Leaving On A Jet Plane

Tour operators as service providers are a traveller’s delight serving dream vacations on a platter. By Deeya Nayar-Nambiar

Ride a camel in Dubai, shop for designer clothes on Bond Street, enjoy the concert at the Sydney Opera House or experience the beauty of the island at the Soneva Fushi Resort and Spa in the Maldives; your wish is their command. Tour operators, a one-stop shop for all your travel needs, have simplified the concept of travel and vacation.

As the holiday season approaches, tour operators bring out exclusive holiday packages and even slash prices to woo the customers. Besides package tours for the hoi polloi, they also offer customised holiday plans for the affluent who demand a five star accommodation, fine dining at exclusive getaways.

At a time when tourism has bloomed into a global leisure activity and the buying and spending power of the consumers is on an upswing, reaching out to your favourite destination is just a matter of planning a trip according to a budget that fits your pocket. Indeed, these service providers are a traveller’s delight who serve dream vacations on a platter and offer all your necessities under one roof.

It takes only a couple of minutes but fix your priorities in advance – the duration of your holiday, the period you are travelling and the budget –  much before you decide to walk into the nearest office of a tour operator. Based on your requirement, they prepare the itinerary and organise everything for your trip.

“In customised packages you do not have readymade itineraries, but we make it as per their requirement and duration. Here the budget comes in last,” says Yogesh Selarka, chief operating officer of RAJ Travel World.

Most of the packages include airfare, airport taxes, food (mostly breakfast and dinner), accommodation and sightseeing. Yet, beside the brochures, inquire and get a clear picture of what the package is inclusive of. Remember, tour operators are only service providers; you have to make a wise buy.

Though runaway inflation has affected many leisure holiday plans of even the upper middle class, to the affluent it has made no difference. At a cost (inclusive of all charges other than the holiday packages) of about Rs 70,000 to Rs 7 lakh, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, USA, Australia, UK, and New Zealand are the most preferred destinations. However, “people are open to visiting exotic destinations like Scandinavia, Turkey, Greece, Alaska and Morocco,” says Selarka.

Destinations are a welcome but what entice you are the packages. Kesari takes pride in their Special Interest Tour that is designed taking into consideration the need of a specific segment of people. “This segmentation is done based on various aspects such as age, gender, activities, sports, and adventure etc. For instance, ‘My Fair Lady’ is meant only for women and ‘Second Innings’ for senior citizens. These tours are different from that of the regular tours, they do not have mere sightseeing but also have many fun games, fashion shows, and other interesting activities and that is why they are special,” says Sandesh Sonawale, public relation executive at Kesari. Kesari also offers travel loans for the total tour cost, including airfare; you only need to pay the initial booking amount, which will be refunded once the loan is sanctioned.

Similarly, RAJ Travels offers a Nano series to Far East, Europe and the US, which is an all-inclusive package. Likewise, SOTC, a leading brand of Kuoni Travel Group India, has many ‘Cost Saver’ tours that have been designed keeping in mind the budget of the traveller without compromising on sightseeing and basic holiday needs. However, if you are planning a more high-end customised tour, Kuoni holidays have many a destinations to choose from.

Interestingly, food, especially vegetarian, has been a concern for most of the Indians travelling abroad and tour operators have made it their USP. “We send cooks with our customers to wherever they go. And we provide only vegetarian cuisines including Jain food,” says Jitendra Shah, CMD of Heena Tours & Travels.

In fact RAJ Travels was the first outbound tour company to introduce Indian meals on its Globe Tour Packages, and their concept of ‘caravan kitchens’ serving Indian hot meals in Europe.

“Tour Guides and managers as well as cooks are mandatory additions to our packages. In fact, Cox and Kings have specially stationed Indian chefs at different European destinations,” says Karan Anand, head of business development. Cox and Kings is one of the oldest and reputed travel organisations in India that specialises in foreign exchange and medical insurance assistance as well.

And the point to be noted is travel insurance is a must, say travel operators in unison, but it is not always included in their services. You have to specifically ask the tour operator to get you insured by a reputed company.

With Diwali and Christmas round the corner and summer vacations to follow soon, tour operators are gearing up for business. “Bookings commence well in advance; even for RAJ Travels’ European Holidays the brochures come 8-9 months in advance and enquiries have already begun for 2009,” says Selarka.

Published in September 2008, btw of Chitralekha Group

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