On my recent Central Europe tour with Insight Vacations and an international group of journalists, we were lucky to have Insight’s CEO, John Boulding, along with us.
It might seem that having the CEO along would cramp our style, but that’s not the case with John. In fact, John was often the life of the party, and was as likely to close the pub as any of the several twenty-somethings who were along, then show up early the next morning ready to accompany the sightseeing.
John even helped lead a 10-mile bike trip through some hilly backroads of the Czech Republic, outpedaling a number of folks perhaps half his age.
John, who lives in the Channel Islands, personifies the Insight philosophy: open to new experiences and ways of doing things, sensitive to what customers like and want in a tour, and able to make people feel comfortable — including giving them plenty of extra legroom on the bus.
John is tall — quite tall. Which may partially explain why Insight buses have only 40 seats in them — compared to the usual tour bus allotment of 49 to 53. The company spent the money to remove all those extra seats, effectively doubling the legroom on board — and making other tall folks like me (though not as tall as John) very grateful indeed.
Along with all that extra legroom, here are some of the other guiding tenets behind Insight Vacations:
* Insight is not sold on price. “We feel we’re sold at the right price, not the lowest,” as Boulding puts it. “We don’t scrimp. The product is better, so it costs more. And we deliver a consistent product.” Insight aims to fill a “premium” niche — above first class and en route to luxury, but at a bit lower cost than the latter.
* Hotels are centrally located. “It would be cheaper to stay outside cities but we don’t do that,” Boulding says. “If you’re staying in the right location, you can offer guests more free time. You aren’t stuck; you have options as to whether to join a sightseeing tour or not. You get the experience of being in the destination city or town at night. And you don’t waste time in traffic, driving in and out.”
* “Signature” experiences are included. Sometimes it’s a particularly interesting local hotel, such as the Medieval-themed Hotel Ruze where we stayed in the town of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic.
Sometimes it’s a special activity, such as the private opera and orchestra performance we were treated to in Vienna. Or sometimes it’s an intriguing restaurant, such as the Peklo (“Hell”) in Prague, which is located in a cave-like wine cellar.
* Tour directors and guides are topnotch. Our tour director, Neira Milkovich, from Croatia, has been leading Central Europe tours for decades, and knows her way around, to say the least. She joked about her penchant for “not shutting up,” but her many insights into local culture, history and politics gave us all an insider’s perspective on the cities and regions we visited.
Our local guides were personable, well-informed, and spoke excellent English. I especially liked the Insight touch of giving everyone boxes with earphones tuned into the guides’ microphones so that you could hear them from many yards away and wander behind at your own pace, if you liked.
Baby boomers are Insight’s core target market, representing more than half their business globally. A bit over 25 percent are older than boomers and the rest are younger.
Insight’s presence is especially strong in Europe — all countries but Kosovo, which they’re adding soon — but they also run tours in the U.S. and Canada and are expanding rapidly into the Indian subcontinent.
And what do their guests want most?
“The number one priority is the destination,” Boulding says. “Next is comfort. The third is, they don’t want to be nickel and dimed to death.”
They also like the fact that Insight tours allow them to skip the lines at the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Uffizi Galley in Florence. “It’s all about making the best use of your time,” Boulding says.
And, of course, being able to stretch out your legs on the bus. Those are the kinds of things that make me want to return.