Travel Tips

Tour company executives answer questions posed by Chorus America members.

My college choir is just beginning to think about organizing our first North American tour, and we are not sure how to estimate a ballpark cost per person. We expect there will be a wide price range depending on time of year, number of travelers, and departure and arrival points. Where should we start?

There are two approaches. One is to decide you want to spend no more than a certain amount per person. A good tour company should be able to let you know a few different options that fit the budget. The other is to make your wish list of when you want to travel, for how long, where you want to travel to, how many people you want to bring, how many concerts and collaborations, etc., and a tour company can price it out.
–Johan van Zyl, Classical Movements,

I encourage every group to identify their motivation for the tour before they start planning. Examples might be beginning an exchange with another like-minded ensemble or traveling to a location which has a particular musical inspiration. Many groups start off with “let’s go to this specific place” and, after months of planning, they are shocked when the support does not follow the planners’ enthusiasm. Inspire your singers, and you can go anywhere.
– Maury Schulte, Tour Resource Consultants,

The best place to start is determining a budgetary limit per person. By discussing touring options with your students, you can get a general sense of how much people are willing to pay. Take into account any fundraising efforts that are possible as well as any grant money your college may be willing to supply. Once you have your numbers in place, an open discussion with a travel professional will help point you in the right direction.
–Ed McCall, Artist Travel Consultants—Preferred Travel Provider for DCINY,

What factors should my chorus consider when deciding between hiring a tour company and trying to produce a tour ourselves? Are there “tipping points” in terms of number of singers or number of destinations? Is it easier to self-produce if the tour stays within North America?

There are several important aspects that you should consider, with the most obvious being how much time you have or want to dedicate to the planning and organization of group travel. Planning for even the smallest group on a simple itinerary can require more attention that you might think, so it’s important to make sure you are clear about your expectations. A less apparent aspect of arranging travel is liability: many organizations require that a tour company be used due to the fact that they are covered by tour operator and travel liability insurance.
– Frank Davis, Jr., World Cultural Tours,

Occasionally I will get a request from a group and my reply will be “I think with some help you can do this on your own.” So yes, planning a tour on your own is doable, but I would include three conditions: hire a tour manager so that you can stay focused on the music; include travel insurance because you need professional support when things go wrong; and, when considering touring with a group of young singers, ask yourself the question: “If I were a parent, would I send my student on this trip knowing that it is self-produced?”
– Maury Schulte, Tour Resource Consultants,

A tipping point for numbers to make group travel viable is certainly any group of 25 or more. If a group feels that they would want to travel on their own, they would need to have dedicated staff to take care of different aspects of the tour, such as understanding local ways of doing things and dealing with any language barriers. Domestic tours may be easier to self-produce, but once again, groups need staff to take ownership of the aspects of travel as it is very difficult for the artistic personnel to do this and also concentrate on what is important for them to do.
– Johan van Zyl, Classical Movements,

How do touring companies monitor and assess the safety of various travel destinations? If a situation arises and a tour has to be cancelled, would the money we had already put down on the tour be protected?

We monitor all safety-related events including all official travel warnings, making proactive decisions to optimize security. All our travelers are covered by a fantastic full refund policy that comes into effect if the U.S. State Department issues an official Travel Warning in any of the countries to be visited. While touring, we also offer a 24-hour Duty Officer system that operates 365 days a year. These trained individuals are ready to deal with any emergency quickly and professionally. We truly take the welfare of each and every participant on our tours very seriously.
– Maggie Rodriguez, Encore Tours,

It is also important to work with a tour company that has its own people on the ground and can further provide a local assessment. It is important to have access to first-hand accounts, particularly in difficult situations where additional information can help to clarify a situation. Insurance provides vital protection for travelers and should always be considered when planning a tour. Insurance protection is there to help you when the unanticipated happens, whether that should be a lost suitcase, a need for medical attention, or a conflict that is best avoided. Ask questions, understand your contracts, and don’t be afraid to voice your concerns to your tour consultant.
–David Gagne, Maestro by Tumlare, Performance Tour Specialists,

My chorus is taking a group of about 40 adults on tour this year to Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia for 10 days. Many of our singers are new to touring. How can I prepare them for what to expect in terms of cultural differences and what their performance experience might be like?

The best preparation is having experienced travelers, especially travelers who have recently toured in these countries, talk with your group. Most touring companies have excellent resources or their own literature to help prepare travelers for their upcoming travel experience. Perhaps a representative of the tour company could make an in-person presentation to travelers. Skype or video conferences are also very useful and more powerful than the printed page.
– John Wiscombe, Music Celebrations International,

Most performances in these countries will be in beautiful churches with fantastic acoustics. The choir should understand that your tour repertoire may lean much more to sacred music than you might have for a concert at home .
– Jane Larson, Witte Performance Tours,

Some of the venues you perform in may have great historical significance. Do some research before you leave so that you can fully appreciate their value while you are visiting. If the venues chosen are very prestigious, this means they are also likely tourist attractions. Don’t be surprised to have a transient audience for some of these performances—people may wander into a cathedral, stay for a song or two and then leave. Try not to take offense; many visitors are tourists on a schedule.
– Tori Cook, Encore Tours,

Be open to new experiences. Be gentle ambassadors, ready to sample different foods and learn a few words of each language. Don’t expect standing ovations, instead relish sustained applause that celebrates your talent and effort. Enjoy great acoustics in ancient venues. Be flexible, dress sensibly for different weather, and be ready for a fair amount of walking.
–Oliver Scofield, KIconcerts,

My youth chorus has toured within the U.S. in the past, and we are now thinking about trying international travel for the first time, most likely to Costa Rica or a South American location. We usually allow cell phones on tour so that our singers can stay in touch with their families and each other. I’m concerned that will be an issue when traveling internationally and am wondering about other options?

Many groups put together tour blogs with a nightly post of photos, stories, and sometimes even concert videos contributed by members of the group. Seeing loved ones’ smiling faces is a great way for those at home to know all is well. If individual calls home are a necessity, most hotels now have WiFi, and VoIP apps like Skype allow for very inexpensive or even free calls to families at home.
–Rachel Flamm, ACFEA Tour Consultants,

International cell phone and data plans are widely available but can be very costly, especially when young people may not realize that checking social media or texting from abroad can cost hundreds of dollars. In our experience, not turning on the phones while traveling makes the tour and the interaction among the choir members so much more enjoyable. We provide the director with a local cell phone to use and have a 24/7 hotline for emergency contacts.
–– Sandra Weinacht, Incantato Concert Tours,

There are local phone cards that allow for phoning back to the U.S. at unbelievably low rates. The excellent web site gives you accurate information and suggestions regarding cell phone usage in Costa Rica. There is also similar specific information for most South American destinations.
– John Wiscombe, Music Celebrations International,

What is your number one tip for a chorus that is looking to optimize its touring budget? As we talk with different touring companies, what is the best time during the process to negotiate price?

Fill the bus and limit the number of complimentary trips. Price should be negotiated as early as possible – in the proposal stage – but it’s more important than price is to work with a reputable, responsive tour company that you’re comfortable with!
– Jane Larson, Witte Performance Tours,

The best way to gain access to the best values is to travel off-season. For example, in Europe student and youth groups should consider traveling during their school’s winter vacations, particularly in February and March. Adult ensembles may also be able to take advantage of the great values and cool weather that autumn provides in October and November, and in some destinations, into early December as well. You will also enjoy a more authentic experience with less stressful travel and easier access to the inclusions and excursions that excite you. As a bonus for youth groups, this will be a much easier time to ensure a rewarding cultural exchange while local school programs are in session as well.
––David Gagne, Maestro by Tumlare, Performance Tour Specialists,

Make sure to get a worst-case scenario quote including all currently known and to-be-expected surcharges. Ask for actual confirmed air space and for the cost of airfare to be disclosed to you. With airfares being one of—if not the most—expensive single item of an international tour, you don’t want to be surprised once it is ticketing time.
– Sandra Weinacht, Incantato Concert Tours,

Airfares are one of the key variables and group travel rates can be locked in about a year before travel begins. While there might be some bargaining on the land side if you wait longer, this will be more than offset by higher air costs. Be clear and realistic about your budget and let your travel company give you options within that budget.
–Oliver Scofield, KIconcerts,

Think about the mission of the tour. This will then drive the budget, rather than the other way around. Saving a few dollars (or even a few hundred dollars) in ways that compromised the mission would reduce the opportunities for life-changing experiences, whether on a weekend tour within your state or on a two-week tour to a once-in-a-lifetime destination. It is therefore critical to focus on value rather than price.
– Hugh Davies, ACFEA Tour Consultants,

Do you have a question about touring that you’d like to see answered? If so, please email

This article was adapted from The Voice, Winter 2014-2015.

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