Selecting a Tour Company: 10 Tips You Need To Know

This past July I was fortunate enough to be able to take the time out and head to France and see the Tour de France first-hand. As part of the experience, I hired a top-rated British Columbia based touring company called Spyns “to take care of my every need” while in-country.
Trust me when I say, paying money to help me experience the sport I love so dearly was a huge leap of faith. But hey, I did my research and felt the decision to hire the company was a sound one.

Fast-forward through my 10 day experience with Spyns, I sit in Paris, waiting for my plane, wondering what the hell just happened. The reality is that the trip I paid for didn’t actually happen and I ended up with a steaming pile of disappointment.

Instead of delving into the details, I thought I would create a list of sorts that you can use when hiring your own touring company for overseas travel. Unfortunately, these lessons came at a fairly high price, but have armed me for life. I think they will help guide you as well.

So what do you look for prior to making your decision and what do you need to mindful of when when in-country?

Before You Travel:
  1. Websites, brochures, and written references are nice, but you want to actually talk first-hand with someone who has traveled with the company before. Ask the tour director for a list of contacts that YOU yourself can choose from.
  2. Find out the size of the currently registered group (and what the expectations are before departure) and compare that number with previous years trips. Be wary of a tour company that has experience with smaller groups but has vastly increased their numbers for your trip. In the case of Spyns, the 2009 number was roughly 80 individuals more than the 2008 number.
  3. Prior to departure, ask for a final itinerary. Yes, a few things may still be up in the air, but most of the details SHOULD have been ironed-out before you actually leave. Look for and demand an itinerary that not only mentions dates and locations for trip items, but provides specific times and guide names as well.
  4. Absolutely do not pay with a check! If things go horribly wrong, you have zero recourse for getting your money back. If the tour company insists on a check instead of a credit card, then find another tour company--period.
  5. Make note of communication patterns with the tour company up to and prior to your date of departure as they are likely to manifest into a full blown issue when you are oversees. In the case of Spyns, I often would call in the middle of the day, only to receive an answering service. And when I did receive a return communication, It was 7 to 10 days after my initial inquiry.
  6. Ask your tour director for the total number of native speaking company members that will be onsite supporting the efforts of the tour. To properly organize a trip of any size, a standard 1:3 ratio is common (1 support member for every 3 tourists).

  7. In-Country:
  8. When you arrive at your destination, you should have a welcome kit with a final trip itinerary in your hotel room. No I am not being hoity-toity here. This is what one would expect after paying a significant sum of money—a final itinerary is the least of what I should find in my hotel room. A cycle jersey, cap, sunblock or t-shirt are standard items for cycle tours. If you don’t at least have a final itinerary…DEMAND ONE!
  9. As it is a cycle tour, a huge concern of yours should be the bike you will be riding for the duration of your travel. If you shipped your own, you will need to schedule time with the tour mechanic/s to help assemble the bike and make sure everything works as it should. In the case of Spyns, we were without our promised mechanic, bike-stand and even basic necessities like a bike pump.
  10. Make note of how the bikes are transported. Any and all vehicles transporting your bikes should have the appropriate bike rack or trailer. HAULING BIKES INSIDE VEHICLES IS NOT ACCEPTABLE as damage can more easily occur to derailleurs, cables and other small parts. Ask your tour director early on as to how the bikes will be transported.
  11. Be wary of last-minute changes to lodging and/or itinerary. When traveling in France during the tour, hotels, restaurants, and attractions book-up solid. Your director should have no need to change anything as drastic as the items mentioned above during your stay. If you do notice a hotel change has been made last minute and not part of your final itinerary, DEMAND AN ANSWER as to why the change was made.

spyns.jpg

By utilizing these tips as well as being diligent, observant and cautious, you can avoid or (at worst) mitigate any problems that may derail your overall experience in the saddle during your oversees adventure. For me, I look forward to heading to France in 2010, with lessons learned and nothing but my rubber side down for a few weeks of R&R!

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The Output Of My Experience With Spyns from CogSnob : : Cycling Reviews, Rides, & Reality. on October 23, 2009 4:36 AM

Many of you reading this blog may have noticed my personal crusade to help others avoid the experience I... Read More

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