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Open any magazine or walk into any travel agency and you will find dozens of tour companies offering a variety of adventure vacations from biking and hiking in the United States to photo safaris in Africa.

The ABCs of Choosing an Adventure Tour Company

Niagara Falls Day Trip from New York by Air Private Tour of London's Historic Pubs  Grand Canyon All American Helicopter Tour

The key to choosing the right tour is knowing how to find the tour company and the trip that's right for you.

In order to assist you in making an informed decision, The World Outdoors has provided Travel Notes visitors with 11 Essential Questions to Ask Every Tour Company.

By knowing the right questions to ask, you will be able to choose the best quality outfitter to meet your particular vacation needs.

What Kind of a Trip Am I Looking For?

Begin by determining what is important to you in a trip.

Some aspects to consider are:

Trip destination
Trip dates
Activity: biking, hiking, rafting, etc.
Price range

Trip destination and activity should help to narrow your tour search between four to five tour companies.

Now it's important to contact and evaluate each tour operator.

Your initial contact will tell you a lot about the company. The company staff should be friendly, efficient, knowledgeable, and able to answer the following questions.

Essential Questions to Ask Every Tour Company

1. How long has your company been in business? In what area of the world/activity do you specialise?

The older the company, the more time it has had to perfect the vacation package or to iron out the quirks.

It is usually better to choose an operator that specialises in the area you'd like to visit and the activity you'd like to partake in.

2. What is the group size for a trip?

Be sure to ask the maximum number of participants allowed on a trip and the client-to-guide ratio.

A smaller group and client-to-guide ratio will offer a more personal experience, better support, and allow for spontaneity and all the little extra touches.

3. What is the general profile of your participants?

Tour companies often cater to a specific type of person.

Knowing the age range, marital status, gender and athletic ability of participants will help you decide on the right company and trip for you.

4. What is included in the price of the trip and what additional expenses should I expect?

Most tour companies include all meals and accommodations in their advertised price.

Some companies also include rental equipment, while others provide the option of bringing your own or renting for a nominal fee.

Air transportation is not usually included in the price, but ask for a travel agency recommendation. Most tour operators either have a travel agency or work in conjunction with one to provide you with the lowest airfare.

In determining your total trip cost, include airfare and any additional transportation costs (shuttles, rental cars, etc.) needed to arrive at the designated trip starting point.

5. What are the food arrangements?

All tour companies differ in meal arrangements.

You may want to ask the operator if they use pre-set menus, go to restaurants or dine at someone's house; how dietary restrictions and dietary preferences are handled; and what the lunch arrangements will be.

Many lunches are provided picnic-style and can vary from simple peanut-butter sandwiches to gourmet spreads.

6. What type of accommodations are provided?

Whether it is an inn-to-inn or a camping tour, accommodations play a critical role in the enjoyment of a trip.

Ask about the inns used; if it is a bed & breakfast or a simple hotel; the size of the lodge, and what the room arrangements will be.

For example:
Can I share a room?
Is there an extra charge for my own room?
If I agree to share, but you cannot match me up, will I need to pay an extra fee?
Do the inns have private or shared baths?

For camping trips, location can be everything.

Find out if the campground is in a remote area or part of an RV park, and if showers are available.

7. What training do the guides have?

First-aid and a good regional knowledge are essential for any tour guide, as are personality and leadership skills.

Ask how long the guides have been with the company. This should indicate if they enjoy working with the outfitter.

Additionally, ask about their experience level and what the minimum skills required of a guide are.

In general, a tour operator will schedule every trip with at least one highly experienced guide. It is also vital that international-based guides are bilingual, enabling them to manage clients more effectively in sensitive natural and cultural destinations.

8. How do you rate the ability level for your trips? Do we all have to do the same activity?

Some companies have trips with differing ability levels while others claim "good for all abilities."

Beginner to one company may be advanced to another.

Talk to the company about your fitness level in comparison to the trip ability level.

Find out how many miles a day you will be covering, what the terrain will be like and if there are any elevation gains.

If you are having difficulty deciding between two levels, the easier trip may be more comfortable for you.

Many tour companies prefer to travel as a group with all the participants partaking in the same activity. However, some operators do offer different activity or degree of difficulty options on any given day of the tour.

9. What is your cancellation and refund policy?

All tour companies have their own cancellation and refund policy.

It is very important to carefully read and understand this policy before you put any money down.

Ask the tour operator what will happen if the trip is cancelled. Will you receive a full refund?

Also, find out when you will be notified. Discovering two weeks before the start date that the trip has been cancelled will leave you scurrying and panicked to find another adventure.

10. Do you have any references I can contact for your company and/or this trip?

Always check references!

A past participant is more likely to tell you the ups and downs of a trip and give you a better feel for the personality of the tour company.

11. What is your commitment to responsible tourism or ecotourism?

Ecotourism is sustainable travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and includes meaningful community participation while protecting the well-being of local people.

Currently, there is no exiting industry accepted standards for ecotourism. As a result, responsible travellers must research which tour company most suits their individual needs and demands.

Based on the definition of ecotourism, this research should include which tour company has the least amount of negative impact on the host population and environment, and which tour company maximises the amount of money that goes directly to the local community and the conservation of natural resources.

Questions to Consider

Do you have a policy that promotes minimal impact?

Responsible tour companies should actively work to reduce, reuse, recycle and leave no trace.

Good indicators of commitment include using and advising guests to use recycled products and biodegradable materials, making sure that fragile areas are left better than they are found, and educating guests about the best ways to minimise their individual impacts.

What is your commitment to local conservation?

A good indicator of commitment is donations to local non-Governmental organisations that concentrate on environmental issues and concerns. In addition, the tour company should actively encourage conservation among the host population through local conservation efforts.

Do your operations directly benefit local people?

Tour companies can directly aid host populations by employing local workers, purchasing and using local products, and utilising locally owned business that focus on sustainability.

Because of the direct gains, communities that employ ecotourism practices are more likely to conserve their natural resources.

Do you encourage a personal commitment from your guests?

Tour operators can aid in the conservation process by encouraging their guests to get involved by volunteering to work with local conservation projects and participating in local waste clean ups as well as donating money to local environmental non-profit organisations.

Do you work to protect fragile ecosystems?

Because of the exponential increase in visitation to fragile environments, an ecosystem’s carrying capacity can easily be exceeded and thus will begin to degrade.

Tour companies should work with both local authorities and competitors to co-ordinate operations so that these unsustainable levels are not reached.

Are you sensitive to wildlife?

Responsible tour operators should adopt a localised policy concerning the viewing of wildlife that includes recommended methods of guest behaviour.

Special provisions should be made regarding encroachment distances and care should be given not to inhibit animals from taking care of their young.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of the adventure you choose, we hope that this information will aid you in finding the best tour company to meet your particular active vacation needs.

Being equipped with the essential questions will help to take the guesswork out of this decision process and make the experience easy and enjoyable.

We wish you the adventure of a lifetime in the great outdoors!

The World Outdoors
2840 Wilderness Place, Suite F Boulder, CO 80301.

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