What Is Tour Consolidation?
If you’re planning your first educational tour, you need to understand tour consolidation. In layman’s terms, this is the practice of combining multiple small groups to form one big group to go on tour together.
In the student travel industry, most trip pricing that you’ll see advertised in brochures or online are based on a group size of 35 participants all sharing one bus. These groups will operate as one group, so in addition to sharing the bus, they’ll stay at the same hotel, eat at the same restaurants, share a tour director, and generally be attached at the hip throughout the trip.
This is an ideal way to travel if you have a small group, a limited budget, or both. Many groups can’t afford to pay premium pricing for a private tour. By choosing a consolidated tour, they’re not dealing with possibility of the trip price fluctuating based on their final group size (like they would with a private tour). Additionally, some group leaders prefer to travel as a consolidated tour. Why? It’s a great way to keep the trip cost down, meaning more kids have the chance to travel (always a good thing), and they get to meet people from around the country.
Excellent! What’s The Downside?
As with all things, it’s important to read the fine print. When you’re doing your research on tour companies, be sure to as your salesperson about their consolidation policy. It will vary from company to company, but in general, there are a few things to be aware of:
1. Tour Date Change
Your tour company can move your departure date. This gives them the flexibility to match your group with other groups who’ve chosen the same (or a similar) itinerary and dates. Generally, they’ll ask you to be flexible anywhere from 1-4 days either before your chosen date or after. If you have a firm departure date and CANNOT be flexible, you should not opt for a consolidated tour. Otherwise, be prepared for a phone call 3 months before you leave telling you that your departure date is now two days before your original date. Keep in mind that it will probably be written in the terms and conditions that you must accept the new date.
2. Itinerary Change
Similar to the date change, your tour company can also make changes to your itinerary. Again, this is typically done in order to accommodate the greatest number of small groups who’ve chosen similar itineraries around the same departure date. (That was a mouthful…) The company’s terms and conditions will outline how much of the itinerary they are able to change, so be sure to read through those terms carefully. It might mean you are missing an entire city or country, reversing your itinerary, or that different activities are included.
3. Price Change
Just like the date and itinerary change, your price could also fluctuate. Most of the time, your tour operator will let you know if a date or itinerary change is likely. Be sure to ask about price changes as well. While consolidating to a different date or itinerary could work in your favor pricewise (you could get moved to a less expensive tour), it can also mean your group ends up paying more.
In conclusion, tour consolidation isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it can be the only way some small groups get to travel at all. And that’s a good thing! But make sure you know up front exactly what changes are possible before you decide on a company and trip. Keep yourself informed. Ask your tour operator questions during the planning process and stay in regular communication in the months before departure.