An off-the-peg suit from Gieves & Hawkes or a dress from Jigsaw might fit you, but no matter how well designed it is, a bespoke version is going to fit you that bit better. Travel is no different.
Tailor-made tours used to be just for the luxury end of the market but an ever-growing number of tour operators now specialise in putting together unique experiences for a globally-dispersed clientele with diverse needs. As with buying a tailor-made suit, knowledgeable clients, many of whom are seasoned travellers, are willing to pay for a “made-to-measure” experience. No matter how challenging the trip, people who book with bespoke travel companies usually want the research and logistics taken care of by professionals, freeing them to enjoy the experience. They are looking for an adventure but they also want the reassurance of knowing that someone has done the homework and will be on-hand should anything go wrong. The best travel operators have not only done the research but have visited every room in their hotel portfolio, are able to provide specific dish recommendations in chosen restaurants, and are locally-based to provide 24-hour support. The people who work within this niche are selected for their country-specific expertise, communication skills, passion for travel and diligent approach to trip planning. Nothing gets their adrenaline working quite like a complex enquiry or simply the prospect of opening a map and brainstorming ideas and itineraries with their customers.
The high-end of the tailored-travel market is booming. According to Virtuoso, a US based travel network of 8,900 agents, travellers who spend at least $100,000 a year on trips have increased their spending at two to three times the rate of the regular traveller over the past seven years. To cater for this increasing demand, the Four Seasons recently launched its own private jet service and offers a 24-day around-the-world trip that transports travellers amongst its resorts including Bora Bora, Bali and Istanbul. On this extreme end of the travel market spectrum one can find a consortium of extravagant experiences such as the six month tour on which you visit all of the 105 Michelin 3* restaurants across the globe, business class flights and 5-star hotel accommodation included. However, tailor-made tours aren’t only for celebrities or the super-rich. Nor do they have to be luxurious. Whilst many travellers think of tailor-made as staying in the most lavish accommodation, it is often the less-expensive features that make these trips special for someone who wants to truly get a feel for the country. Authenticity and unique experiences are the new luxury, and many of these trips are more about spending quality time with family and friends, as opposed to strangers, than going for extravagance.
So how do you know if a tailored holiday is for you? Whilst there is nothing wrong with group tours or off-the-peg itineraries, of which there are many high-end ones out there; even if you enjoy meeting the people you’re “grouped” with, a generic itinerary is almost certainly going to involve compromises. Planned itineraries are centred around world-renowned attractions and a group trip to Rome, no matter how high end, would be incomplete without a visit to the Colosseum. Although spectacular and definitely worth the visit, if you have already seen a “must-see” attraction on a previous trip, as many well-travelled people have, you could feel that you are wasting your time. For these very reasons, the best tour operators offer completely customised, bespoke trips. In certain cases these can be almost identical to off-the-peg group itineraries but with the added flexibility of a departure date that is up to you. However, most often they are highly customised to address your specific wishes or needs, be it a preference for small boutique hotels over international chains, fine dining versus street-food tours, from visiting indigenous ruins to shantytown favelas to award-wining urban regeneration projects. The top tour operators have the right connections and insider knowledge to make possible what would otherwise be off-limits to the general public. In general the more experienced a traveller, the harder they are to satisfy, and the more reason for going bespoke for that unique, compromise-free experience.
With an increasing number of tailor-made options out there, it can prove almost as challenging selecting a bespoke tour operator as it is deciding on a destination. One of the most important things to look for when deciding on a boutique travel operator is that they don’t sub-contract. Generally unknown to customers, many bespoke tour operators are in fact just middle-men passing off their clients to local ground handlers, or DMCs (Destination Management Companies) as they’re known in the industry, who may or may not have been thoroughly assessed. The best boutique travel companies typically have local offices in the destinations they offer, their own guides, their own means of transport, and they offer 24-hour support. They may contract specialised local experts, but the people the client interacts with from beginning to end are well-trained employees. The further you travel or the more exotic the destination, the more important this distinction is, but unfortunately it’s one many travellers don’t realise is important until it’s too late.
So what do you get with a tailor-made itinerary compared to a pre-packaged tour? First of all, you get precisely what you want, when you want it, down to a much greater level of detail. If you want to spend a certain number of days in one place and a few more in another, that’s easily catered for. As well as advice on where to go, where to stay, and during which time of year, you can specify the exact activities and attractions you want included. And you can also be sure that as well as receiving a highly personalised service you’re getting a good deal, as the tour operators work directly with the hotels and other service providers to negotiate better rates for their clients.
So when you’re planning that next all important holiday, keep in mind that a bespoke itinerary will more effectively deliver that unique experience, the way you want it, down to the last detail.
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