phyllis Stoller has been a group tour organizer for 15 years and is currently President of Women's Travel Club, wholesale operator and largest such group for women in North America. For 15 years Women's Travel Club has run group trips for women.