Optional Extras - Buyer Beware (Part 1 of 4)
How do measure the real value of a tour? What is genuinely included? Looks good... but what are they not telling me? What else do I need to know? Why do most companies charge extra for expensive optional excursions? And, how much extra money do they make from me?
This article will explain what to look for and what to see through. The truth will undoubtedly irritate you, and may just help you choose a better value, more fulfilling European tour.
In his 1961 inaugural address, President Kennedy said: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
Great speech Jack, and by merely flipping a phrase on its head you launched an entirely different, pivotal ideology. It is all about the way you look at things… what you are steered to look at, and with travel brochures, away from what they are hiding.
We live in a highly commercialised world with digitally enhanced images, engineered marketing statements and glossy sales pitches.
It frustrates me when I feel I am being sucked into some sales pitch and then I see right through the perceived boasted inclusions to the actual emptiness beyond.
Do you also feel that way?
Then read on a little and let me help you better understand how European tour itineraries are constructed, to see past what is being boasted about and spot what they would rather not talk about. In fact, what is covered up!
Later charged ‘optional' tours, excursions and activities gouge money out of you
Let me start by stating the Albatross Tours philosophy of not operating optional excursions and activities. We believe if you can predict that if something is clearly necessary to make a tour great and complete your experience, it should absolutely be included.
Our philosophy is virtually unique. Elsewhere, I commonly see competitor brochure itinerary statements alluding to the wonders you will see, when in fact they are not included and are instead offered as very expensive, later charged, optional extras.
Call me old fashioned if you like but, to me, that is wrong. If something is not included, it should never be alluded to as being part of the package. The whole ‘optional extras' system is common to virtually all, larger European tour companies. It is certainly something they do not want talked about openly.
So why do they commonly offer ‘must do’ optional activities as extras? It cannot be about giving you choices because they push them so very hard. It is all about gouging money. Your money.
Put on your seat belts as this is a real eye-opener
Tour Managers/Directors are forced to sell optional extras, even if those activities are artificially manufactured yet touted as genuine local experiences. They must, because their employers – the Multinational Tour Operators - actually charge Tour Directors to work for them!
That's right, when a Tour Director gets offered a contract for a tour (they are not employees but on freelance contracts) the Tour Operator charges them a hefty fee, knowing the enormous kickbacks they will receive. They all get a slice of the action! They calculate the amount they can charge based on the profitability of each ‘option’, the number to be sold on that tour, and then they multiply that by the number of people travelling on that specific departure. This might well be a 5-figure sum!
If a Tour Director wants the contract, they are obliged to pay. So, he or she must now sell those options to you… hard… not only to get their contract fee back but also make a juicy profit.
That is why on day one, when you hop on to the coach you get confronted with a long, expensive options list costing well over a thousand dollars. It is not about ‘choice’, it is hard sell.
Do you still think that all these wonderful optional extras are pushed and promoted for your benefit? Or theirs?
Let me verify this. At a recent Albatross Tour Manager meeting many of our Tour Managers said how much they liked running our tours and job satisfaction came up as their strong motivator. Some of them also work for the ‘other' larger, international Tour Operators and when working for them, they said it was so hard to be a caring European Tour Director, while having to be 'brutal' in selling the optional tours. 'Brutal' is not my term, it was the one they used and said was the most appropriate.
Our tour managers all voiced they really enjoy leading our tours as they can just focus on the destinations they love. That is because we pay them a decent salary, including tips and tiered bonuses based on performance rated by client feedback. Therefore, they are rewarded solely on their performance, handling the in-depth itinerary correctly, and their service to you, the client.
They love the fact there is no financial necessity to brutally sell extras. That is why Albatross Tour Managers consistently rate so highly because they love what they do, and what we do.
Here is the thing… when an Albatross Tour Manager puts their hand out, it is to either shake your hand or give you something, never to take your money.
Wrapping up (for now!) maybe consider this. If they must sell these optional tours and activities, and so much money is made, how can anyone pretend they are offered as a benefit to you, providing you a pleasant choice on what to do daily? More so, if the day to day running of a tour itinerary – the one you bought – is necessarily distorted to sell these ‘must do options’, then what are you truly missing out on?
Coming up next week … in part 2, I lift the lid on how much money is made from these grossly overpriced ’options’ and how in the brochures they build the illusion that these magical activities are actually included.
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.
Albatross Tours Managing Director and Tour Designer.
P.S. I wanted to share with you an email from Gillian which she sent to me after she read this article.
Euan, after reading your article about the above subject I just felt I had to write and thank you. We travelled with your company for the first time in 2017 to Italy and then immediately to Spain and Portugal, and thank you we loved it.
I wanted to share with you our recent experience with another tour operator. We did have a good time, but on the first day the list of extra options was sent around. We thought we will not pass this way again so we did them all at an additional $1000 each. We have never been on a tour like this before, and many on the bus commented they wished this was included so it was already paid. Now you have explained the set up with the Tour director it all makes sense. There were a couple of stately homes or castles we visited where the price was on the board at the gate and we could see we had paid considerably more and were not pleased. Even factoring in the cost of the bus taking us there.
There was also the suggested tips for the end of the trip. If the 40 guests gave the suggested amount the driver and guide would have an additional £7000. That is a nice little earner for a 22-day tour when they are working these tours back to back. We gave a tip, but not what was suggested.
Having tried a cheaper bus trip and a river cruise we both agree that what you and Albatross offer is exactly what we want and we will be with you again in 2020 in Croatia and Sardinia as a back to back tour. We can’t wait.
I will definitely share your article with the people we met on the other tour and I am going to save it to show to other friends who are travelling.