As a music director, executive director, tour chairperson or tour committee member, it goes without saying that you have a significant responsibility in helping to manage the resources of your group and in making decisions about performance tours. By placing arrangements for your concert tour—from all the little details to the larger concerns of a rich and rewarding musical experience—in the hands of experts, you will be able to honor this responsibility with peace of mind and great confidence. It also goes without saying that no matter how many times your group has toured (whether this is your first or your hundredth time!), it is never easy to compare tour companies. web pages, written proposals, and telephone conferences don’t begin to tell you all you need to know about a tour operator. You’ll find the following considerations and questions key in answering the important question, “With whom should we go with?”
Company History, Experience, and Service Record: How long have the companies you are considering been in business? What is their track record and mix of international and domestic tours? Are they financially secure enough to weather economic downturns or such disruptions as terrorism, natural disasters or epidemics? Have you checked records with the Better Business Bureau or other independent agencies to see how each company is rated? Have you checked references offered by the considered company? Can the company furnish you with names of directors or tour coordinators near or known to you, so that you can ask regarding:
• Level of service before, during and after the tour;
• Quality and location of accommodations;
• Details of concert arrangements;
• Publicity and promotion to generate audiences;
• Tour management while on tour; and
• Ability to deal with emergencies or changes.
Ownership: What do you know about the ownership of the companies you are considering? Are the owners involved in the day-to-day running of the company? If any company you are considering is foreign-owned, are you aware of liability and fiduciary limitations? Are you in-the-know about the potential difficulty of solving legal problems, including any refunds that are owed to you?
Proposal Content: Are you comparing apples to apples? Be certain that you are being offered the same thing in each of these areas:
• Length of tour;
• Number of nights in each city;
• Sightseeing entrance fees;
• Full-licensed Tour Manager;
• Number of meals included;
• Number of complimentary trips;
• Number and types of performances;
• Quality and location of performance venues;
• Flight schedule and/or routing; and
• Hotel category and location.
Be mindful that there are huge differences within the hotel classifications “three-star,” “four-star,” “first-class” and “tourist-class.” You can only make accurate comparisons if each company you consider is willing to give you precise details (not something hidden in the itinerary text!) and descriptions of proposed hotels. Be aware that some quotations may be based on triple or quadruple occupancy, or may include considerable mark-ups for single rooms.
Responsiveness: You will want to work with a company that is responsive to your particular interests, desires, needs and concerns, a company that will not merely apply a cookie-cutter approach to your performance tour. At MCI, a large staff of experienced professionals is at your disposal for regular consultation regarding every detail of your tour, whether artistic or logistical.
Musical Expertise: Nothing replaces “been there; done that.” A very fine travel agent* may not sense ‘performance/concert’ concerns and nuances, or appreciate the details of determining and recommending concert venues**, including such considerations as:
• Size of staging area;
• Need for warm-ups, rehearsals, changing rooms;
• Availability of toilets; and
• Details such as available organs, pianos, local orchestras, rental instruments, chairs, stands, lights, tables, plugs, etc.
At MCI, you are able to talk to someone who has actually toured as a performer or conductor. Imagine the difference this will make in how your artistic concerns and musical details are handled!
*Be mindful that non-music tour operators do not have the resources or contacts to affordably or adequately meet the unique needs of music-performance groups at a desirable level of quality. MCI is a professional concert tour and musical festival organizer working in a specialized niche to provide full services including concert organization/promotion and all travel/logistical arrangements to high-end musical clients. We are musicians working with musicians to provide life-changing and memorable musical experiences. Although there are enormous costs involved in the production of concerts, because MCI schedules such concerts in large volume and has established invaluable contacts and relationships with venues, regions, and countries, etc., over the course of many years, you will get these important musical features at a miniscule cost compared to what they would be if you were trying to organize your concerts directly.
**Ask important questions regarding concerts and concert venues. Are concert arrangements (including venue rental, promotions—posters, handbills, internet advertising, local press insertions, and tourist office notices) or American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) fees included? Does pricing include fully escorted tours with sightseeing entrance fees, local guides/tour managers, and meals? (These are all included in an MCI musical tour.) Is the tour a private tour so that all the necessary transfers allow for concerts, group activities, and social functions on your own agenda—as opposed to a ‘seat-in’ tour? (MCI provides a private tour).
Overseas Offices and Staff: When considering foreign travel, what does the company’s references say about overseas personnel? Is the company efficient at solving problems? Does the company have offices overseas that are accessible 24/7? Can you verify all addresses, locations, and contact details?
Value for Your Money: Value is an important consideration when weighing tour options. While price is a significant factor in your decision, often the lowest possible price does not represent the best value. Most travelers, in retrospect, wish they had paid slightly more for a lot higher quality and they regret having to deal with quality issues while on tour. While a low price tag may be tempting, we generally “get what we pay for” regarding goods and services. Look beyond just a price tag in ascertaining the value (defined as “fair return”) of a product or service in exchange for the precious investments of your time, money and resources.
Insurance: Does the company have adequate liability insurance? Is the company willing to give you copies of details? Can the company name you or your organization as a third-party liability insured? Is the company bonded? Has any client ever lost money dealing with this company? Does the company include full insurance coverage in their proposal to you, or will this be a hidden and expensive add-on?
Tour Personnel: Your local Tour Managers are an important key in a successful performance tour. Does your company engage persons who are experienced with musical organizations, fluent in the languages needed for on-site communication, and capable of handling daily situations as well as unforeseen crises? Are the tour personnel familiar with the areas to which you will be traveling, aware of regional requirements and issues such as border crossings, flexible enough to accommodate the interests of your particular group, and sensitive to issues of age or physical limitations? Will the company provide a separate tour escort for each motorcoach?
Associations: Are the companies you are considering members in good standing of various travel and professional/trade associations who demand strict accountability for financial and business ethics? Such organizations include (but are not limited to): American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), Chorus America, American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL), Student and Youth Travel Association (SYTA), American String Teachers Association (ASTA) and Music Educator National Conference (MENC).
Gut Feeling: Do you feel you are being treated with respect, honesty, professionalism and impeccable expertise? Sometimes these intangibles are the most important factors in your decision! You can only determine this by frequent communication with the companies you are considering and by asking and getting acceptable answers to the above-mentioned questions.