A couple of days ago my guests and I sat down together to enjoy a beautiful picnic lunch on the Darby River under a clear blue sky when one of the guests turned to me and said “this tour is not like any tour I have ever done”. I asked her what she meant and she replied “it is totally unique, you organise this amazing food and it is all locally produced, everything is so personalised and like you told us as we left Melbourne today is all about immersing yourself in nature without the crowds”.
I could not ask for better feedback and it prompted me to think about why we started this tour business in the first place. My wife and I wanted people to come and experience Gippsland and the Prom as we would want to experience it for the first time. I know I would want to feel I had met with local people and gained some insight into local life. I would want to experience the beauty of Wilsons Prom as though I was a local. But most of all I would like to be treated as a valued guest rather than another body filling a seat.
There are tours and then there are experiences. We aim to deliver an experience to our guest that stays with them for many years to come. I am sure we all have had some kind of experience in the past that stamped itself indelibly in our memory banks whether it was an experience we paid for or a time with friends and family that was completely impromptu.
A new breed of traveller is emerging from the long queues into paid attractions and animal parks desperately seeking authentic ways to connect with the region, the environment and it’s people. Is there any comparison to seeing wildlife in the wild or stumbling across a delightful village right in the middle of celebrating a harvest festival. Would you rather tick a box by visiting a crowded beach, with thousands of tourists, over walking into a hidden cove to find only dolphins and the sound of the waves?. The world has become a busy place and with everyone looking to get that perfect Instagram shot the so called undiscovered places are becoming fewer by the day. The tour or activity provider you choose can make all the difference.
So how do you choose the destination, accommodation or tour that is right for you? Here are a few things I would suggest:
Look for a good and reputable booking agent or hotel concierge. One who takes the time to find out what kind of traveller you are and matches you to the destination and the experience. I have seen old rickety crowded buses pulling up outside the Hilton to collect a couple of well dressed people with horrified looks on their faces. How does that happen?. Choose your agent wisely and when you speak to them for the first time treat it as though you are interviewing them for a job. Remember they do all the leg work for you and it does not cost you any more. It is no coincidence that people who go down this path have more enjoyable trips.
Online travel websites provide you with lots of options to compare however usually they will not provide details of the operator until you have completed the transaction. There is no way to see what kind of experience you are going to get and generally speaking they do not get you a better price. Although it is convenient to obtain instant confirmation this is where your service contract ends. I would recommend doing some browsing on Google. The large booking sites will usually have page one covered but you should find the operators on page two or three.
If you are researching tour companies on the web try to find out a little about them by reading the “about us” page. This can tell you a lot about who you are dealing with. Is it a big company with a generic product or is it the local guy with all the knowledge?. Do they look reputable with nice clean vehicles and what core values do they claim to have? Do they have an environmental or community cause to which they contribute or industry accreditation. I once read a site that stated “no credit card accepted, only the folding stuff” which gave me a pretty good indication of the person I would be dealing with.
Once you have found an experience or accommodation provider you think you would like to go with, give them a call. A couple of minutes with them, speaking with a real person on the phone will give you most of the information you need to know before making a decision. Sometimes you build an instant rapport and sometimes you know right away this is not the company for you. And all it has cost you is a phone call, not a valuable day of your holiday.