Who needs organised rail tours?
Seriously, in this day and age who really needs to shell out hard dough on organised rail tours? There is no shortage of companies offering multi city tours, escorted or not, in Europe, Asia, the USA and beyond.
Many of these take out full page adverts in glossy newspaper supplements and consumer magazines, week in week out, and while press ads have arguably never been more affordable in the current climate, it’s still a significant outlay if you’re doing it regularly. To me, this suggests that these companies are still doing a roaring trade.
I’m not talking here about luxury train journeys though these are obviously a staple of the tour operators’ inventory. They’re a different deal altogether. I’m talking about escorted tours taking in multiple must-visit cities through a schedule of pre-arranged journeys in standard class. (Sleepers are rarely included in the packages but can sometimes be bought as an added extra.)
No doubt the companies behind them have put a lot of thought and effort into curating attractive and convenient routes for their customers and have taken the trouble to personally check out the journeys and bundled hotel options (nice work if you can get it!) but a quick squizz at their prices compared to assembling your own trip shows that it’s a no-brainer if you have the time, inclination and wherewithal. And therein lies the rub of course…
Cost isn’t the only factor here. These tours often lack flexibility. I may want to go to Prague, Berlin and Krakow for example, but what if the tour goes to Vienna instead of Krakow? That’s generally the point where I head back to the drawing board and my trusty Thomas Cook Rail Map. (Equally I may prefer to seek out my own accommodation and dive into the bottomless time drain of contradiction that is Tripadvisor)
I can picture a recently retired couple of empty nesters from Idaho. They’ve worked hard all their lives and finally have a bit of cash to treat themselves. They’ve always dreamed of seeing Europe and if they don’t do it soon, who knows when they’ll get the chance again?
They’re no longer of an age or mindset to ‘rough it’ with inter-railing / eurailing like their kids did. They want to just book their tour, jump on a plane and meet their friendly, smiling, placard-waving representative at the other end to be whisked off on the journey of their lives, staying in whichever generic 3 or 4 star hotel the tour operator has lined up for them.
And I don’t blame them really, but I wonder how many other people snap up these tours not knowing that there are often better value alternatives out there by researching trips independently. There’s no shortage of all inclusive deals out there, if that’s what you’re after.
So, I guess it’s obvious really who needs organised rail tours:
- People with little or no internet access / web literacy
- The cash rich / time poor brigade (maybe a dying breed in today’s economy?)
- Those who want to include a certain amount of heritage / steam routes as part of their itinerary
- People who generally like to be escorted and pampered (nothing wrong with that I spose)
- And those who simply aren’t aware of the many handy trip planing resources out there on the web.
Those of you who fall into that last category might want to look at my round-up of handy rail planning sites.
Do you think these tours are worth the large sums involved?
Ever been on one and want to share your experiences?
Just post a comment below