However, when searching for an operator, it can be difficult to know what separates the very good from the average. Here we have compiled some of the key points that you may want to consider before booking your cycling holiday.
1) Specialist or Multi-NationalSpecialist independent tour operators usually run cycling holidays in just one country. They usually have excellent local knowledge, and are more likely to take you to interesting places off the beaten track. Independent tour operators are also often a lot more flexible in their tours, allowing cyclists to tailor the tour to meet their own requirements. Many people prefer independent operators because of the high level of personalised service that they provide.
Multi-national operators are more set in their ways. They will take you to see the major sights, and to the hotels with which they have long standing relationships. The guides will often be less knowledgeable than specialist ooperators, but they will be well trained in leading groups of people.
In the European Union, all tour operators, whether independent specialisits or multi-nationals, have to be fully bonded by law; so your booking will be financial protected if anything happens to the company.
Communication before the holiday will generally be easier with multi-national companies. They will often have dedicated call centres, while most communication with independent companies will be through e-mail. However, the communication with the specialist company will nearly always be more useful, as you will be speaking with the person actually running the tours, rather than a full time office administrator.
2) Single centre or multi-centreSingle centre holidays will see you based in one hotel for the length of the trip. You will then do a series of daily routes from this base. This option will usually be cheaper than a multi-centre holiday, with the obvious disadvantage that you will see less, and will often have to cycle the same roads several times.
Multi-centre holidays represent real cycle touring. You will move hotels on most days and will explore a much greater area. These are usually more expensive given the costs involved with transporting all the luggage and with booking in different hotels each day. However, you will see a greater range of scenery on these holidays, and every day will be a completely different experience. Most people choose to go on multi-centre tours.
3) What is Included?Pay special attention to what each cycling holiday company includes on their tours. Some will include all transfers, meals, entry to attractions, entertainment etc... others may include none of this. Check the tour itinerary carefully; what is not explicitly stated as being included probably will not be.
Nearly all specialist operators do not include flights in the price; it is not possible for them to do so with customers coming from all around the world. However, some multi-nationals do have an option to book the holiday with the flight included (though you may be able to find it cheaper yourself anyway).
Most operators offer bike hire. Some include this in the cost of the holiday, while others make it an optional extra. It does not make sense to book with a company that includes the cost of a bike if you are going to bring your own.
4) PriceGenerally, specialist operators will be cheaper than multi-nationals. They often only have a handful of employees, and have much lower overheads than multi-nationals. Specialists are usually run for a love of cycling rather than to make lots of money and they only need low volumes to make a living.
Multi-national operators are designed to make money for their owners and shareholders. They spend a lot on advertising and marketing, and operate more like a traditional package holiday company. They often get good discounts from hotels, but their high overheads generally make them quite expensive for cycling holidays.
A lot of companies will not advertise their prices. They will ask you to call them to request a quotation; it is best to avoid these companies. There is no reason not to advertise a fixed price, unless they are unsure that they will run the holidays, or that they feel they can over-charge certain people. There should be transparency regarding the cost of the holiday.
5) Pictures v WordsWhen you look at the website of a potential holiday company, try not to be swayed too much by the pictures. Some pictures can be great, but they can also be mis-leading. They can give false impressions about the weather, or they may represent just one or two interesting parts of an otherwise unremarkable trip.
Read the itinerary carefully and thoroughly. This should be quite detailed for each individual day; identifying a starting point, ending point and a brief description of what the day is like. If a company does not make this information easily available to customers, it suggests that they are trying to hide something.
6) SupportMost multi-centred guided tours will have a vehicle that will support the cyclists throughout the cycling holiday. It will transport the luggage (as well as any tired cyclists), and will meet up with cyclists at various times during the day to provide them with food and drink. This is the same for multi-national and independent operators.
Some indpedendent operators will also have a guide that will cycle the route. While cyclists can leave and rejoin the main group as they please throughout the day, the guide is an excellent source of information about the area. They will ensure that nobody gets lost, carry out minor repairs immediately, and point out things of interest that can add a different perspective to your touring. The guide will also help to make the cycle into a more social and enjoyable ride.
Overall, independent specialists are generally better than multi-national tour operators. The problem can often be finding a good english speaking one for the country that you wish to visit. You will probably have to find them on the internet, as they do not have the vast marketing and advertising campaigns as the multi-national companies.