For 65-year-old Chandrakala Kamath, a recent trip to China was nothing short of a nightmare. The travel operator botched up the family’s visa process and air travel arrangements.
When their daughter could not join them on the trip, getting a refund was a traumatic process. “People at the front office were clueless. And those in charge of the refund were rude. It was a terrible experience,” adds Kamath.
Similarly, media professional Shruti Nayak, 30, was asked to procure a no objection certificate (NOC) signed by her father to travel to Turkey on a customised tour with a reputed travel agency. She says, “I was shocked. Who asks an adult for an NOC from her father? I stood my ground and refused.”
The months of June to September mark the start of the international travel season, with holidaymakers making their way to the US and Europe, among other destinations. These months are also popular with vacationers looking to make the most of the monsoon season in India. For their convenience, or to package in multiple destinations at one go, several people opt for group or customised tours. Here, Rakshit Desai, managing director — India, FCM Travel Solutions and Flight Shop, Jatinder Paul Singh, senior vice president, head — sales and distribution, Leisure Travel (Outbound), Thomas Cook (India), and Karan Anand — head, relationships, Cox & Kings Ltd, list what to keep in mind before planning your vacation.
1) Make sure you read the fine print carefully to ensure you understand what’s included. Don’t go purely by the price advertised.
2) There are all-inclusive group tours that would comprise sightseeing, shows, breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Some people opt for this option, as they are comfortable paying for everything upfront.
3) There are also vanilla group tours, where the basic tour to a destination, and breakfasts, lunches and dinners are included. However, some attractions are excluded, and this reduces the tour costs.
4) Ask the right questions — how many people are going to be part of the group, what is the mode of transport for group activities, which meals are included, etc.
5) Check the reputation of the tour operator. Read up reviews on travel review sites and social media.
6) Get the itinerary, and make sure the hotels are centrally located. Check if you will be put up in double- or triple-sharing rooms.
7) Travel discounts can be negotiated when travelling with a large group.
8) Since it’s a little difficult to walk and see the entire city, make sure that local transport is included in your group itinerary.
9) Know the terms. If the itinerary says ‘Panoramic City Tour’, it means it’s a view from your coach of the sights/monuments as you drive past. Some tours will include a few photo stops. However, if the itinerary says ‘Orientation City Tour’, it means you walk and see the sights at close quarters, but from outside.
10) Manage your expectations, because you get what you pay for. The service levels you can expect to receive for a Rs 80,000 per person holiday will be different from a Rs 55,000 per person holiday.
1) Know the best time to travel to a particular place. Europe is cheaper in the winter season. You can also save a bundle on Caribbean cruises by travelling in September and October.
2) Be certain if you want to go to all the destinations listed. You always have the option of telling your travel consultant if you’d like to skip a couple of places .
3) Most travel consultants have not been to the destination or stayed at the hotel that you will be put up at. So, it would be advisable to do a quick search online yourself and state your exact requirement to the consultant.
4) Decide on an itinerary based on your budget. Whether an ‘all-inclusive’ or customised package — find out if your vacation tour includes transfers, accommodations, baggage handling, restaurant tips, entrance fees, all meals, optional activities, etc.
5) If you think you will get a better deal online, choose an online travel agency. Always go for flight + hotel + sightseeing options as you will end up saving 15%-20% of your actual budget.
Keep in mind
1) Senior citizens, who are fit, could opt for a group tour. If opting for a customised tour, design your itinerary where you have to walk less and use local transport to reach important monuments.
2) If you are retired, or someone who is not hard- pressed for time, book group holidays during off-season. This will ensure that the places you are visiting during are not crowded.
3) While most international packages include travel insurance that entitles you to a cover that is valid throughout your trip, know what is covered under it and the premium you have to pay. Apart from on-tour medical emergencies, check if baggage loss, cancellation of flight and theft is covered under it.
4) Airlines operating a new route tend to offer higher discounts. Opt for them.
5) Tourism portals will feature a list of events during your stay and have special offers, discounts or even complimentary entry to events/concerts.
6) If you aren’t planning to travel to various places on a single trip, it is recommended that you book round trips as they are cheaper
7) Solo travellers and single women should always book a hotel with a 24-hour front desk, especially if you are arriving late.
1) Study what cancellation charges apply to airlines, hotels and cruises that will be passed on to you if you cancel our trip.
2) Travel operators offer an online flight cancellation option and refund. Even with holiday packages, check the cancellation rules. There are amounts that are non-refundable irrespective of how in advance you cancel. So get clarity on the rules to not lose out on a fortune.
With inputs from Manmeet Ahluwalia, marketing head, Expedia; Bhavna Sharma, manager, content marketing, TravelTriangle; Sharat Dhall, president, yatra.com; Neelu Singh, CEO and director, Ezeego1 and Ranjeet Oak, chief business officer - holidays, MakeMyTrip.