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With tour companies proliferating online, it’s hard to tell one from another. These practical tips can help you narrow the list and find just the right travel provider for your dream vacation.

Does the company assign you a number?

Tour operators who offer truckloads of departures are either humongous and have tens of thousands of names in their database, or buy their tours from other companies and are merely order takers. They don’t know you from Adam, and while they might produce adequate – if impersonal – tours, you are just a number to them.

When you call, do you talk to someone familiar with you and the details of the tour program?

I have a colleague who owns a mid-sized tour company. He has six full-time reservationists who do nothing but answer the phone. You may think you know where this is going, but give me a minute: after 9/11 when the phones stopped ringing at travel companies throughout the world, he stubbornly clung to those employees because he had always provided a real person to answer his clients’ questions, and he wasn’t about to stop because the entire industry was in a tailspin. In the end he didn’t lay off a single worker, and his reputation for providing quality service throughout the sales process – not just on the tour – is intact. If you get a different person every time you call the office and there are long pauses following every question while the person on the other end pores over his instructions, it’s time to look for another company.

Do you go for months at a time without hearing from the company?

OK, this last one hits a little close to home. Shebby Lee Tours is a very small company, and sometimes it’s hard to keep in touch when you are chief cook and bottle-washer. On the other hand, as a small company we provide the personalized service missing from so many of the larger companies. Like the Avis of old, we try harder.

Does the company follow through after your initial inquiry?

At Shebby Lee Tours, we have a 24-hour rule. Every inquiry, whether by telephone, fax, e-mail or snail mail, is answered within 24 hours. For one thing, in a competitive business climate it is imperative that you strike while the iron is hot. But more importantly, as a prospective traveler you need to know that your needs are important to them.

Do you have to call to find out where your final travel documents are?

You should receive your final arrival and departure instructions, luggage tags, itineraries, etc. no later than three weeks prior to departure. You have made a considerable investment in your travel package, and you deserve the reassurance that everything is in order and ready for your travel adventure.

Do you receive targeted information on destinations you are interested in, or are you deluged with tour offers after contacting a tour company?

The only thing worse than receiving information you have no interest in, is having your contact information sold to every Tom, Dick and Harry, Inc. who jam your mailbox with unwanted sales pitches. Shebby Lee Tours makes careful note of your interests and never – but NEVER – sells our mailing lists to third parties.

Does the company provide references, especially testimonials from satisfied customers?

If you found your tour company online, the best way to find out if it is legit is to check out their current clients. If they won’t give you references or don’t post comments online, beware. It could be that they don’t use evaluations on their tours (another warning signal). Any company that doesn’t subject their products or services to the opinions of their clients is afraid to find out (or afraid YOU will).

After the tour, do you ever hear from the company again?

This is the opposite problem of the companies that swamp you with unwanted tour information. If the company values your business, they’ll follow up with information on other tours that you might be interested in. These should be based on requests that you yourself made.

If you are looking for unique itineraries and personalized service, check out our website – and our references.

See you on the trail!

 

Shebby Lee is a historian, writer and tour operator specializing in the historic and cultural heritage of the Great American West. Her early training was in the theatre and she served a tour of duty as an entertainer with the USO. She is also an Admiral in the Nebraska Navy.