Seville with Trafalgar

By David Cogswell

My hardworking tour director, Sandra Suffill, said, ďOn every tour, thereís always a best and a worst hotel,Ē and though the Occidental Sevilla is only the second one on this tour, Trafalgarís Spanish Wonder, I got the feeling itís probably the best. It clearly exhibits all the four star attributes, with shiny marble floors and gleaming brass railings in the public spaces, a whole gallery of toiletries in the bathroom, plush furnishings and new carpeting.

Itís not a pretty hotel architecturally, but itís whatís inside that really counts when youíre staying in a hotel, and I only noticed the architecture on the second day when I approached it from a distance after walking for hours on my own through the maze of charming streets of Seville. I became pleasantly and purposefully lost as I followed my nose around town, turning down whatever street or alleyway caught my eye. I had a map and I intended to move generally in the direction of the hotel, but the streets are not always so clearly marked and they spread in all directions like spider legs. So you may start off in one direction and end up going in a very different one. At one point I stopped to look at the map to figure out where I was and saw that I had walked pretty much the full distance from the downtown center to the hotel without getting any closer. But no mind, that was not the object.

Walking Seville is glorious and I could spend days, not just hours doing it. The delicious architecture from Roman to Moorish to Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical and Modern; the lush vegetation with its heavy spring perfume; the variety of streets from main thoroughfares to streets barely passable with two people walking abreast; the shops, outdoor cafes and bodegas. Itís a feast for the senses. And yesterday, a sunny early spring day, may have ranked with the most beautiful days in its long history since being founded by Hercules. (On my honor!)

I chose to explore the city on my own instead of taking the optional excursion offered by Trafalgar after our morning guided tour of the city, which brings me to an important aspect of the escorted tour product and experience: options. The way tour operators handle options is part of their personality and product design, and itís an important consideration in figuring out which tour product is appropriate for which client or trip.

Some tour operators, Tauck World Discovery for example, do not offer options at all, preferring the all-inclusive model. The rationale for that product design is that once the clients have paid for the trip, they never have to reach into their pockets again on the trip. Everything is included. Tauck offers a high-end product and its clients pay for the privilege of having no more economic decisions to make on the trip.

But thankfully the tour operator market offers tremendous variety and a product that works for one client might be a dud for another client. The Trafalgar model is a good alternative for moderating the increasing cost of traveling to Europe, as well as the way it handles the question of independence. On Spanish Wonder, Trafalgar offers a basic itinerary and several optional excursions.

Those interested in either keeping their costs down, or in having more free time, may choose to take fewer of the options and use that time to do their own thing. In fact, the only thing you really have to do with the group is gather together when the group moves from city to city. And more tours these days, this one for example, spend two or more nights in each hotel, which relaxes the pace and reduces the requirements of the schedule even more.

One of the clients on this trip told me, ďMy husband doesnít do any of the guided tours, even the included ones, and he uses that time to do his laundry or whatever he wants. He loves it.Ē You can still reap as many of the benefits of group travel as you want to, such as the collective buying power of transportation (getting more expensive every day), the bulk buying power of the tour operator for hotels and other inclusions, the professional guidance and decision-making in the design of the itinerary, and, perhaps most underestimated by those who have not experienced escorted tours, the camaraderie of traveling with others from all over the world.

ASTA planned to have its World Congress in Seville in 2001, then changed it to New York after Sept. 11, which was a nice showing of support for New York, but ASTA agents missed a great experience by not seeing Seville. The National Tour Association just announced itís going to hold its spring meet in Seville in 2010, so the associationís tour operators and suppliers can have the experience of Seville. Good for them. It will be well worth the trip.

But thatís another story and the coach is waiting downstairs for our next journey: to Granada! -- David Cogswell

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