Looking for a tour of Turkey,
you see two or three companies offering
similar itineraries...with suprisingly
What's the difference? Which should
A variety of factors affect the quality and price of tours. Here are some of
I believe the most-fun tours are small-group,
usually defined as 10 to 12 travelers
Optimal group size allows for pleasant
interaction, conversation, fun and sharing,
and doesn't require the heavier logistics of
organizing 40 or 50 people into and out of
hotels and sights, and onto and off of
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
vacation) are April, May and early June, September and October.
(For beaches, it's June through September).
A tour that spends most of its time in
more-expensive Istanbul and western Turkey may cost more than
one that takes you to off-the-beaten-path
wanna stay at Mom's
dine at the Merda Café?
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,
and public transport, the tour may
cost more because these hotels are
Some companies include most meals,
some include only a few, giving you freedom to explore Turkish cuisine as you like. You may
prefer meals included, or you may prefer
to find restaurants for some meals on your own—or have just a snack or a picnic.
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). What other
"extras" will you have to buy on your own? Before you look
at a tour price, decide what's important to you.
The better tour companies don't fill
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. A cheaper tour may use the same size vehicle, but with 16 seats, all filled.
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 profitable?
departure means the tour will
go even if the tour company will lose money on it. 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
a private tour at the lower cost of a
group tour, the company will lose money
(this time), but will not disappoint
So a guaranteed departure
is worth more than a tour that advertises
a minimum number of participants needed
for it to operate.
Many tours in Turkey include
component," a stop
at one or more shops selling carpets,
ceramics, leather apparel, souvenirs, etc.
Often the shop is called a "Cultural
Center," "Traditional Crafts Center,"
"Art Exhibit," etc. to obscure
its function as a retail store.
Shops or "Cultural Centers" visited
by tours usually pay a portion of revenues
from purchases by tour participants
to the guide and/or tour company. For example, if
you buy a carpet for TL1000
at a shop visited on a tour, the guide or tour
company may receive
TL200—or even TL500!—
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.
Sometimes the guide, not the tour company, takes the commission. A small commission of 5% to 10% might be reasonable for a guide who helps you save time, money and effort; but sometimes the commission is much higher, and not good value for money.
But time spent
in a shop is time not spent
sightseeing or 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 can visit on your own and not pay a commission.
I've seen low-priced 5-day tour itineraries that feature one
full day of frenetic sightseeing (with lots of drive-bys),
two days of free time, and two full days of shopping
in "captive" shops. Is that what
you want? The price is certainly low. Or would you rather have four days of balanced,
guided sightseeing, one shopping stop of an hour
or so, and two afternoons
Your Decision Checklist:
1. How large will the group be? Is that
2. If you must travel in high
expect to pay more.
3. Determine if the tour is a guaranteed
4. Get information on the tour hotels,
including the size (number of rooms),
character, services, room rates, and location.
(Hint: use Google maps and,
for Istanbul, review my descriptions
5. Count the number of meals included,
and read the fine print about dining facilities
and policies: can you order à la carte, from
the menu? Or is it a table d'hôte set-menu? What drinks are included, if any?
6. Ask about transport policies:
is the vehicle? Will every seat be filled? (Having free seats for day-packs, and moving around, is a big advantage.)
7. Ask how much time is spent shopping at "Cultural
Centers" (shopping stops), on how many
days, and can you opt out (if that's
what you want)?
8. 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. If you do not know 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 the best tours can help you get the one you want.
If you have bad luck with a tour, here's
how to file a complaint.
—by Tom Brosnahan