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What travelers want most in vacation packages & tours

Flexibility and choice, "authentic experiences," and the ability to customize a trip are what people want most in tours and vacation packages, according to a member survey conducted by the U.S. Tour Operators Association.  Value for the dollar, enhanced service and new destinations were other elements cited by USTOA members, who send 11 million travelers on vacation yearly.

Flexibility – The survey revealed that, while travelers want the value of a vacation package or tour, they also want flexibility. "People are asking for more free time, more shopping, and greater choice, " says Bob Whitley, USTOA president,. "Tours today are answering that demand by balancing free time with sightseeing so that there is plenty of freedom for on-your-own activities." Whitley  noted  that travelers also want centrally located hotels for easy access to major sites they can explore on their own.

Customization -Tailoring trips to fit personal requirements, whether these involve dietary concerns or special interests, is also important, according to the survey. Travelers particularly cite private tours and customized programs that let them match activities to their interests.  In fact, the same USTOA member survey revealed that FIT’s-or independent customized packages –scored the greatest gains in 2007 compared to 2006, with more than 80% of respondents reporting growth in this area.

Enhanced Experiences – Travelers are increasingly asking for experiential vacations. "They want new and authentic experiences, cultural enrichment, and in-depth discoveries," says Whitley. "Travelers want to meet local people and to explore indigenous cultures, rather than take part in traditional ‘tourist activities.’ Participation in learning experiences is high on travelers’ wish list," says Whitley. Some examples: a tour of the Middle East that includes a short Nile cruise to see how life is lived in rural Egypt, with stops at the great archeological treasures along the way; or an included learning activity, such as visiting Aboriginal communities or studying conservation while exploring Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Value – Especially in these times of economic uncertainty travelers are telling tour operators they want value. According to the survey, this may take the form of  frequent customer discounts, etc. Bottom line: "Travelers are looking for the best product at the best price," one USTOA member summed up.

Service – Little touches mean a lot. The desire for service extends to such specifics as meeting all guests at the airport, rather than at a hotel or other destination, one respondent reported. Another USTOA operator noted that some customers want everything taken care of on vacation. USTOA’s Whitley says that travelers should carefully check out a tour itinerary for these small touches and services. "You may find that the little extra you pay for the fine tuning goes a long way in enhancing your entire vacation experience."

"There is a common misperception that tours and travel packages tend to lock you into a one-size-fits-all experience. While that may have been true a number of years ago, tours today offer flexibility, choice, and also allow travelers to find the types of experiences that are best suited to them," says Whitley.