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10 Things You Absolutely Need to Know About A Coach Holiday – Before You Book!
Having spent 25 years taking coach holidays all over the world I have seen my guests experience all sorts of problems and issues.
Many of those issues could have been prevented completely – saving guests money and frustration as a result.
This list is based on the 10 most common issues guests experience on tour and how to avoid them, generally by knowing what to ask, look for or consider before booking a coach holiday, ensuring that the one you book is the right one for you.
Let me know what you think in the comments at the bottom of the page, or feel free to ask me a question there if there is something you would like to know.
Number 1 – Know Exactly What Is Included
There is nothing worse than guests being frustrated or disappointed by issues such as these when on a coach holiday and it can make it hard for the Tour Manager to get over such issues as arranging the contracts with suppliers is not something they have control over.
This can sometimes be because it isn’t entirely clear, or because there have been assumptions made about the itinerary. If guests have travelled with an coach holiday company previously they may have assumed that what they experienced on another holiday will be similar to their current one – this is not always the case.
An quick example is whether wine is included with dinner. Whilst it is clear from the itinerary that meals are included there is often no mention of drinks. Many people assume that wine will be included with meals. This can vary from company to company and also from country to country. Wine is very cheap in Spain for example so it is often included with coach holiday group meals but wine is much more expensive in the UK so is therefore not generally included.
Over the years I constantly meet passengers who aren’t aware of what has been included in their coach holiday.
To avoid this issue double check in advance exactly what is included in the itinerary. Other
Are transfers included and if so are they individual or shared? (Shared transfers may mean await at the airport or a longer journey if in a car from home.)
What meals are included – is there a choice of menu, is it fixed or a buffet and what drinks are
If breakfast is included is this continental or a full buffet? Also bear in mind that some tours don’t have breakfast in the hotel but out on the road which can mean some very early starts.
If lunch/dinner is included is there a choice of menu or is it a set menu?
Does the tour use a tour coach and driver or local coach and driver?
Are tea and coffee facilities included in hotels? Most hotels in Europe do not provide this but often those catering to British guests do. Again checking can avoid disappointment.
Are drinks included? (This varies from country to country not just company to company).
Is luggage handling included – do porters take your luggage up to your rooms at hotels or do
you have to do this yourself.
What trips or activities are included and which ones are optional? (There are more details on both later on)
Are tips included for everyone or just some people? Again this varies company to company and country to country and of course cruise companies have different policies too. Be clear what the extra payments are and budget for them – the people receiving them are counting on them!
Number 2 – Is it a UK Tour Manager, a Local Tour Manager or Local Guide?
Is there a UK Tour Manager that will be travelling with you from the UK and back again at the end of the tour or is there local Tour Manager that will meet you when you arrive in the country you are visiting?
If there is a local Tour Manager meeting you when you arrive what support do you have in case of any problems with flights – are there airport representatives or is it a number to phone?
Who does the guiding – the Tour Manager or local guides? (There is more information on this further on.)
A great tour manager can make a good tour a really great and memorable experience. It’s what we love to do and why we do the job. Likewise a poor tour manager can make a good tour poor and a memorable experience for all the wrong reasons.
As a general rule Tour Managers/Tour Directors are self employed and they could be working for several companies at once. They may not have visited the destination you are going to before.
This is generally not a problem if the tour uses local guides because the local guides are the expert in each local area or attraction.
However, in recent years more and more companies have been cutting back on the use of local guides and using the Tour Managers to guide instead. This requires a great deal of knowledge to do successfully.
I know Tour Managers that have fantastically detailed knowledge of the places they visit and are mines of useful information. Equally I know of Tour Managers that have little knowledge and fill in the gaps talking in general terms, or talking about other places they visit.
I am not saying that all local guides are fantastic – goodness knows I have worked with some ones that were memorable for all the wrong reasons over the years.
However, on the whole local guides can often give a real insight into a place that a Tour Manager can’t and it also means that there is someone else leading a part of the tour, another perspective, another approach and another voice to listen to. This variety can be welcome on a tour.
The other issue to consider is that if the Tour Manager is doing all the guiding for the tour as well this can put them under quite a lot of pressure, particularly if something goes wrong. This may change the level of support that is available to you as a traveller if something happens.
There is not a right or a wrong answer to whether it should be a Tour Manager with Local Guides or a Tour Manager, again it is just something to consider and be aware of in advance.
Perhaps asking if the Tour Manager has taken the coach holiday before would also be a helpful question to ask in conjunction with this section as well. Knowing the answer to both will give you the information you need to make an informed decision.
Just so you know a Tour Manager or Tour Director (different term for same role) is generally responsible for running the coach holiday. This means they operate the itinerary according to the brief/outline given to them by the holiday company.
They generally liaise with all the suppliers such as hotels, tour companies, guides, coach companies, drivers, porters and local agents. They are responsible for dealing with all the problems on tour whether that be travel disruption or illness and they are also responsible for the on tour paperwork and accounting.
A tour guide is responsible for guiding groups around a particular area or attraction. They should have a detailed knowledge of the area being visited but also the themes/background. For example if visiting Pompeii a tour guide would be expected to have a great knowledge of Roman history, society etc.
Number 3 – Know Your Tour Terminology
What I am referring to here is the terminology used to describe what is included in the coach holiday programme. For example are you going to ‘visit’ or ‘view’ a particular place?
One well known holiday company uses ‘view’ because you view the attraction from the inside of the coach and don’t actually visit i.e. you just pass by it. Not ideal if it is something you want to see!
Other examples include enjoy vs. experience, discover vs. explore. There are plenty of variations.
When you read a coach holiday itinerary it is not always obvious what is included and this can often be the case when looking at activities and excursion programs. Having a clear understanding of what things you are going to spend time at, and whether you will have free time, which things you are going to see (but not stop) will avoid frustrations on holiday.
One of the most common problems I see guests experience is that they read mention of particular place in a holiday program and assume that it is going to be a big feature of the itinerary. They then arrive on tour and find out that because of the amount of travelling that needs to be done on that day they will only get an hour or so to visit and they are disappointed.
This can also be the case with pictures. There may be pictures on the coach holiday company website that feature places or attractions that the tour doesn’t necesarily visit, or perhaps they are optional so at additional cost.
Being clear about tour terminology, in combination with what is included as mentioned in Tip 1 will help you have a much better idea of your tour itinerary. There is no law or restriction on asking plenty of questions before you book!
Number 4 – How Big is the Group?
Group size can cause issues both ways – the group can be bigger than expected or it can be smaller than expected. Differences in expectation can cause issues on tours.
One guest I travelled with booked a coach holiday to India. It was a guaranteed departure tour for a small group and he was told there would another 3 people on the tour. When he arrived he found a driver and a guide waiting just for him. Fortunately, finding out he was the only guest and that he a driver and a guide to himself was not a problem and he promptly tore up the itinerary and headed off the beaten track. However, for some people such an experience would be quite intimidating.
I have had experience of a very small group too. I once led a week long coach holiday in Italy with just 4 guests. There was myself, the coach driver and a trainee guide that I was teaching so 4 guests and 3 staff. It worked out OK but it was definitely not what the guests expected and it certainly felt odd taking a full size coach out on tour with such a small group.
A large group can also cause problems for those not expecting it or used to it. I often work with groups of 47 guests on a 49 seat coach. This can mean that it takes a long time for everyone to get off the coach, even using both doors. If travellers have been used to smaller groups this can cause frustration for them. It also means check in takes longer, getting onboard the coach in the morning takes longer and so on.
The other issue with a larger group is that there is still only 1 Tour Manager. Guests that have been used to travelling on smaller tours that decide to take a coach holiday with bigger group can sometimes feel disappointed that the Tour Manager doesn’t have the same amount of time to spend with them.
Knowing the group size in advance can help with aligning expectations of your holiday.
Number 5 – Are There Any Groups booked on your Coach Holiday?
It is not uncommon for a group of people to book together on a coach holiday. This could be a social club, group of friends, family members, alumni etc.
The problem with this on a coach holiday is that you can have a ‘them’ and ‘us’ type situation with the members of the group within the group sticking together. This can often be for the simple reason that they do not see each other that often so travelling together gives them the opportunity to really reconnect.
Whilst that is great for them it can cause issues for the travellers in the wider group who perhaps feel left out or feel that there is a large part of the group they are unable to interact with.
The other issue I have experienced is that the group within a group wants to do something different to the itinerary and feel they should have precedence because of the amount of people. There can be other issues such as these guests wanting to sit together for meals i.e. to not allow other guests from the main group to join them.
Only once have I seen this work in the sense that you could not tell who were members of the group within the tour group and it only worked then because they spent time preparing their guests for travelling before the holiday, including encouraging them to mix together. I have heard lots of travellers tales of groups being split when there has been a group within a group and how badly it has affected the overall coach holiday experience.
Guests have often told me that if they had known there was going to be a big private group travelling on their coach holiday they would have chosen to travel on a different date so asking this question in advance can be really useful – particularly if you like this type of travel as a way to meet lots of new people.
Number 6 – What Nationalities Travel Together?
Some companies (and cruises) take bookings from different nationalities. This can sometimes lead to groups within groups but it can also cause some cultural clashes. If you have ever had to calm a British group who have queued neatly only to be overrun by guests with a more laid back approach to queuing you will know what I mean.
This can also be especially important if the groups don’t speak the same language as translation may be required.
I did a river cruise with 140 British guests and the crew loved the fact that everyone was one nationality telling me that they often have to have each part of the welcome meeting translated into 6 or 7 languages which made it a long and painful experience for everyone. This was also the case with lots of their activities and some of their tours when groups from different countries were allocated to one coach.
For most coach holiday companies in the UK the chances are that you will be travelling with people from the UK but it might be worth double checking this in advance of your holiday rather than assuming.
Number 7 – What’s Included on Included Tours/Excursions/Activities?
To avoid any disappointment or confusion with included activities, and to understand what you are paying for on your coach holiday you need to know exactly what is included. Guests often tell me of being frustrated that lunch is not included in a day tour for example when they had thought that it was, or perhaps entrance fees not being included during a visit to an attraction.
Things to consider include;
The duration of the tour – is it a half day, which means it is unlikely to include any meals, a 3/4 day or a full day. If it is a full day tour does it involve any particularly early starts of late returns?
The travelling involved in the tour – how much time are you going to spend on your coach?Is there any other travelling for example on ferries as part of your excursion?
What additional costs are involved i.e entrance fees, meals etc. – knowing this in advance can ensure that you have the budget to cover these things which can add up over the course of a tour.
Are there ‘optional’ elements to included excursions? For example you might visit a certain destination and then have the opportunity to pay extra for an activity in that destination, perhaps a boat trip, train ride, entry to museum etc.
What the alternative is if the optional tour can’t run. This could be due to weather conditions or local conditions.
Number 8 – What Are The Options with Optional Excursions?
Optional tours are often where coach holiday companies make a good bit of profit, and certainly where cruise ships do. Optional tours are just that, optional. You may have the chance to book them in advance of your tour or cruise or book directly.
Here is what you need to know about them;
Is the optional tour being operated by your tour coach and Tour Manager? I often find that guests assume an optional tour will be led by a local guide but this isn’t always the case so if in doubt it is best to double check.
Is it being operated by a local company on behalf of the holiday company? If this is the case it may mean that you are part of a larger group which can include other nationalities, and there may well be a number of pick up and drop off points around the area before the tour actually starts.
Minimum numbers are important in relation to the overall group number too. I mentioned previously that I once did a tour with 4 people, as such even if though they all booked each optional excursion we still never met the minimum number. The company did not want the tours to run but I explained the fact there was only 4 in a group wasn’t the fault of the travellers and they shouldn’t miss out as a result.
A final point to consider – sometimes payments for optional tours can only be made in the local currency and cash, this can often catch guests out if they don’t realise in advance. I have seen guests unable to book tours because they don’t have enough local currency, assuming that they could pay with a credit card.
Some companies offer the opportunity to book optional tours in advance of the holiday for a discount – again I would advise checking what happens in the event of numbers being too low and cancellations. It is important to know when cancellations and calls offs will be advised – is it the day before or 48 hours ahead? The more notice you have of these things the more opportunity you have to make use of your time to do something else.
Number 9 – What Is The Seating Policy?
Can you do the optional tour cheaper another way? I would always advise comparing the holiday company price to a local company. Sometimes the holiday company will simply be booking the tour with a local operator in which case you might get a good deal going direct.
However, the decision is not just about the cost. If you book a tour with a local operator and you are due to make a connection or move onto another destination on your touring holiday you will be liable for any costs if you miss that connection and have to catch the main tour up. If you book the optional tour through your holiday company and there are any delays it is up to them to sort this out at no extra cost to you. This is especially relevant for cruise ships, or where there are onward transport connections such as ferries, trains etc.
Number 10 – Hotel Room Allocation Policy
Different coach holiday companies have different approaches to seating on coaches. Some will charge a premium for the front seats, some allocate to whoever books first and some operate seat rotation to ensure everyone gets their turn.
This can often cause quite a lot of angst for people who were unaware beforehand. Some people feel disappointed that they missed out on the front seats and this can often lead to conversations amongst guests about who booked first.
Some guests don’t like the idea of seat rotation, while others think that it is a fair way to ensure as many people get a turn in the front seats as possible.
One of the most common concerns I hear about is from guests who, like me, experience coach or motion sickness.
Whatever the seating policy, guests who experience motion or travel experience can generally request a fixed seat. Often the compromise is that they will not get the front seat and I would recommend a seat ahead of the front wheels of the coach to reduce problems. Another good seat to avoid travel sickness can be the seat that is directly behind the middle door. However, this can sometimes have slightly less legroom and if the onboard toilet is being used it can mean there is danger of experiencing a smell from the toilet which isn’t very nice.
As with seating on coaches different coach holiday companies have different approaches to room allocations. Some companies give repeat customers the best rooms, some allocate in booking order ie. those that booked first get the best rooms, some offer room upgrades – it can vary greatly.
Coach holiday companies will generally have an allocation of rooms at a hotel. This can be in a particular part of the hotel or a particular room type. Room requests are generally for double/twin bedded rooms with twin bedded rooms being the most common.
If you have particular room requirements it is best to advise these at the time of booking and then again when you meet your Tour Manager. This could be low floor rooms, high floor rooms, accessible rooms, double bedded rooms, rooms close to others in the party etc.
You may also want to ask in advance if there is the option to upgrade your rooms and of course ask what the allocation policy is.
I cannot tell you how many times I have guests upset that they have been given ‘lesser’ rooms than other travellers. This can be due to the allocation policy of the travel company as detailed above or it can simply be that the hotel have allocated rooms to guests in no particular order.
I have had first time travellers given suites and repeat customers given standard rooms, as well as different single travellers in the same group being given a mix of single and double rooms (for single use) at the same hotel.
As with all the other tips knowing this policy in advance can help avoid any frustration or disappointment on tour and it can also ensure that you know exactly what type of room you should expect.
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