Optional Extras – Why Special Dinners and Activities Should Be Included Upfront (Part 3 of 4)
In my previous ‘Optional Extras’ articles – part 1 and 2 - I outlined how many other European Tour Operators offer optional extras such as later paid for excursions, activities, visits and dinners. I also lifted the lid on just how much money is gouged from you when you purchase optional extras with these operators.
I am happy to talk about this unsavoury business as Albatross will not buy into that system. Our starting point is the inclusion of all the activities, excursions and special ‘feature’ dining. No optional extras.
It is very interesting how these large, mainstream touring organizations distance themselves from this ‘money action’.
Especially in the small print. For example, in one tour operator’s booking conditions they state… Options… “are not part of the holiday package provided by us”.
If that is so, why on earth do they spend so much time in their glossy brochure promoting these options?
The space they allocate to describing these wonderful activities certainly alludes that they are part of the package. They suggest “...why not join us”, or… “perhaps this evening enjoy” or “this evening take the opportunity” and “maybe try sampling some delicious…”.
Then they allocate valuable space in their limited text to paint a picture describing what is not actually included. In some instances, places and destinations of optional visits and day tours are even included on the tour map. Is that to embellish the map? I think so.
In the small print at the back, they mention that these Options are “offered at special preferential prices”.
Surely this therefore alludes to their own professional efforts and bargaining power, thereby giving them credit for arranging the ‘best rates’ just for you. (Yet ironically, we know they are always grossly overpriced!)
We know the options are arranged and vetted by them. We know they set their own rates, we know they (indirectly) make big money out of them. We know that is why they push them so hard, but then to state in their booking conditions that options are “are not part of the holiday package provided by us” seems… contradictory. Is any of this fair? I think not.
Further down in the small print they dispense with all liability for any options as they are handled by external entities. Really? When they arrange them, vet them, set the prices and make money out of them? It just seems so wrong.
There are also some incredible benefits of including special dinners and activities up front.
As a reminder Albatross Tours do not operate optional tours of activities. We are different. We always include all these special activities and meals upfront.
There are some incredible benefits to this. Take dining in an authentic Tuscan restaurant for example. Having smaller groups does give Albatross Tours the advantage that we can select more intimate properties and experiential regional restaurants.
These restaurants are usually popular with the locals so, since we include these special dinners, we must plan ahead and secure adequate space for our small tour groups - up to a year ahead.
So how can you sell an optional genuinely authentic dining experience just one week in advance and expect to squeeze a large group in?
You can’t. Stands to reason, think of your favourite local restaurant and give them a call now to see if you can get 40 – 50 people booked in for 7 - 10 days' time. Impossible!
So, let's face it, the only “genuine local Tuscan authentic experiential restaurants” you can get 40 people in, at such late notice, will also have a coach park out the front for half a dozen vehicles. Hardly authentic and I doubt any locals go near the place. Sure the dinner can be very good, but the usual trick to ply everyone with heaps of alcohol ensures enjoyment. Possibly why some call these places…’Happy Clappy’ restaurants!
To me, it seems only fair, and makes absolute sense that if you know in advance you are going to take a group to a highlight restaurant, and you endorse the evening as being a special tour highlight, then why on earth would you not include it in the first place?
With Albatross we do. And we can select more intimate venues. In fact, we usually include about 70% of all dinners (and some great lunches). 50% of these are in feature restaurants.
So, we do the reverse of everyone else. We include all those special meals out and dining events and if an evening is free we make sure it stays free.
We will not sell you an optional dinner, because those independent, culinary discoveries can be fantastic. And when we dine out, in some cases, you may have to walk a couple of hundred metres because the locals have their small Italian cars in the way and we can't get our coach any closer!
I believe if something is worth doing it should be included. And because it is included it must be done properly… the Albatross way…
Euan Landsborough, Albatross Tours Managing Director and Tour Designer.
Coming up next week, part 4 - those horrible ‘group shopping demonstrations and how Options steal your ‘My Time’.