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 like, what you need, what you want to do, and what you want to spend.
For a trip that may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you deserve the best service. In this article, we'll tell you how to spot a reliable travel agency and tips to help you pick the right tour company for your China trip.
1. Consider Booking with a China-Based Tour Company
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, foreign tour companies know you well, China not so well. They 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. It is the "middle-man tour option".
A China-based tour operator knows China and its tourism better, and its overheads are lower, meaning better value.
2. Decide Your Tour Type: Group or Private Tour
There are basically two types of tour for visiting China: group tour and private tour. If you want to discover China your way, have some authentic experiences beyond the major attractions, a private tour is right for you.
Group Tour Companies
Group tour companies (catering to 15 tourists or more at a time) 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 with loudhailers. Unexpecting foreigners may consider themselves "caught in a tourist trap"as they are taken "captive"to lots of overpriced shops and tourist trap restaurants, with not much time at the sights they came to see.
Private, Custom Tour Companies
Foreground: private tour group
Background: group tour
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. We at China Highlight are consistently ranked among the best in China.
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. Take our private China tours to enjoy great flexibility for your china trip;
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.
3. A Single City Specialist or a Multi-City Operator?
If you focus on a single destination, a single city tour 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.
4. 5 Signs of the Best Travel Agencies
If you've searched for China travel companies online, you might be overwhelmed by the many choices. How to select the perfect company for you? Here are some signs of a great travel agent:
1) Certification or Professional Membership
Basically, it is safe to say a travel agency is reputable if it is a member of certain international associations, such as Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). Travel agencies often mention their professional memberships on their website. You can also check with the organizations and associations.
We at China Highlights are proud to be a member of the international associations mentioned above.
2) They Care What You Want and Need
A worthy travel agency will listen to your needs and try their best to tailor your trip, repeatedly modifying the itinerary to make it exactly what you want to do. Travel consultants and guides of helpful agencies (like ours)are experienced in going the extra mile, understand your needs, and provide you with professional suggestions and options.
3)They Provide Great Experiences
It is easy to take you to the major attractions and every China travel agency does it. A great travel company puts in more effort than the others to find authentic local restaurants, instead of the tourist hangouts that large groups are herded into; and to give you the chance to visit local families, rural farmers, and experience local life.
We believe an authentic travel experience goes beyond visiting the must-see attractions. We enable you to immerse yourself in local traditions and life.
See some of our exclusive experiences which extend beyond the surface of the sites.
4) No Hidden Fees and Safe Payment Options
The best tour companies are transparent and don't have hidden or added fees. They will clearly disclose the inclusions and exclusions of their tour prices. Be sure to check with your tour operator about extra charges.
They will also provide safe payment methods, such as wire transfer or PayPal, and accept credit/debit cards and payment in installments.
5) A Great Reputation
The most direct way to check a company's merit is their reputation. You should be able to find ratings and reviews on websites such as TripAdvisor.com and Trustpilot.com.
These are actual TripAdvisor reviews from our clients:
"China Highlights was the best!! All thanks to our lovely and personable and highly knowledgeable guide, Laura. She was WONDERFUL. Laura took care of our every need!"—David Jessen from the US
"From initial planning with the responsive, intelligent and super helpful Rita Lu in the office in Guilin, to taking the Li River cruise, and a special rural adventure Yangshuo, China Highlights and our guide Lele made everything easy and very interesting."—Gayle from US
See more China Highlights reviews on TripAdvisor from our clients.
Travel China Your Way with Us
We at China Highlights are proud to be the choice of discerning travelers: excellent for families, small groups, and individual tourists who want flexibility, local expertise, attentive personal service, and to be in control of their tour.
We aim to give you the best possible experience of China's best attractions. We have more than 20 years of experience arranging tours for more than 10,000 satisfied English-speaking clients a year with continuous development in response to customer feedback.
Recommended customizable itineraries for first China trips:
- The Golden Triangle: Beijing–Xi'an–Shanghai in 8 days
- Classic Wonders: Beijing–Xi'an–Guilin/Yangshuo–Shanghai in 11 days
Contact us for a custom China trip design and quote.