Whether they want a more flexible itinerary, are keen to satisfy a special interest or want assistance without an escorted group, private touring has the answers. Debbie Ward looks at some of the options.
Sitting neatly between independent and group escorted travel, private touring is a perfect option where language barriers or time constraints make DIY travel tricky. It also adds an element of exclusivity for special occasions or group bonding.
Flexibility of departure, schedule and pace is a bonus and guides can adapt to the style and interests of their small group. It’s also a simple way for agents to create an independent booking without having to tailor-make an itinerary. We round up options for different types of customer.
The majority of InsideVietnam and InsideBurma’s Fully Tailored Journeys are booked with private guides and transfers. The operator says this tour style is particularly valuable for time-poor families restricted to school holidays and nervous about the reliability of public transport.
Book it: The family-focused 14-night Treetops, Mountains and Elephants tour of Laos includes a cookery class, rice farming experience, coffee plantation visit, elephant sanctuary and jungle camping trip. It costs from £2,320pp and features Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Don Daeng and the Bolaven Plateau.
Kuoni finds private touring particularly popular with honeymooners. Most escorted tours can be booked on this basis. There’s also a car and driver option in Sri Lanka, allowing customers to create their own itineraries. India, Indonesia and China prove popular because independent travel can be tricky.
“Our customers tend to prefer the security of travelling fully guided to an unfamiliar destination or where language barriers exist,” says product and category manager for touring, Paul Ingram. Guides, selected meals and sightseeing make it surprisingly cost-effective, he adds.
“It includes so much and allows you to budget before you travel.”
Book it: Kuoni’s seven-night Highlights of India Taj Tour costs from £1,495pp with a supplement to upgrade to a private tour from £189pp. Price includes flights, transfers, accommodation, some meals and local tour leaders.
Boon for Baby Boomers
Wilderness Scotland’s new Make it Private function for its existing tours (commissionable for agents) allows friends to explore together.
“It’s proved popular with Baby Boomers who now have the time to reconnect with old friends and the appetite to do something memorable together, whether walking, biking or kayaking,” says head of marketing Ben Thorburn.
Walking the Isle of Skye or Knoydart and Coast to Coast mountain biking are selling well – perhaps because they’re set challenges in remote locations. Extras can include castle stays or swimming with seals.
Book it: A Scottish Highlands Coast to Coast mountain biking adventure costs £1,595pp in a private group of eight (£1,695 for six, £1,995 for four) including six nights’ B&B, lunches, guiding and transport.
Friends and fundraisers
G Adventures notes that groups are increasingly requesting flexible private departures. It now has Private Groups trips, which are still accompanied by the company’s chief experience officers.
“Our active tours, such as Mount Kilimanjaro Trek, are increasingly popular with fundraising charity groups, sports clubs and associations and groups of friends looking to take on a challenge together. Costa Rica, Peru, south-east Asia and Africa are all top destinations with private group bookings and we often see families and friends booking our shorter safari tours,” says managing director Brian Young.
Book it: G Adventures’ seven night Rongai Route Mount Kilimanjaro Trek costs from £1,999pp with simple hotels, camping and most meals, excluding flights.
In your own sweet time
Any Cox & Kings escorted tour is also available privately. An advantage, says the operator, is travelling at your own pace. It has adapted some India itineraries and the Sri Lanka in Slow Motion 18-day tour to focus on quality, not quantity. It also points out that touring privately gives clients access to boutique hotels no suitable for larger groups.
Book it: Cox & Kings’ 11-day private Peru: A Luxury Belmond Rail Journey, costs from £3,495pp, staying in luxury and characterful accommodation. It includes two nights on the Belmond Andean Explorer, an overnight stay at Machu Picchu and two nights in the Sacred Valley.
Value for money
“It’s easy to assume a private tour is going to be expensive, but it doesn’t need to be,” says Journey Latin America’s head of product Stuart Whittington. “We offer a broad selection of great value privately guided holidays, from those staying in top-notch five-star properties to those purposely designed for the more budget conscious.”
Book it: Journey Latin America’s 13-day private Signature Chile: Atacama Desert to Patagonian Glacier tour incorporates luxury accommodation. It costs £3,872pp, including excursions and transfers and domestic but not international flights.
“Private touring is perfect for clients short on time as tours can be arranged to suit them,” says First Class Holidays managing director Dan Gathercole. “It also works well for those looking for a more in-depth experience since the tour can normally be slanted to their interests.”
Food, wine, history, art or sports aspects can be added, he explains.
Book it: First Class Holidays’ eight-day Enchanting Quebec private tour, from £3,469pp, includes quality accommodation, a culinary tour of Montreal, tours of Old Montreal and Quebec City and surrounds, and a helicopter flight.
Opting in, opting out
Premier Holidays has seen private touring become popular in Sri Lanka and Indochina. “The price difference between private and group touring is minimal,” says product manager Nikki Hain.
“People can start and stop the programme as they want, spending longer at one highlight or adding something else into the mix locally if the guide has suggested it to match their interest, such as wildlife, history and discovering flora and fauna.”
Book it: The five-night Smart Choice Golden Triangle Discovery Tour in India taking in Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra costs from £975pp, on a mostly halfboard basis and including flights.
Georgia and Albania are among destinations offered by Regent Holidays for privately guided tours, with these more off-the-beatentrack destinations popular with younger clients. New direct flights from Gatwick to Georgia’s Tbilisi, coupled with no visa requirement, are helping Georgia to trend (30% up for the operator – see more on p51).
Albania can meanwhile be accessed by ferry from Corfu, widening flight possibilities.
Book it: Regent Holidays’ eight-day cultural landscapes of Georgia tour, including mountains, vineyards and Orthodox churches, costs from £2,100pp with a private driver-guide, flights and accommodation, mostly half-board,
A recent survey of On The Go’s customers found that 43% prefer travelling at their own pace and 36% enjoy putting their trip together.
It can adapt all Signature Tours (except Iceland and Italy) into tailor-made private tours – a driver/guide is knitted together with public transport such as overnight train trips.
Through agents, the operator has seen an increase in private touring enquires to Morocco, Jordan and Sri Lanka and, more recently, South America.
Book it: On The Go’s new 10-day Buenos Aires, Iguazu & Rio private tour costs from £1,745pp with B&B accommodation, including regional but not international flights.
Kick off with Hanoi on foot
For 2018, Travel 2 has introduced a 17-day Grand Vietnam Experience exploring the northern highlands, starting with a walking tour of Hanoi and including Sapa, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Da Lat and Saigon.
Transfers and tours use a private driver/guide except an overnight Halong Bay cruise and Hoi An cookery class.
“We suggest holidaymakers wishing to learn even more about the region choose from flexible touring options and optional extensions and experiences,” says senior product and commercial manager Mark Henderson.
Book it: The Grand Vietnam Experience costs from £2,759pp including flights, four-star boutique hotels, all breakfasts and some other meals.
With much often included, from meals to sightseeing, private tours can work out more cost-effective than they first seem.
■ Private touring is a good sell for families – they’re increasingly looking for more adventurous travel yet love shortcuts for ease and time-saving, says InsideAsia.
■ They’re a good compromise for usually independent travellers faced with a language barrier or tricky public transport.
■ Exodus will make its tours private if nine people sign up (the ninth place is free to the lead client).
■ Cox & Kings notes private touring attracts younger clients than regular escorted touring, the attraction being the guide’s knowledge rather than “safety in numbers”.
■ Premier finds clients are spending longer on tour and less time at the beach afterwards, which makes relaxing hotels with pools more important for the “on the road” element.