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Tailor-made tour: Indian (TGS) or overseas travel company?

London
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Tailor-made tour: Indian (TGS) or overseas travel company?
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My wife and I are just back from an amazing 3-week, tailor-made Rajasthan road-trip. We planned our itinerary in some detail, but soon realised that life would be a lot easier if we used a travel agent/tour operator to book our hotels and our car/driver, to offer expert up-to-date advice and to provide back-up in case of problems along the way. So we then had to decide whether to use one of the well-known overseas (in our case UK-based) companies which specialise in India for independent travellers, or to take a leap into the unknown and rely on a local company. That’s a pretty crucial decision so, if anyone else is facing the same choice, perhaps our experience (apologies for the length!) could be of some help.

USING A UK-BASED COMPANY

a) We approached two very well-known names. We were attracted to the idea of dealing with established outfits with good reputations. We looked forward to the ease of communication. And we liked the financial security which would come from paying a UK company with a UK credit card.

b) Company A clearly knew the area well but turned out to have a rather restricting interpretation of tailor-made. We sensed that they liked to fit independent travellers into a fairly standard formula. They would only book hotels on their own list (we had done a lot of research and we were especially interested in character accommodation, even if it might mean the odd compromise on quality). As a result, for example, they wouldn’t even include Bundi in our itinerary because they reckoned that there was no hotel there of an acceptable standard.

c) Company B offered a fully bespoke service. We could go anywhere and book any hotel, so long as the company would be able to get its commission (and so long as we took responsibility, if we insisted on a hotel which the company wouldn’t normally recommend). Our consultant had impressive experience and gave good advice. So we were confident that Company B could deliver the kind of trip that we wanted. But we were a bit uneasy that they kept pressing for our budget, so that they could ‘design a trip around that sum’.

d) When it came to the cost – for 23 hotel-nights and 22 days car/driver – both companies produced pretty similar figures. Which is when we realised that we had a problem. The prices were way out of line with what we had expected. Since we had originally intended to make our own arrangements, we knew what most of the hotel rack-rates were. And from TripAdvisor we had a fair idea of what the car/driver cost might be. So it looked as if the UK companies which we had approached were adding at least 50%, and maybe as much as 75%, to the public price (in addition to the commission they would get from each hotel). I absolutely expect, of course, to pay for service, expertise, convenience and security. But that level of mark-up did strike me as excessive (as well, in our case, as unaffordable).

e) I asked both UK companies if they could provide some break-down of their all-in quotes, so that I could see where savings might be made. Both declined to do so. One specifically explained that they were not allowed to reveal their special (!) contract rates.

USING AN INDIAN COMPANY (TGS TOURS OF JAIPUR)

a) We were therefore eager to see what an Indian company would offer. Encouraged by TripAdvisor feedback, we e-mailed our proposed itinerary to Nikhil Pandit of TGS Tours. We also explained our concerns about entrusting our travels – and our cash – to a company which we knew next-to-nothing about.

b) Nikhil responded rapidly, provided first-hand independent-sounding advice, offered some reassurance on the financial front and put us in direct touch with several past US, UK and Australian clients.

c) As a result, we invited TGS to quote for almost-exactly the trip which we had discussed with UK Company B. Same itinerary, same time-scale, same vehicle, same hotels (subject to a couple of minor adjustments). Amazingly, the final cost ended up at …. less than 60% of the UK price. TGS also volunteeered a detailed day-by-day cost breakdown, so that we could see what we were paying for each hotel, for the car/driver and for the TGS service.

d) Not surprisingly – if not without a little lingering uncertainty of the unknown – we decided to go ahead with TGS. And not just because of the cost: the transparency of the TGS pricing was a very persuasive and customer-friendly factor.

e) Over the coming months, our many contacts with Nikhil made us confident that we had taken the right decision. We did, however, have one bit of unease some 8 weeks before departure, when we had to make our first payment: credit card companies really don’t like customer-not-present transactions out of India so, after the frustration of several failed payment attempts, we found ourselves forced to make a bank transfer to cover our hotel costs. As a result, we were – albeit briefly – more exposed than we would have liked to the risk (however remote) of things going totally wrong. The upside, though, was that the bank transfer did save us the significant credit-card surcharge. And the fact that TGS never expected to be paid for our car/driver until we reached Jaipur (at the end of our trip) also gave us a good deal of extra reassurance.

THE OUTCOME

In the event, our TGS road-trip was brilliant. Nothing whatsoever went wrong. The quoted price was exactly what we paid. Our car and driver were excellent. Our hotel reservations worked perfectly – and we were often upgraded to a suite (maybe we were lucky, or maybe it helped to be travelling with a well-regarded local company). Nikhil phoned us regularly to check that everything was ok, happily made some en-route adjustments at our request and kindly invited us to his home for drinks while we were in Jaipur.

In short, I can’t think of any way in which using an overseas operator would have improved our trip. Obviously, I’m sure that we would also have had a great time had we gone with a good UK-based company – but, had we accepted either of the quotes we received, I’d have been pretty unhappy if I’d ever discovered how much extra we had paid for that pleasure. I’m sure, of course, that there are many other good Indian travel companies in addition to TGS (just as there must be lesser ones, too). And I imagine that others on TA may know of some overseas India specialists which do provide transparent and fair pricing. All I can do is speak from our own experience last month – and that experience means that we would certainly choose TGS if we were going to Rajasthan again.

Edited: 9 years ago
Jaisalmer, India
Destination Expert
for Jaisalmer
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1. Re: Tailor-made tour: Indian (TGS) or overseas travel company?
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Hi,

Thanks for your post,it take me bit time to read all . Very happy to read that TGS and Nikhil is keep it up.

And you gave chance to an indian tour oparatore , hope more people will do the same to save there money .

Dev

sydney
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386 posts
21 reviews
8 helpful votes
2. Re: Tailor-made tour: Indian (TGS) or overseas travel company?
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Hi cw10

Reading your comments reminded me of my 30 days in Rajasthan last Dec/Jan. Couldnt agree more with you about the services of TGS. Nikhil provides a wonderful service and the driver who I was fortunate enough to have for my trip, Raj, was an excellent driver with a very caring nature and a great sense of humour. He even picked up on aussie humour. I really must work on my budget so that i can return to India - feel I need to experience it some more. I will defintely contact TGS when I am ready.

New Delhi, India
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2,600 posts
215 reviews
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TGS is a super hit among foreign as well as local tourist- keep up the good work

Surrey, UK
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4. Re: Tailor-made tour: Indian (TGS) or overseas travel company?
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Please could you let us know your itinerary as we are considering a Rajasthan trip for Nov 2012. It would be a great help, if you are happy to do so. Accommodation recommendations would also be much appreciated.

Jaipur, India
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5. Re: Tailor-made tour: Indian (TGS) or overseas travel company?
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Thanks CW2 and all for the kind comments. We hope we can continue to live up to the reputation!!

Bramblers I will be very happy to send you a suggested itinerary. If you can send us an email (the details are on our profile here, just click on our name and you will go to the profile) I will get back to you

Thanks again

- Manjari

London
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5 reviews
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Bramblers - very happy to share our itinerary/hotels/etc. Christmas permitting, I'll put something up on TA soon.

Minneapolis, MN
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1,540 posts
7. Re: Tailor-made tour: Indian (TGS) or overseas travel company?
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cw10--

This is immensely, immensely helpful, and thank you so much for taking the time to make such a detailed post. I always make all of our trip arrangments on my own, but with India I am starting to feel the need for an extra bit of advice and assistance, so I am starting to think about the possibility of using an agency to do a few things for me.

One of the things I am confronting in trying to make plans is that we are in the US, and every bank transfer will cost me about 2500 rupees, and, of course, the smaller more intimate types of lodgings I am looking at will only accept back transfers. Since we are looking at a trip of longer than a month, fees and hassles will really, really start adding up if I try to plan ahead and then have to make a bank transfer for every lodging we want. So, this is why I am interested in your experience.

To help me understand better, you were tyring to use the agency to secure all of your bookings for you, and you were intending to pay for all of these reservations with a credit card payment to the travel agency. But, your credit card agency wouldn't allow the transaction to go through because the charges were originating in India? Thus, you finally ended up just making one large wire transfer to the agency to cover all of your lodging reservations? Did I get it right? I was hoping that perhaps if I found the right agency (one that would work with me on the places I want rather than their standard list) I'd be able to use the agency to secure lodging booking for me. (I have had this type of problem several times in the past--once when ordering from a website based in Turkey and once when trying to by plane tickets through the Peru site of an airline rather than through it s US version. In both cases, it took time onthe phone with my credit card agency, but I was finally able to get things to work out.)

One more thing for anyone reading this. I've been doing a lot of reading and research for our trip for quite some time. One day I came across a website offering, as they promote themselves, special opportunities for places only known to them. These are described as places for unique and more luxurious private, customized tours for their customers. As I started to read the description of one of the options, it started to ring a bell and greatly reminded me of the offerings of a small guesthouse I had just recently contacted myself. Sure enough, reading the two descriptions, this was the same homestay and trekking opportunity--a 3 night /4 day package. Then, I found another upscale type website promoting boutique hotel, special places, unique opportunities etc. Same kind of idea as to their target market. They were also offering this exact same package.

Direct from the providers, the cost of this package is $513 per person (still not cheap). But, from the tour operator, the exact same package is $1225 per person. I am more than happy to pay for services rendered, but 2 1/2 times as much is an absoutley ridiculous markup!

London
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8. Re: Tailor-made tour: Indian (TGS) or overseas travel company?
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Juliest, thanks for your thanks. Like you, I started out trying to do everything myself - but the logistics/costs of doing that for a long trip in India did start to get the better of me. I also wanted to be as sure as I could that our rooms would actually be there when we arrived.... Which - in addition to extra local advice/knowledge - is why I ended up looking for a reliable local company to take responsibility and why I was so happy to find TGS.

To clarify the payment/credit card point. TGS made all our reservations for us and told us the precise cost of each night (usually much the same as, but sometimes less, than we had been quoted when we originally planned to book direct), plus their own (entirely reasonable to my mind, given the potential hassle/cost) booking fee. TGS said they were happy to take a single Amex credit card payment to cover all of these reservations, about 8 weeks before our arrival, but in practice - and despite a number of phone calls - we just couldn't make the Amex payment work. On two separate occasions I spoke at length to various parts of Amex in the UK and was assured that I had cast-iron pre-authorisation for TGS to put through the sum involved, but in each case TGS found that the transaction was still declined by Amex. We then tried MasterCard instead, but MasterCard India wouldn't accept a customer-not-present transaction at all. Which is why I finally resorted to a single bank transfer to TGS for all of our hotels, which went through without any problem. When I met Nikhil of TGS in Jaipur, towards the end of our trip, I was able to make a totally trouble-free payment by MasterCard for all of our car/driver costs.

Hope that helps. Any other questions, just ask!

Christopher

Minneapolis, MN
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9. Re: Tailor-made tour: Indian (TGS) or overseas travel company?
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Thanks much Christopher! So, the agency made the reservations for you at each place you wanted to stay and paid the deposit for each place. Then, when you were actually there you paid the balance due to each lodging. And, at the end of your trip you paid the car and driver fees to TGS. Correct? One more question: were you staying at more mainstream, quite upscale lodgings as normally used by typical tour groups? We are interested in smaller but nice moderatly priced lodging and some of the lesse expensive heritage hotels. And, in Kerala we want to do some smaller guesthouses or homestays.

Have a good Christmas and hope to hear back from you after the holiday. Thank you.

London
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10. Re: Tailor-made tour: Indian (TGS) or overseas travel company?
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Sorry for the confusion but no, that's not quite how our trip worked. We asked TGS to make our hotel reservations, which they did (since I hate to leave too much to chance when I'm travelling so far, I confess that I double-checked with a couple of the hotels myself just to be sure that our rooms were indeed reserved - sorry, Nikhil...). Since TGS are a well-established travel company, I doubt that any actual deposits were involved at that stage; we certainly didn't pay anything up-front ourselves. But many or all of the reservations would have evaporated if the hotels hadn't been paid in full several weeks before we arrived (as you will appreciate, hotels all have different reservation/cancellation policies; we were also travelling at a fairly busy time of year). So, about 8 weeks before our departure from the UK, we had to pay TGS in full for all of our hotels so as to guarantee our rooms. We then had nothing at all to pay ourselves at each hotel (other than extra food/drink/etc). Then when we met TGS at the end of our trip, we paid the car/driver fees to them. Hope that makes sense!

As for the hotels themselves, we stayed in quite a cross-section. Where possible, we avoided larger properties of the kind which tour-groups use - like you, we prefer smaller places with plenty of character. As I promised to Brambler earlier in this thread, I'll try to post our itinerary and our hotels once Christmas is over. Meanwhile, happy holidays!

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