The eternity of the Middle East conflict comes right into our bus in the form of an often-lost bus driver and snarky tour guide whose eye rolling is particularly irritating. Pene Hollingworth, one of Goway Travel’s no-bull tour directors, will have none of their squabbling. The moment things seem to come to a boil, she delivers a quiet but crushing verbal blow to them. The issue is diffused. Such incidents will not re-occur under her watch, because that’s not how Goway rolls.
We’re accompanying Goway Travel on a reconnaissance mission to tweak, coax and cajole the best possible experience out of the Holy Land for their Middle East Treasures itinerary, part of their Holidays of a Lifetime program. The company’s attitude toward their products is reflected in Hollingworth: it’s the Goway way—the richest, most rewarding experience for travelers—or the highway.
Long before their first crop of travelers gets there, Goway has established a solid relationship with a ground handler and examined just how cooperative and quick to respond they are. In the case of Israel, they’ve chosen Eshet Incoming, one of the best known in the country. As they’re revising the itinerary and building interpersonal alliances with the “native” team, Goway’s staff also goes over hotels with a fine-toothed comb, seeking high standards all the way. Many properties don’t make the cut. They review hotels, nix a few sights that seemed more interesting on paper, decide where clients should lunch and determine that a particular type of bus just won’t do because of lack of visibility for passengers. Anything deemed undesirable is weeded out.
What does Goway look for in their hotels? A great location and great quality, especially when it comes to its Holidays of a Lifetime program, where clients are more discerning. The best they can find at a deluxe level, usually four- or five-star—sometimes six. The service, of course, is a big part of the choice, as are amenities.
scoping out the holidays According to Hollingworth, Holidays of a Lifetime was the brainchild of Goway founder and president Bruce Hodge. They’re smaller-sized, fully escorted programs led by select tour directors that allow clients to be taken care of “…in a North American way, meeting the specific needs of a North American market,” she says. “It’s a unique product, completely different from any other program. You don’t just go from sight to sight.” Instead, travelers get a host of extra “peeks” into the culture of a country or region.
In the case of Middle East Treasures, clients will spend some time in a Bedouin camp and go on a camel ride, visit a local winery and stop by a Druze village as added values to the “classic” sites they’ll see. And that’s just in Israel. Of course, this is not a religious tour. It’s more about the culture, and clients will get plenty of it. Adding up these “extras” in another tour might add up to a more expensive vacation than those on the Holidays program, where they’re all included.
On these tours, clients get to know the people of a country and not just breeze by. “We include many individual creative items that other tours will not offer, and when they do it’s usually at an added expense,” explains Hollingworth. “Ours are all included—the little touches. Little surprises along the way. There may be something that we feel everybody should have, like, ‘Oh, a glass of wine would be nice here.’
“The other thing is we do very personalized tours,” continues Hollingworth. “None of our tour directors disappear the moment we arrive at a hotel. We dine with the group, especially when there’s a meal included. We’re available 24 hours a day, which is very unusual for tour directors on any company. We make sure that the singles are never left on their own unless they want to be. We either link them up with somebody else or we take them ourselves…. And we assist them with everything from re-confirmations to lost luggage to repairing toilets, unlocking and repairing suitcases, dealing with doctors and hospitals.” When it comes to countries that have particularly aggressive vendors, they try to “protect” them and help with bargaining as much as they can. Add to that acting as tour psychologist and managing local guides so that the trip goes according to Goway’s wishes. Their clients, she says, “…are taken care of on a different level. We get to know the people we are dealing with [in each destination], so you’ve got the knowledge of the tour directors that make the Holidays of a Lifetime that much better for the North American market.”