I have a confession to make. It's hardly a controversial one, and I imagine that many of my fellow adventure travel professionals may say the same thing. The truth is, that prior to starting out in adventure travel, I was not a fan of organized tours. I came to my first role by way of a transferable skill set. Prior to travel, I worked for one of the most influential and cutting edge experiential marketing companies in London. What is Experiential marketing? Put simply, it is the process of relaying a brand ethos, message or value through an experience. Usually, these experiences were conveyed through roadshows, events or as crafted details of a larger gathering, such as music festivals.
Working with a really great tour operator, I realized the true value of a well organized tour. To find the best places without the research, avoid mistakes and delays, and experience far more in a relatively short time than the average independent traveler could. All in the company of like minded fellow travelers, who enhance the experience. Conversely, I have also experienced badly written or operated tours, and have seen first hand how simple errors, and a lack of understanding or care can turn potentially rewarding experiences, far from optimal.
The theory of great travel In much the same modus operandi of experiential event management, tours begin with a concept, usually based on a geographic region, culture or nature, or perhaps a combination of these. The tour is broken down into highlights, areas and then further into days, and then further into the individual elements. On a spreadsheet these look pretty boring, just dates, times, descriptions, cost per person, cost per group etc. Something like this..
N.B. This mockup, is simplified and far less detailed or automated than a real costing.
The example above shows how looking at a tour on a spreadsheet you could be forgiven for not seeing an experience. The magic ingredients which turn a spreadsheet into a once in a lifetime adventure are continuity, details, quality and pace. A good friend, and excellent tour leader once told me that a good tour is like a narrative. A story that comes together in the right order, with the right level of detail, and most importantly the right pace. Thinking back to our sheet of individual elements. If they are carried out in the right pace, they might feel something like this...
"Journal, Day 1. After a long flight, I finally arrived at the airport. Walking out of the arrivals exit, I was met by a professional looking local guide, wearing a uniform with the name of my adventure provider, he was easy to spot, holding a board with my name, (it was even spelt correctly and printed out.) The guide introduced himself as Chet, and welcomed me warmly to his country. We walked together outside, to a clean and safe vehicle. The driver introduced himself as Rob, and took Chet and I to a trendy boutique hotel in an interesting part of town. Chet helped me check in, then arranged to meet in two hours for lunch. I freshened up in the room, unpacked, then went to meet Chet in the lobby. It was only a short walk to a popular local lunch spot. The company had reserved a table overlooking the square, and Chet helped recommend a great selection of local cuisine, without challenging my constitution! After a pleasant lunch, Chet took me for a short walking tour around some of the city sights, before arriving back at the hotel. An hour later, we met in the rooftop bar, for a welcome drink before dinner. Chet introduced me to the rest of the group, who all seem very nice, and thankfully have similar interests, fitness and expectations to me. Dinner was already set out on the terrace next to the bar, where Chet and his team made some fun introductions, and gave a short overview of the trip which will start tomorrow." The above passage describes the experience which the spreadsheet details. Without the right order of events, such as checking in before lunch or a walking tour, acclimating, meals etc. the tour would be disjointed, and either rushed, unpleasant or full of holes. Without the right pace, the tour could be too rushed, such as if the traveler had no time to go to his room after checking in. He would not have time to process what he is doing now, let alone what is coming next. This type of incorrect pacing for a tour happens when too much is added to an itinerary, or the timings are not calculated correctly. I call it the hand holding approach, where you are being dragged from one element to the next.
Finally, if there was a major mismatch in terms of quality, such as a 5 star hotel with street food dinner, and minimal support. The experience would be mismatched. Far better to keep the standards throughout the tour relatively uniform, allowing higher end hotels, and special meals to become highlights of the narrative, such as on rest days, arrival or departure days etc.
In conclusion, when a tour is conducted with the right guide team, at the right pace, in the correct order and with a quality level appropriate for the itinerary; the tour narrative takes on a life of its own, and becomes the journey of discovery which the traveler experiences. Under these ideal conditions, even if one or two elements do not happen or go exactly to plan, the rest of the narrative fills in, and these unexpected elements become part of the unique journey.
WeAdventure design tours with pacing, quality and details at the forefront of their planning. They are operated with the group and experience prioritized, and always with the benefit of the destination, environment and community in mind.