Family travel operators vie for customer satisfaction
By Kathy Chin Leong

Chances are that if you are reading this article, you are the family’s ad hoc travel agent. You are the one who tirelessly plans the vacation destinations, transportation, lodging, tourist attractions, activities and dining options.
Are you ready to hand off that responsibility to seasoned professionals? A growing niche market of tour operators focus on family travel, with the emphasis on multi-generational exploring. So, if grandma or grandpa want to have a full, extended clan adventure, these companies want to help you.

The benefits of pre-packaged tour travel include:
*payment up front eliminates having to pay for everything a la carte
*someone else does the driving so you don’t have to worry about getting lost, parking, and tolls;
*in some cases, you don’t have to wait n lne at tourist attractions,andyou move right into the exhibits because you hae reservations.
*everything has been prepared,so you don’t have to research things yourself, saving time and energy.
In many cases, tour operators are willing to offer customized tour packages so you get to fit in everything you and the kids want to see. Here are a few of the popular ones in the United States:

Destinations & Adventures


Based in Los Angeles, Destinations & Adventures , which offers exotic and high-end international travel to locations such as Egypt, Kenya, and Greece, has announced a new United States tour: a Wild West Safari in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The company has teamed up with Spring Creek Ranch, a year-round luxury resort, a 1,000-acre wildlife sanctuary set 1,000 feet above Jackson Hole to create a western getaway.

Adventurers have the choice of staying in one of Spring Creek Ranch’s exclusive private homes and condominiums or at the comfortable and elegant hotel, all boasting spectacular views of the Teton Mountain Range, including the world famous Grand Teton. Eight-day trips, priced at $2,995 per person, begin each Saturday from now through September 2005.

The eight-day itinerary includes all meals and activities such as horseback riding, hiking,
wildlife float trips, rafting, sea kayaking, a tour of Yellowstone. Think of  Destinations & Adventures as the Cadillac of tour operations. It’s marketing materials stress that the business offers "the highest quality accommodations and itineraries featuring the finest hotels, lodges, resorts, safari camps and cruises."

The outfit employs local area experts, hand-chosen to ensure every door is open for the traveler. For more information on the Destinations & Adventures Wild West Safari or other private luxury experiences call 800.659.4599 or log onto www.daitravel.com .

Generations Touring

Generations Touring Company , a Seattle family business, prides itself on offering grandparents, parents and kids opportunities to connect with each other through travel.  With an emphasis on education and cultural awareness, small tours of 10-25 people will experience a balance of fun activities, cultural encounters and creative educational opportunities in exotic places such as the Galapagos, Costa Rica, Mexico and Vietnam.  The outfit also sells theme trips featuring Western U.S. Parks, Major League Baseball, Music of the South, and more.

Founded in 2003, GTC offers two types of tours: journeys for the leisure traveler and adventures for the more physically inclined. Because the founders want the families to be prepared when they come, GTC provides a suggested reading list. The organization does not ban, but discourages the use of Gameboys and headsets while travelling.

During each excursion, GTC fashions a Time Together-Time Apart program where parents can have private time while the kids are supervised by a GTC professional. Most trips include the cost of most meals, excursions, tips, local transportation and lodging.

GTC is striving for uniqueness in an alphabet soup of tour operators who go to similar places.
And for families that want to go on a customized trip, GTC can work with groups of 6 or more.
GTC also offers a Take-A-Parent Tour, designed for adult children and their parents or grandparents. And because all tours are comprised of 25 guests and under, GTC says it ventures to off-the-beaten path locales so travellers can savor the culture of the region.

Tom Easthope, founder of GTC returned from a trip with his son to Vietnam, and, as a result, is offering a family program to Vietnam this year. The operation’s website with full and up-to-date itineraries is www.generationstouringcompany.com  . You can also call 1/888-415-9100 for more information.

Thomson


And over in Watertown, Ma, Thomson Family Adventures , founded by couple Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland, the 20-year-old family business also sells trips to exotic lands such as Egypt, China, Tanzania, Ecuador, and more. As you can tell, the emphasis is on the word "adventure", and Thomson trips feature action-packed excursions including: kayaking near glaciers in Alaska and exploring the Pyramids of Egypt.

Like GTC, it also emphasizes small group travel with no more than 20 guests per group, and will customize a trip if nothing on the current trip list meets the group’s needs. With groups of 8 or more, Thomson assigns a mentor who will work specifically with the children and entertain them with hands-on activities and games.

In addition, before the trip begins, under the Thomson Pen Pal Program, kids have the opportunity to write to another child who lives in the destination the family will be travelling to. During the trip, the kids will have a chance to meet and talk more about their lives in their respective countries.

Trips are designed around school vacation times in the winter, spring, and summer. The company promises that a trip will go on as scheduled, even if the destination is undersold for that time period.

Costs for each adventure include meals, excursions, lodging, travel insurance, and transportation within the country destination. A 9-day trip to Egypt, which brings you snorkeling in the Red Sea, costs roughtly $4,490 per adult and $3,990 for kids 12 and under. A 9-day adventure to Alaska’s Inside Passage runs $2,790 per adult and $2,590 for kids 12 and under. Contact the company at www.familyadventures.com or call 1/800-262-6255 for a free brochure.

Tauck Bridges


Sister company to Tauck World Discovery which started in 1925, this 2003-launched Tauck Bridges family travel touring operation wows families with 11 different itineraries in the United States, Europe, South America, and Costa Rica. With emphasis on nature, discovery, history and adventure, the Wesport, Ct., firm says travel for families doubled in 2004 compared to the year prior, and 2005 is expected to hit the roof.

The firm quotes families with a set price for its all inclusive packages and can even take care of airlne tickets. The firm recently added a new trip called Castles and Kings, that visits both London and Paris for an 8-day adventure.
Most of the trips are 8-day events, and the U.S. vacations feature at least one stop in a national park. In the Red Rocks and Painted Canyons itinerary, the group will visit the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Lake Powell, and more. For more information, call 1/888-237-0229 or 1-866-636-6500. Click on www.tauckbridges.com

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If you go, ask the tour agency…

*How young can the youngest child be on these trips?
*How many people will there be per group?
*What happens if the group is too small? Will we still go?
*How are groups arranged?
*Will there be children there who are my kids’ ages?
*How rigorous is the schedule?
*Will there be private time for families or couples to connect?
*What type of accommodations will we have?
*How do you handle food allergies and environmental allergies?
*How safe are the foreign countries on the itinerary?
*Are tips included? Is there anything not included I should know about?
*What about shots and passports? How soon should I prepare?
*Can I have a reference of someone who went on this same trip?

Kathy Chin Leong has had successful experiences going on group tours. Her last one occurred in February of 2004 when she travelled with her daughter’s school to the East Coast.

(All photos courtesy of Destinations and Adventures).

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