What to Ask in Choosing a Tour Company

In an industry where there's no such thing as 'try before you buy', it can be difficult to know where to start in finding a tour company that will deliver the experience you want and make the most of your hard-earned vacation dollar. Here are some key questions to ask in helping you make your decision.

1. How long has the tour company been in business? Tourism can be a mercurial business, subject to the whims of economic downturn, international incident, pandemic scares, and, seemingly, the price of milk. Choose a company with a history you can trust-one that has shown the ability to ride the wave of global circumstance. Tour companies with longevity also have a deep knowledge well to draw from, have negotiating clout with their providers, and have had the experience to fine-tune their systems and deliver their product efficiently.

2. Where are the tour company and its guides based? There's nothing like an adventure travel company that thinks globally, but is based locally in the country you are going to visit. By using a company based locally, with local guides, you're more likely to tap into a provider that has its finger on the pulse of what's new and interesting and that actively engages with the culture. Having a worldwide presence, as well, with staff or agents based in your home country, helps ensure that the company is aware of your customer service expectations and its guides can provide interpretation for the inevitable cultural nuances that arise.

3. What is the maximum tour size? Tour size impacts your ability to engage authentically in the culture of the country in which you're travelling. While people's travel preferences vary, in the adventure travel arena small group tours are ideal for those who like the sense of freedom, adventure and discretion that independent travel offers with the benefits of leaving the logistics to someone else. Particularly in less populated countries like New Zealand, tour accommodation in some of the best locations is only available to small groups of twelve or less, leaving larger groups to choose itineraries based on logistics rather than optimum experience.

4. Does the tour company run its own tours or subcontract to someone else? Unbeknownst to many, it is not uncommon for tour companies to outsource the running of their trips to subcontractors. A great deal of planning and communication is required in running a quality trip and it is important to know who is in charge of your experience. We've all played the whispers game and know it doesn't take long before the original message gets well lost in translation. Choose a company that is in control of administering your trip from start to finish.

5. What support systems are in place? From confirmation of your deposit to packing lists to the guide's medical and driver training, find out what systems the company has in place to ensure smooth handling of your tour. Make sure you have a direct contact person at the tour company who knows your trip and your needs.

6. What is the company culture? This can be a hard thing to define, but what makes a tour company great are sometimes those undefinables-the things that infuse a trip with fun and a feeling of group identity. One of the best ways to get a sense of company culture is to ask for references of those who have been on tour. Web-based travel forums like those on TripAdvisor.com and Frommers.com can also provide insight, but it is wise to also seek advice first hand to ascertain whether the person offering opinions has similar priorities to your own.

7. How does the company stack up against others in the value-for-money stakes? Here, the key word is value. Don't choose a tour company based on the cheapest trip available, nor assume that more expensive means, well, more. Focus on the quality of the experience on offer. How much 'fun factor' is built into the cost of the trip-which advertised activities are included in the price and which are actually optional add-ons? What is the quality of the tour accommodation? You may prefer to put your money into a five-star bed, or you may only want a clean, comfortable place to lay your head in between adventures. What meals are included and how are they delivered-a la carte? Set menu? Cardboard box? When comparing companies, choose based on what's most important to you and on the potential take-home value of the experience. In the end, the cost of a life-enriching, quality travel experience is priceless.

Black Sheep Touring Company Limited. Formed in 1994, Black Sheep touring offers tours to New Zealand that offer a unique blend of luxury, adventure, cultural understanding, and interaction with our environment.

With one of the lowest guest-to-guide ratios in the industry, the Black Sheep travel experience is very rich and personalised. A travel group size of 12 or less allows us unparalleled flexibility and the ability to offer each and every one of our guests a unique experience that is enriching for years after. Talk to our tour company today.

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