Ever wonder how that fabulous tour you took last summer came to be? If it was a pleasurable experience and proceeded seamlessly from day to day, it wasn’t an accident. Months of planning went into every detail so you would have a great getaway, or maybe even the experience of a lifetime.
It is probably safe to say that no two tour planners use exactly the same process in planning a tour. However, the process usually begins with the selection of a destination – sometimes requested by a significant number of customers – and proceeds to booking the bones of the tour: dates, hotels, motorcoach, meals, attractions, and sightseeing. Some companies merely include the “usual suspects” while others make the extra effort to include unique events or attractions that will make their itinerary more attractive and stand out in the crowd.
Another step which we consider essential to a successful tour, but which is skipped by all too many tour planners, is scouting the location(s) in person. There is nothing like being there to spot potential logistical problems before they happen. The length of time it takes to build a program depends on the number of days, complexity (the number of elements included in each day), and most importantly, the experience of the tour planner.
The difference between the planning process for a standard tour and those at Shebby Lee Tours is that our first step is one which few other companies include: historical research. Virtually all of our tours explore the historic and cultural heritage of the Great American West. So hitting the books is the first thing we do when developing a new itinerary. But dry history on a page makes for a lousy tour! There must be things to do and see, smell, taste and touch which reinforce the historical meaning. Our tours include experiences such as walking in actual wagon ruts, learning how to bake bread over an open campfire, and interacting with the many historic re-enactors we include in every program.
The next step is finding out if these things even exist. The interaction between experts and participants is crucial in our programs, but the musicians, re-enactors and many other activities we include are usually not available to the general public so we contract with them to perform especially for our group. Over the years we have developed a network of historians, living history re-enactors, and other specialists throughout the West who we work with and rely on for referrals.
These two steps, along with the expert tour director/historian who leads the group, are what set our programs apart from other tours, and are the reason we offer only a small list of specialized programs each year. We do not offer cookie-cutter tours, nor scores of departures.
Only after these steps have been thoroughly explored do we proceed to building the physical tour. Sometimes these steps reveal that there just isn’t enough there for a successful tour, and we decide to pass.
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.