Optional Extras - To shop or not to shop… (Part 4 of 4)


Euan Landsborough

Optional Extras - To shop or not to shop… (Part 4 of 4)

In Parts 1 to 3 I revealed how the Albatross philosophy of not operating Optional excursions and activities is strikingly different to virtually all our competitors.

We believe, that if something is necessary to make a tour great, it should never be left out.

If you can predict that a ‘must do’ activity will complete your experience, it should be included, and because it is built into the itinerary from the start, it can be done properly.

Furthermore, by building it in, we can guarantee your free time – ‘My Time’ - will remain free and never be ‘stolen’.

Take a moment and ponder.

Is it OK that so many of the mainstream European Tour Operators will sell you a tour package promising (limited) ‘time at leisure to explore…’ yet they will then push you to buy money-making optional activities that will steal this wonderful leisure time away?

It just seems to me to be lacking in integrity.

How do you feel? It is your trip, your best laid plans, your oh, so valuable free time… are you OK with that?

But wait, there’s more.
As Michael Caine says “Let me tell you a story” …about ‘shopping’.

It’s pretty standard knowledge that on mainstream tours, every so often, you are dropped in to a specially recommended shop for a ‘regional craft demonstration’ or ‘demonstration by local artisans’.

Then of course you browse and shop at the same place. You also know that when you buy, money changes hands and ‘backhanders’ are slipped to your Guide or smiling Tour Manager/Director.

Is that OK? Even when you can usually buy the same or better goods elsewhere, for less?

That is the culture of a type of inclusion common to most touring companies.  But also, what about the cost to you of your lost free time while trapped in that showroom? 

And really, is that artificial ‘cultural insight’ why you travelled to Tuscany, or Provence or Europe as a whole, in the first place? Hope not!

It is your precious, limited time. Don’t waste it on irrelevant things.
Forgive me, but in my day to day life I am not bothered about how Spanish Lladro figurines are made, or leather handbags are embossed or the vagaries of Venetian Glass.

I don’t actually wistfully look forward to an inlaid wood demonstration or ponder the differences between types of Turkish carpets.

So when I immerse myself in Europe, why on earth would I want to be taken to a local ‘artisan' shop and be trapped inside for an hour while enjoying a pseudo demonstration, later to be processed through their shop? (’artisan shops’… really? When there is a coach park out the front, or multiple reception rooms so they can handle numerous large groups at a time?)

Sorry, but I am in Florence for a limited time and getting another leather wallet or jacket is not on my top 10 experience list! I go so I can absorb the remarkable sights of this city that was the Cradle of the Renaissance movement.

Of course, shopping in Europe is a great experience and enjoyable to many. But this is not really shopping.  Call me selfish but please, don’t take me there.  Let me out, please, I want to be free to explore.

If these ‘demonstration shops’ are of complete disinterest to so many people, why do all the international tour operators include these shopping ‘arrangements’ in their day tours?

3 simple reasons
Firstly, they are free. This is always good when padding your boasted list of ‘valuable’ inclusions and highlights in the brochure. Embellishment is a wonderful thing!

Secondly, to add what seems to be expert local knowledge and inclusive content into an otherwise empty touring itinerary. To make written itineraries appear richer, fuller and deeper experiences. (which is the same story with the optional tours they describe padding their itineraries).

And thirdly, now it is a highlight written in your itinerary, they have to take you there - and earn significant backhand kickbacks on the ‘cultural goods’ you buy! 

Is this a dentist you should trust?
Remarkable. It is like going to a dentist who professionally advises you that you need to come back every 2 weeks for a check-up and clean.

Unnecessary for you, and good for his pocket. You would step back and seriously question his credibility, and then find another dentist.

Yet with so many European tours this time theft is common and somehow acceptable? 

Here’s the news… it is not!

Albatross will not do this
After a locally guided tour we then set you free to enjoy ‘My Time' in these remarkable places you have dreamt of seeing. To relax in that café without having to check your watch and give you time to explore this museum or those markets.

"Aha", I hear someone say, "why then do you visit Swarovski Crystal Worlds, near Innsbruck, on your Christmas tours?" Easy, have you seen the stunning (and yes often very weird) crystal animated exhibitions? You will either love them or hate them, but either way they are quite stimulating.

And, the enormous crystal shop downstairs is incredible at Christmas time. We could just take you directly into the shop, which is free, but we don't. Instead, we pay the entry fee for you to visit the Crystal Worlds exhibition first because it is great.

What is more; we do not include the Swarovski Crystal World on our European Summer tours because the season ‘feel’ is different, and in Summer our small groups follow a different programme. If we did indeed include Swarovski World, we would then have to cut short your free time in delightful Innsbruck. That would be compromising your ‘My Time' experience, and to me, and to Albatross, that is not acceptable.

What are my most treasured memories?
When I look back on my experiences in Europe, my highlight memories are always in ‘My Time’.  My wife Julie-anne and I sitting, relaxing in that piazza, enjoying a leisurely light lunch, or the aperitif with sunset after a fabulous day exploring a medieval town, or lingering in those fresh food markets.

These things cost little or nothing and I have no need to check my watch. I could not comprehend being trapped with 40 other people in a demonstration shop, or losing cherished memories on a rushed ‘optional’ excursion that takes away ‘My Time’. 

So often, on the last night somewhere, Julie-anne and I wistfully say, “You know, if only we could have just one more day… another day would be great”.  And here is the surprise, with Albatross you get that with our 3 and 4-night stays! Now there’s a coincidence!

Do you know anyone who is considering booking one of these mainstream, ‘option fed’ tours? Maybe forward this message to them, I am sure they would appreciate it.

Euan Landsborough, Albatross Tours Managing Director and Tour Designer.


Read Part 1: Optional Extras - Buyer Beware


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