How to Choose the Best Adventure Travel Company
Many of you have heard me say this for years; Fall is my favourite time of year. Don’t get me wrong, I have not given up on the summer of 2019, quite the contrary, but it is the fall that I really look forward to.
First and foremost, it’s a great time to travel. Things start to slow down as the kids go back to school, days are filled are a bit cooler and the colours start to pop on the hillsides.
Today I want to look ahead to next year’s travels. You see Fall is not just about travelling, it’s also the time of year when we release our catalogue of adventures for the next year. I can count the years (26 now) that Austin’s have been at the helm of a world-class adventure travel company. It’s been a labour of love. It’s the time of year where we hear from so many of our amazing travellers and get to work with them to plan their next adventure. Whether one of our new additions or our tried and true favourites, it is quite an honour to help everyone get on their way to the perfect adventure. The catalogue is the catalyst.
This year it seems we are getting an earlier start and hearing so many great things about this year’s travels, it’s hard (make that impossible) to not beam with pride.
While our loyal alumni are the cornerstone of what we do, it’s those that are “New” to adventure travel and or new to Austin Adventures that are so much fun to work closely with. We get it, we get that there are dozens of GREAT adventure travel companies out there and we have to earn the right to be the company of choice. Clearly, we are not the biggest on the block, but we like to think we are indeed the best. That is a tall order and one we take to heart. We look to demonstrate from that first call to those dreaded final goodbyes at the end of the trip our commitment to customer service is second to none.
I wanted to take a minute today and speak to that, how do you sort through all the offerings and pick the right adventure for you and yours. Here is a quick list of a few of the questions that I would like to suggest you consider when researching the best tour, travel, or adventure company for you:
1. Find the Company That Matches Your Personality.
Seems the #1 Key is finding the company that closest matches your travelling personality. Simply put we may not be the best fit, (we like to think we are) for everyone. I personally know the owners of many of the top tier companies and the companies seem to take on the personality of the owners. For us that might be summed up in first class, without being pretentious. We are all about being active, but not killing ourselves by day. We see activities as an important part of every day, by night we are looking for great food and accommodations. I like to say by being active by day I can have two desserts after dinner. I want to experience the local scene where ever I travel.
2. Price is not everything, nor is it always obvious.
Price isn’t everything nor is it always obvious. Its key to look at all inclusions and exclusions. We hear about it all the time — “hidden” costs or extra services. First, we know where others are priced and know and trust we are priced competitively and work hard to keep our prices below many of the top tier companies. Especially once you compare apples to apples. What do I recommend? Ask! What is included and what is not. Types of accommodations, types of meals (do you get to order off the menu or have set tour menus (ick).
3. Guides get the job done.
When choosing the tour company right for you, learn about their guides, they get the job done. We clearly understand and appreciate the fact that the guides on any given trip are what will make or break the experience. Are the guides subcontractors or employees? For that matter is the tour company subcontracting or running the programs themselves. As we have been asked and executed adventures for some of the biggest names in the business, we know not every company sees the value of running tours directly. The key is the guest to guide ratio. I have seen it as high as 40 to 1? Seriously, you can’t give a guest the right experience with numbers like that. We follow a strict 6 to 1 guest to guide ratio. This gives all guests the ability to interact with these amazing individuals.
4. Go for your optimal group size.
When choosing the best tour operator, group size is right up there with guests to guide ratios. While we have run custom trips for as many as 60 plus travellers, our scheduled departures target 12-18 Max. This is key as we can get in and out of restaurants, for example, the big bus tours can’t. Same for accommodations. We look to find the perfect accommodations, not just ones that can accommodate big groups.
5. Know the guarantees.
Consider what guarantees the company offers. Is the trip you signed up for guaranteed to run? That’s a tough one and one that is often overlooked. While no tour operator wants to run trips with low enrolment, it happens. How flexible is the company in allowing you to move to another trip or refund as a last resort? Most of us sign up for group trips for the interaction with likeminded travellers and it’s important that the company has a full disclosure practice. Our primary goal is to get you what you are looking for. What is the guarantee if the trip isn’t quite what you expected and or promised? Ours is 100% money-back and not many can say that.
6. Their experience and connections make a difference.
How long has the company been in business and or even in the region you want to travel? Seems we see new companies every year. The barriers to entry are just not that grand. Barriers to entry to do things right, well that is another story. Ask about insurance, safety records, staffing, etc. We have spent the last few months helping travelers (and agents) that were booked with a competing tour company that disappeared in the middle of the night. This company had no physical office, no equipment (vans, bikes, etc) and subcontracted everything. Their staff all worked from home, scattered all over the country. While we were glad to help those we could, many were left with evaporated vacation plans. Here at Austin Adventures, we are proud of our Montana based office (the “Farm”) and our regional offices in Europe and elsewhere around the globe.
7. Who owns the company?
Be bold, ask who owns the company? Is the owner involved in the day to day or just a name on the door? Over the years we have seen it all, from foreign ownership to big corporate giants. Remember what I said above about taking on the personality of the owner? I was “manning” our after-hours phone this last weekend and a guest called that was having trouble with an airline losing their luggage. They kept asking, is this really Dan Austin (ha like I was some kind of rock star or something) Yes, it was me and yes I make myself available 24/7 to all of our guests. You won’t get an answering service that can’t help you on the spot, you will get one of our experienced staff and or me personally. Frankly, after all these years I love talking to (and helping) our guests.
8. The “WOW” Factor
The WOW Factor often imitated never duplicated! We find that the devil is in the details is an understatement. While hard to identify while shopping for your next trip, quality companies do indeed look for opportunities to enhance the moment with “extras”. For Austin Adventures it is in our DNA! Our guides are trained and condition to look for every opportunity to “WOW” their guests. From ice-cold lavender-scented towel after a dusty horseback ride, a birthday cake complete with candles high atop Sentinel Pass to Ice Cream Sundaes at the summit of Angels Landing, it’s all possible, all fund and quite the WOW moment.
9. Read Reviews, ask for References!
Read Reviews about the Adventure Travel Company and ask for References! Today it’s so easy to leave a wide range of reviews online. Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor and more. Regardless of who you are looking at travelling with there is bound to be a plethora of reviews online. See what you can learn and what questions might come out of the reviews. Ask for references, any respectable tour operator has a long list of past guests that love to talk to fellow travellers about their experiences. Similar are the awards and industry recognition we all get. Good tour operators are respected by their peers. For us, it’s simple, we receive and see more amazing reviews then we could ever share, 100’s of past guests just waiting to talk up their experience as far as awards go.. well we are one of the few to win the coveted Travel and Leisure’s Worlds Best #1 Award, not once, but twice. Recently USA Today Readers picks Austin Adventures as the #1 Tour Operator based in the USA and Shape Magazine ranked us the #1 Curated trip provider. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
10. Take the time to find the right adventure for you!
When considering travel companies, take the time to find the right adventure for you! There are so many options to feed your adventure passions its hard to know where to start. First, there is when… when to travel, then there is where… where is my next adventure and then there is the type of trip, do I want a small ship cruise, a hiking trip, a multisport adventure, a biking holiday, a group tour, an exclusive just for my family or a custom one of a kind adventure to some far off land. I often joke if you wanted to go Roller Blading in Mongolia there is a company offering that (ha there actually is) Key is taking your time, talking through, researching and just really figuring out what it is you are looking for and will exceed your expectations. Here at Austin Adventures, we pioneered Multisport Adventures back in the ’90s! That said we still have dedicated biking trips (mostly in Europe) and dedicated hiking trips. We also love creating bespoke custom adventures. If you can dream it we can build it. Exclusives (taking over a scheduled departure) is a growing trend as is our newest addition Austin Concierges, Custom Adventures created for the independent-minded traveller. We also have the Austin Collection, partnerships with a handful of full-service all-inclusive resorts. Last but not least we do offer small ship cruising from the Amazon to Alaska.
The bottom line when choosing the right Adventure Travel Company?
The bottom line is to make selecting the right travel company or tour operator a big part of the process. Don’t be in any hurry and take your time. Get to know all the players and what they are offering. There is such a wide range of companies and products it is 100% key you find the right one for you and yours. We sincerely hope that as you go through all these steps and questions, we will make our way to the top of the list. If we are not right for you we get that and are just happy to see you get what you are looking for. You will know when you have found the right company and you will be rewarded with the adventure of a lifetime.
If you have any questions at all and you want to hear from me personally, great, drop me an email, send me a text or give me a call. I am here to help and if I can’t I will be sure to point you in the right direction.
We hope to see you out and on the trails for your next adventure!
Namaste, Dan Austin, President and Founder of Austin Adventures