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Comparing Tour Companies

When you are looking to do a tour, you quickly find that there are countless options, and looking at websites, everyone claims to be the best. This page will help you get a feel for the landscape out there, how tour companies are different from one another, and how to choose based on your style. We're not going to lie... we are biased, and we think we are the best. So take our information, then go research on your own. Get your own answers, and verify! verify! verify! We believe that if people do this, not only will we enjoy enough people choosing us, but those that do choose us will be doing so because we are the right fit for them... hopefully that is you!

Tour Company Categories

There are really only 2 main categories of tour companies out there. Budget and Luxury. Within each of those, there are sub-specialties such as Classic, Adventure, Youth, Culinary, Experiential, etc. Culture Discovery Vacations would fall into the Luxury category, with sub-specialties of Culinary, Experiential and Classic. More on this later.

What makes the prices different

Most of the expenses a tour company has are pretty much the same, regardless of being budget or luxury. For example, the cost of a bus changes very slightly, fuel costs are the same, the costs for tours and excursions don't change, etc. The big difference is in location/quality of the hotels you sleep in, the number of meals included AND the quality of those meals, and the included sightseeing and experiences in the tour. Keep this in mind as you read on.

Budget Tour Companies

These are many of the names you may already know, such as Globus, Trafalgar, Cosmos on the very low end, and Insight and Rick Steeves on the slightly higher end of the budget category.

The budget tour companies often work in a manner that borders on bait and switch tactics in our opinion. Look at the prices for the cheapest tours out there, and if you break down the price day by day, it is barely enough to cover the costs of hotels and transportation.

How do they do it? For one thing, they go to the cheapest hotels that are far out of the way, in areas you would never want to stay. This is a major distinction, because on a 7 night tour, the difference between a 4 star hotel in a bad location and one in a good location can account for more than $1500 per person. But in that cheap, out of the way hotel, you are often left feeling stranded, and you completely lose on the experience of the place you are visiting.

The next thing they often do is play a trick with included meals. They include far less than the luxury companies do, and what they do include is usually very cheap quality. Additionally, no drinks are included.

Then there are the guides. They typically pay tour leaders and guides the bare minimum, and sometimes nothing at all! The guides are willing to do this because they expect tips, and they get big commissions from the optional tours and tourist trap stores they bring you to. This means you have a tour leader and guides that are constantly trying to sell to you. Worst of all, they are not representing your interests. They are at all times trying to maximize their profit... from you. Dishonest practices are quite common.

All of this puts the company in a position to have the lowest possible cost so they can offer the cheapest possible tour. But where does the profit come from? Think of it like a theme park that makes more money on what you buy once you are inside the park than they do from the ticket to get in.

They include enough in their tour so that it is attractive enough to sell, but they exclude quite a bit as well. That is where the options come in, and there can be LOTS of them. You are staying at an out of the way hotel, and you have a tour leader constantly telling you how important it is to but that optional dinner, that optional tour, etc. In the end, these options can add up to thousands.

Add up the options, the commission they make at all of the tourist traps, the price you paid for the tour, and everything you will end up spending on excluded meals and activities, and you will quickly see that your actual cost of the tour is about the same as the luxury tour company. Only you will be staying in a crummy hotel, in a crummy area, and you have the uneasy feeling of being sold to throughout the tour.

This is NOT us.

Luxury Tour Companies

On the other side of the spectrum, there are the luxury companies like Tauck and Abercrombie & Kent. They are fantastic companies that have great reputations. They don't do any of the tricks the budget companies do. You stay in good, central hotels, you are not paraded through the tourist trap stores, and they typically do not play the "options" game.

However, they typically lack authenticity in what they do. That is, they mostly do "Classic" tours that go to the famous places and offer activities that are manufactured for tourists.

Where WE Fit In

Culture Discovery is a luxury tour company, but we were born a culinary and experiential tour company. We fit the model of the luxury companies in that we don't sell options, we stay in central hotels, we include most (and sometimes all) meals, we include drinks, we avoid tourist traps, we never take commissions, etc. As a base, we are very similar to a company like Tauck, but we take it an extra step.

Unlike the other luxury companies, we are very strongly focused on personal relationships. You will get to know your tour leader well before the trip, and we believe in forging bonds. Our tour leaders (we call them hosts) are more part of the group. While they are leading the tour, there is a different and very refreshing nuance. We operate like a big family and do all we can to help our guests feel like they are part of that family. It is a difference our guests comment on all the time.

Additionally, while the others do the more classic "catalog" tours, we balance our tours with some of the classic bucket list destinations and hidden treasures. It is in our name: Culture Discovery... we want you to "discover" new places.

We focus more on experience, and do all sorts of things others simply don't. That may mean we are harvesting wine grapes in Tuscany one day, or making our own olive oil. It may mean we are harvesting salt in Sicily, or going out on a truffle hunt in Umbria. We may be stomping grapes in Barolo, or dressing up in a medieval parade. We make cheese, we make grappa, we do do do, while the others are merely watching others.

And then there is the food and wine. While most of the other luxury operators offers lots of great food and wine, they typically do it within the constraints of the tourism industry. The places that work mainly with tour groups. We forge special relationships with artisans that work only with us. So while the other company is at that big multi-national winery, we are usually at a small family-run artisan winery down the road... breaking bread with the family.

The same goes for restaurants. We seek out restaurants that the locals frequent, rather than those that are accustomed to tour groups. It is all about authenticity, character, relationships, and the real culture.

How To Research

Now that we have told you a little about how we all operate, please go out there and do some research.

If you are looking for a budget company
We are clearly not a fit for you. We cannot afford to be a budget company while maintaining our values. So as you look at others, take special note to where the hotels are, and pay special attention to what is included in the price. Know that if you have a tour that has hotels away from the action and excludes 10 meals in a given week, you can easily be looking at a significantly higher cost once it is all said and done. Then look at the "down time" and research how you will spend that time on your own.

If you are looking for a luxury company
Be careful to examine the itinerary closely for what is included and what is not. Also look at how many nights you are spending in a given location. Many tours just do too much in too short a period. Seeing every major sight in 14 days may sound great, but in our experience, that never goes well. You need down time, you need time to stop and smell the roses. And packing and unpacking every day is an incredible waste of time. We believe that if you are short on time, better to see less, but do it right.

If you are looking for a "bucket list" tour that focuses exclusively on the main attractions, we may not be the right fit for you. While we do offer many of those bucket list destinations, we always balance them with places you probably have never heard of, but will never forget. In our experience, those hidden treasures are the places our guests remember the most.

Not everyone wants to "do". Some people would rather take pictures of the people harvesting the grapes, and some people want the experience of actually doing it. If you don't want to do it, we may not be the right fit.

Finally, there is something to be said of "company culture". Some people are looking for white glove service, and some are looking for a more down to earth experience. Our culture is very different than others, and it is not for everyone. If you think of us as your cousins abroad, you should probably get the right idea. We are very casual, and we treat our guests the way we would treat visiting family, not "clients". Our goal is to turn our guests into friends, even before the trip begins, so that there is a sense of actually visiting friends.

Comparing Prices

When you're choosing a tour, the cost you're quoted isn't the only factor. While researching, consider the number of people in your group, what extras you will pay for, etc. Generally, airfare is never in the price. Here is a basic idea what to expect:

  Culture Discovery Luxury Tours Budget Tours
Price per day $450 - $750 $500 - $1000 $250 - $500
Max Group Size 16 - 40 20 - 40 40 - 50
Meals 80-100% Included 50-75% Included 25-50% Included
Sightseeing All Included Most Included Mostly Extra
Hotels **** / *****
Most Central
**** / *****
Most Central
*** / ****
Most Non Central
Group to Staff Ratio 1:20 1:40 1:50
Tipping All except guide/driver All except guide/driver Not included
Contact Dedicated person from booking until end of tour Call Center Call Center

Any Questions? Write us and ask by clicking here, or call us at +1 (321) 426-8880.