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From messy room mates to lazy latecomers, bossy bullies and bickering couples, broken buses and guides who believe their word is gospel even when they’re wrong, group tours can sometimes feel like your own personal version of hell.
Time is limited in each destination. Schedules and itineraries are set. Cardboard cut out rooms, bland set menus and long drive days dominate. Independence is sacrificed, and anyone who has ever been thrust together with a group of strangers knows that travelling in a group can be a social experiment gone wrong.
It’s enough to make you swear off group travel for good: the one hour heated argument over what colour the group tour shirt should be; the time cut short at places because other people couldn’t set their alarm clocks; the stuff stolen because someone forgot to lock the tour bus behind them, the guides who take a cut of the cash from the overpriced tourist shops they insist on taking the group to.
But not everyone feels this way. For some, group tours offer an unparalleled level of convenience, community, safety, security, affordability and accessibility that simply couldn’t be replicated if they took on a destination on their own.
In the past, people generally fell into two categories: those who swear by group travel, and those who would rather drop into the black abyss than sign up for a tour with others.
But this has changed. While previously most group tours aimed at travellers have stuck to the large group, big bus, strict itinerary model, companies have now realised that they have to cater for people who crave something beyond the traditional archetype.
New styles of tours have emerged, from three-week adventure journeys trucking in West Africa to niche tours that bring like-minded individuals together. As group tours become more flexible, dynamic and sophisticated, their appeal to independent travellers has grown.
Take for example Contiki, long known for their whirlwind booze bus tours around Europe. While these traditional products are still offered and, to be fair, exceptionally popular, the company also offer more targeted and innovative package tours to special events like the exclusive Coachella music festival in Palm Springs, California, offering daily transfers, accommodations and tickets. Similar tours are offered for events like La Tomatina in Spain, Octoberfest in Germany and Anzac Day in Turkey.