By Kathy Anderson Photography, courtesy All American Tours
Travel Alliance Partners members all sell prearranged itineraries, but every TAP tour operator also customizes tours to fit groups’ wants, needs and interests. For example, Atlantic Tours puts together trips for Volkssport groups that incorporate daily walks and hikes with Newfoundland’s iconic sightseeing spots, and the East Coast Touring Co. takes music-related groups to tour guitar and organ factories in Pennsylvania.
Although the East Coast Touring Co. offers group itineraries, “we also do custom tours of all our itineraries,” said Sharon Herman, vice president of sales and marketing.
“For us, generally everything is customized,” she said.
That includes the company’s Pennsylvania products such as the Hidden Treasure Holiday Tour and the Back Roads of Pennsylvania package, which feature “parts of Pennsylvania that people don’t know about,” Herman said.
“Everyone knows about Philadelphia and Lancaster [Amish country], but there’s so much in between,” she added.
The Hidden Treasure Holiday Tour features elaborate displays at Longwood Gardens and a tour of the QVC studio in West Chester. Visitors learn about Moravian traditions in the “Christmas City” of Bethlehem and experience Pennsylvania Dutch Country in Lancaster. But the holiday itinerary can take on an entirely different feel just by going during a different time of year, she said.
In the Lehigh Valley, groups can opt to tour the Martin Guitar Factory in Nazareth, where “they let you walk right up to the men who are inlaying the pearl and the frets,” Herman said. Visitors may also tour the Allen Organ Co. factory in Macungie, where workers build enormous church organs by hand.
“The biggest surprise [for travelers] is the Bethlehem area and the Lehigh Valley area because people really didn’t know about it,” Herman said. “Everybody is always surprised by what there is to see and do here.”
Groups can further customize their trips by adding a day in New York City, which is only an hour from Bethlehem — something most people don’t realize, Herman said.
“It’s so important to reach out to the local tour operators in an area because they know all those things,” she said. “When you use a vendor that’s local, you can put together a really unique customized itinerary.”
As managing director of All American Tours, David Burns can’t think of a time when the company didn’t customize some part of a tour.
“We’ve been in business 43 years, and I’m hard-pressed to remember any time someone has done anything exactly as it was printed on the brochure,” Burns said with a laugh.
All American Tours offers a three-day New Orleans trip or a weeklong Pick Your Passion tour that covers everything within a couple of hours of New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
“We can build it as people need it or want it,” Burns said.
In New Orleans, groups can visit the New Orleans School of Cooking, the National World War II Museum and Mardi Gras World, the warehouse where workers build floats for Mardi Gras parades. In Baton Rouge, visitors can tour the castlelike Old State Capitol building and the Louisiana State Museum.
Groups can tour plantations around Houma or visit an alligator farm in Greenwood. Or they can head to Lafayette for a narrated tour of the city before stopping by the Acadian Cultural Center to learn about the origins, settlement and culture of the Acadians, also known as Cajuns. The nearby town of St. Martinville also has Cajun dance halls with live Cajun music, Burns said.
“They can get a real taste of the basin swamp area down there,” he said.
During a New Orleans-only tour, visitors get to sample the city, eating famous beignets at Café du Monde, shopping in the French Market and exploring Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.
“There is just so much to see and do,” Burns said., “One of the things that struck me is how friendly and fun-loving people from Louisiana are. They just love to laugh and party.”