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5 Things the Big Bike Tour Companies Fail to Tell You

Beppe Salerno
Posted by Beppe Salerno on Apr 12, 2016 3:45:33 PM

Lately, I've noticed that one major player in the bike tour sector has been paying attention to my blogs. Let’s say they get “inspired” and blog themselves about the same topics just a few weeks later. That is fine and it means our blog is a success! Now, here’s my curveball. I will pinpoint 5 things large bike tour companies fail to tell you (and I was the general manager at one of them). 

Chances are none of them are interested in this topic. The good thing (for you) is that you'll find this “insider” information handy as a traveler interested in bicycle tours.

1- Marketing costs are affecting the value of your tour. In the 90’s there was very little competition in escorted adventure travel. All companies were able to thrive with little marketing investment, relying purely on word of mouth. Then, many new companies came onto the scene and competition became fierce. In order to be relevant, companies had to invest heavily in marketing.  Printing tens of thousands of glossy paper brochures, and muscling their way to the first page of search engines comes at a cost. Large bike tour companies would never admit it but the money they have to spend on hefty marketing budgets impacts the value of your tours. I remember that one year at my previous employer we faced the dilemma: new bikes or marketing? I no longer have to compromise. As a small travel company with low overhead we can over-deliver because our break-even point is trivial.  

2- High turnover. If you travel year after year with the same company you might find a new person dealing with you each time. Luckily for them, some companies have good training programs in place. But many don’t, and that results in little knowledge of the service they are supposed to deliver. Hobbies-turned-businesses make for great stories and many companies pride themselves on their humble, even casual, beginnings. The ruthless truth is that founders are often untrained managers unwilling to delegate. Inarguably, my previous boss was holding a less-than-enviable record of 100% turnover every 18 months. 

“Very high employee turnover. No flexible work hours. Constant micromanaging. Inconsistent (or non-existent) bonus plans. The stress of work stays with you after you leave the office and when you wake up in the morning. No company culture whatsoever.” Former employee on www.glassdoor.com 

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3- It’s not the tour price, it’s the margin. Large companies cancel a tour on you if they consider it under-enrolled. That’s because they need to protect their margins. Running a tour with few people lowers their overall gross profit. That’s bad news. They will usually first encourage you to move onto another tour (one that they choose), but eventually they will tell you, “sorry, the tour you chose is not going to run.” Have you been there?  

4- They cannot be flexible. Often, a large bike tour operator knows its itinerary, but not the area at large. Therefore, they will not (can not) make changes for your private group. Sometimes their programs abroad are operated by different local companies altogether. 

5- Guides are underpaid. Because guiding is such an awesome job, tour leaders are hired with the assumption that they should be happy for just having such an awesome job (riding a bike in Europe!). That should make up for the less-than-reasonable pay they are offered. When the enthusiasm wears out, it’s hard to justify getting paid minimum wage for 12+ hrs a day of work even if you work at the world’s #1 active travel company. 

“Don't pay leaders minimum wage, really undervalues them.” Former trip leader on www.glassdoor.com

Is there something wrong with this picture? Not at all. The market is the market.

I am happy that Tourissimo is getting noticed. That has given me the chance to share my thoughts and knowledge about what large bike tour companies fail to tell you, and for sure won’t blog about. I hope that you now have valuable information on how to spend your vacation money. You might also like the article How Bike Tours Are Reviewed and Why You Should Read Them With Care.  

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Topics: Cycling, Useful Info: Travel

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