Bad Tour Signs



A veteran of several rubbish tours, David Whitley reckons he’s learned a few ways to pick out a tour you don’t want to be on in advance




Picking the right tour to go on can be a tricky business. Pick the wrong one for you and it can prove a horribly expensive waste of a day or two. But aside from word of mouth and reading online reviews, how can be sure that your tour will be a good one? Well realistically, you can’t. But there are a few warning signs that should help you spot a potentially bad one. And these include...




Big groups


It’s not always the case, but generally, the bigger the group, the less satisfying the experience. Traipsing round with 50 other people all trying to see the same thing at once is not that much fun. There’s a reason that small group tours will usually advertise the fact it’s a small group (or will state a maximum number of participants). It’s because being in a smaller group usually makes for a better experience.




It’s suspiciously cheap


But what if it doesn’t state a maximum number of participants? If that’s the case, price should be a handy guideline. Look at the price you’re being charged and then multiply it by the maximum number of participants you’d realistically like to share the experience with. If that total doesn’t seem sufficient to cover guide wages, running costs (such as the bus and petrol), marketing, back room staff wages, entrance fees and tax, then chances are you’re in a much bigger group than you’d like to be.




Hotel pick-ups


This one isn’t a cast iron rule, but I find the tours that treat the participants with the intelligence to be able to get themselves to one central starting point are better than the ones that will pick everyone up from their hotel. Call it a laziness filter if you like, but this approach also cuts out the tedium of having to get up an hour earlier than necessary, then sitting in a bus as you troop around another eight hotels before setting off. And the same rigmarole when you get back.




Lack of focus


General highlights reel overview tours can be great if you’re somewhere for a short time and all you want is a general highlights reel overview. But these tours generally cover the things you could easily get to anyway, and often skim over with an annoying lack of time and depth. The better, more memorable tours tend to focus on a set subject in detail.




It’s all see not do


Be wary of any promotional material for a tour that just lists things you’ll see. It might be little more than a series of photo stops. Ones that promote a half hour walk as a selling point, say what you’ll be doing there or use phrases such as “learn about the history of” tend to be better. And that’s because there’s a focus on the experience, not just a list of sights to tick off.




It’s in multiple languages


There are few things more tedious than listening to a tour guide say the same thing in German, then English, then French all day. And the more languages the same thing is said in, the more scant on detail and fun than thing is likely to be.




It promotes opportunities for photo stops and shopping


That should tell you all you need to know about the target audience...




The stars and stripes on a website


OK, this one might be a little unfair, but it’s something I’ve noticed fairly regularly. Usually on a website, you have to click on either ‘En’ or a Union flag for the English language version. Rightly or wrongly, they’re fairly universally recognised symbols of ‘English’. Most English-speakers around the world will recognise that, even if they’re not from the UK. Some sites, however, use the US flag to symbolise the English language version. 

To me, that says “we’re targeting a mass market American clientele that might not be bright enough to realise that the British flag is a symbol for English language”. And from my experience, any tour targeted at the American mass market is likely to be massively disappointing.


NB. This obviously doesn’t apply in the US itself – I’m thinking more in Europe, Asia, Africa etc.

Do you have any other tips for spotting a bad tour in advance? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below