Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

InsightAt the end of a recent interview with TravCorp USA CEO Richard Launder, he brought to my attention the issue of whether I should still be calling the product many tour operators sell by the traditional name "escorted tours," or if travel media such as myself should once and for all embrace the term "guided vacations" instead.

It's no secret that the tour industry is trying to get away from the stereotypes of yore: the image of elderly passengers traveling together on a bus, getting shuttled from one destination to the next, singing cheesy songs or playing goofy games along the way (hey, some of those songs and games are fun, OK?).

In fact, tour operators have worked overtime to evolve the product in recent years. They have incorporated longer hotel stays at more boutique-style properties to get away from the constant hopping from one bland hotel to another each night; they've introduced smaller group departures; and they have worked to integrate more authentic and local experiences into their tours.

Michelle BaranThat said, many of the basic principles of touring have remained the same: the tour guide, the exposure to a greater number of destinations and sites than one could likely visit on their own, the camaraderie between fellow travelers. And all those elements are a big reason for the category's enduring success. Plenty of people still want the classic "escorted tour" experience.

At the start of the year, Collette Vacations changed its name to just Collette, introduced a new logo and relaunched its website, as part of a larger effort to emphasize that it is an escorted tour operator through and through (and not a river cruise operator or FIT travel provider, as many of its competitors have become).

But in explaining the move, Collette CEO Dan Sullivan Jr. referenced "guided travel," not escorted tours.

"We're purely guided travel. That's all we are. We're not FIT. We're going to be the expert on guided travel," Sullivan said at the time.

After speaking with Launder, I couldn't get the debate out of my head. Is my resistance to using the terms "guided travel" or "guided vacations" in lieu of "escorted tour" holding the industry back? It's similar to the ongoing debate in the retail space, where travel agents are trying to rebrand themselves as travel sellers, travel concierges, travel experts or any number of creative alternative terms.

The debate is part of a larger one about what really is in a term or name. How much do these sorts of things actually influence travelers and their decisions?

Terry Dale, president and CEO of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, chose not to weigh in on this one. He must be trying to get a pulse on this debate, as well.

The thing is, when we use the term "escorted tour," it seems to me it's pretty clear what we are referring to. Everyone knows what an escorted tour is, right? If not, prove me wrong. Perhaps Launder planted a seed for potential change. But until someone overwhelming convinces me (and the editors of Travel Weekly) otherwise, I'm sticking with escorted tours.

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.

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