What’s the difference? Which should you choose?
A variety of factors affect the quality and price of tours. Here are some of them:
Organizing a tour is risky: a company makes all the hotel, meal, guide and transport commitments, but will enough travelers take the tour to make it worthwhile? A guaranteed departure means the tour will go whether it’s profitable or not. If the company needs eight participants to earn a profit, but only two people take the tour, a guaranteed-departure tour will still go. Those two people will get a private tour at the lower cost of a group tour, the company will lose money (this time), but will not disappoint the travelers. So a guaranteed departure is worth more than a tour that advertises a minimum number of participants needed for it to operate.
Supply and demand: if lots of travelers want to go where you want to go at the same time, prices will be higher. The busiest months for independent cultural travel (ie, not just a beach vacation) are late April, Mayand early June, September and October. (For beaches, it’s June through September).
I believe the most fun tours are small-group, usually defined as around 12 travelers maximum. Optimal group size allows for pleasant interaction, conversation, fun and sharing, and doesn’t require the heavier logistics of organizing 40 people into and out of hotels and sights, and onto and off of a bus.
More comfortable, well-located hotels cost more than basic hotels away from the action. You may save money on a tour that stays at a simple, modern high-rise hotel on the outskirts. If you prefer an atmospheric boutique hotel in the city center near museums, shops, restaurants and public transport, you may have to pay more.
Some companies include most meals, some include only a few. You may prefer them included, or you may prefer to find restaurants on your own.
And what about the meals that are included? Can you choose whatever you want from the menu in a good-quality restaurant, or will you be offered a single plate, “the chicken or the pasta,” in a group dining room? Are beverages included (often, they’re not). Other “extras”? Before you look at price, decide what you want.
The better tour companies don’t fill the vehicle. For a small group tour of 10 travelers, the company may provide a 14-seat midi-bus so there’s room to change seats, stretch out, pile day-packs, etc. This costs more, but is more enjoyable for the participants.
Many tours in Turkey include a “shopping component,” a stop at one or more shops selling carpets, ceramics, souvenirs, etc. Often the shop is called a “Cultural Center,” “Traditional Crafts Center,” “Art Exhibit,” etc. to obscure its economic function.
Shops or “Cultural Centers” visited by tours usually pay a portion of revenues from purchases by tour participants to the tour company. For example, if you buy a carpet for TL500 at a shop visited on a tour, the tour company may receive TL100 from the sale. This allows the tour company to offer the tour at a lower price. In effect, travelers who shop at tour stops subsidize those who do not.
But time spent in a shop is time not spent sightseeingor relaxing at your hotel. If you’re not interested in shopping, you may be bored as tour shops tend to be in isolated locations, away from other attractions. Also, tour shops may have higher prices than independent shops in city centers which you visit on your own.
Here’s What to Do
—Determine if the tour is a guaranteed departure.
—If you must travel in high season, expect to pay more.
—How large will the group be? Is that size guaranteed?
—Get information on the tour hotels, including the size (number of rooms), character, services, room rates, and location. (Hint: use Google maps.)
—Count the number of meals included, and ask the company about dining facilities and policies (ie, can you order from the menu? Are drinks included?)
—Ask about transport policies: will every seat be filled? How big is the vehicle?
—Ask how much time is spent at “Cultural Centers” (shopping stops), on how many days, and can you opt out (if that’s what you want)?
No matter which company you use, be certain to read the company’s Terms & Conditions carefully! They may seem like “the small print,” “boilerplate,” and “legalese,” but the T&C are even more important than the tour itinerary. They define the legal contract between you and the tour company. By not knowing what you’re agreeing to, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
Certainly, most travelers to Turkey who take tours come away happy and satisfied. Careful comparison of tours can help you get the one you want.
If you have bad luck with a tour, here’s how to file a complaint.