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Taking a tour of China can be a wonderful experience with the right tour company, or it can be lousy otherwise. Choosing the tour company that is best for you depends on what you'd like, what you need, what you want to do, and what you'd want to spend.
Here are 6 steps with questions and suggestions to help you decide the kind of China tour to go on and which tour company is the best for you.
If you have prior experience in China or are familiar with the language, etc., you may feel you can manage without a tour company. Going solo will give you lots of freedom and local experiences, but also some hard work. An independent tour is basically: your tour minus tour company service.
Do you think you could do a better job of organizing your China tour than a tour company? See more on Independent Travel in China.
A tour operator in your country will have the same language and culture as you, so communication will be easier, they'll know you better, and have a website and service designed specifically for you. However, they are limited in what they can arrange in China.
A China-based tour operator knows China and its tourism better, and its overheads are lower, meaning better value.
Foreign tour companies use Chinese agents, and often just resell Chinese tour company tours, with less control over them, less flexibility, and less local knowledge than a Chinese company. A foreign company is the "middle-man tour option".
Tour group companies (15 tourists or more) are set up to handle large groups and have buses and fixed hotels and restaurants that they use. Bulk purchase means lower price.
Group tour companies that specialize in e.g. young people's tours might be ideal for those who want to do things with a lot of others their age.
Group tours in China are usually synonymous with big buses and camera-stop tourists riding around with tour guides orating on loudhailers.
Unlucky foreigners caught in such a trap trip find themselves taken to lots of overpriced shops and tourist trap restaurants, with not much time at the sights they came to see.
Chinese tour companies offering individual, customized tours are highly rated by foreign tourists on Trip Advisor and other reputable travel sites, because they can organize exactly what you want.
Families and small groups find that private tour companies are better. They are excellent if you want to choose your tourist companions and hotel roommates, if any.
Special needs or preferences? Private tour companies are a lot more flexible and can also accommodate special needs and preferences better, e.g. dietary requirements, disabilities, etc. — your choices and your pace.
No forced shopping excursions: This is a big downside of most China tours, but you can avoid these by going with a custom tour company.
If you focus on a single destination, a single destination provider can offer a richer product range and price advantages. Some cities or specific attractions are best served by small companies who specialize in the one place.
If you travel to multiple destinations, however, it is advisable to choose a nationwide service provider, for a reliable service standard level over a number of cities. China-wide operators can better solve your inter-destination transport requirements, especially when an unexpected situation occurs (such as flight delays/cancellations).
Using a service provider who can coordinate between destinations, should provide many advantages in terms of efficiency and costs. China has several large national companies, like us, that are generally the better choices for multi-day, multi-city China tours. We are among the best in many single locations too.
Luxury tour companies specialize in providing deluxe tours at the top 5-star hotels etc. Some luxury tour companies overcharge for what you get.
Getting good value for money may be your main concern. Look at the quoted prices and talk with the company about which hotels they are booking, what they are paying for the rooms and tickets, and what their profit is. The best tour companies let you choose hotels, and try to give best value for money.
The best tour companies are transparent and don't have hidden or added fees, such as the "single supplement" (a surcharge for one person using a hotel room instead of two). Be sure to check with your tour operator about extra charges. See more tips on Saving Money on a China Trip.
Traveling like a local means using public transportation, staying in Chinese-style hotels, and eating at restaurants favored by natives. The food is very authentic, and the accommodations are comfortable and clean enough when you get used to them. The lower cost is a bonus to this immersive tour style
We at China Highlights are big enough and skilled enough to cater for all three styles of tour: comfort, value, and local experience.
Trip Advisor's ratings and rankings are best, with much more traffic than any other. Lonely Planet is often rated #2 in the world.
Trip Advisor is best for accessing customer reviews, ratings and rankings of tour companies, locations, interests and "Things to Do" around China. The number of reviewers for each tour or company is another clue about which tour company is really the best, most popular, and most experienced.
Other quick research tools are comparing company websites and making preliminary inquiries. Many companies, like us, will give you a quote for a tour within 24 hours.
We aim to give you the best possible experience of China’s best attractions. We have more than 19 years of experience arranging tours for more than 10,000 satisfied English-speaking clients a year with continuous development in response to customer feedback.
Contact us for a custom China trip design and quote.