Above: Heather and Rick F. atop Passo Gavia, many years ago.
A few of our competitors have already begun hyping what they call "Guaranteed Departures". We understand anxiety about whether a scheduled tour will go as planned or be cancelled due to lack of demand. Nobody can run tours at a loss for long or continue with an unpopular itinerary when space on the season calendar is always at a premium.
On many websites, you're offered a variety of travel dates for each itinerary and there's almost always one that fits with your schedule. You make your reservation, including a deposit and soon the anxiety starts. Will the tour go? What if it doesn't go? Should I buy non-refundable airfares? When will they confirm the tour will go?
None of this is fun.
What they don't tell you is their idea (we believe the industry calls this "yield management") behind offering all those departures. The plan is first to create a desire by matching the dates you already have in mind, getting you to imagine yourself enjoying the vacation and making that reservation (commitment) easier.
Too often the result is a few reservations on each of their multiple departure dates, but rarely enough to make any individual departure profitable enough to actually run. You, on the other hand are already imagining yourself cycling in sunny Italy on the dates you chose back when you reserved your place.
This makes it much easier for them to explain that while they're very sorry, your chosen departure will not be running this season, they just happen to have one that will - and (surprise!) they can switch you to this other departure right away and at no extra charge. What swell, caring folks, right? Maybe not.
We believe these multiple dates are offered with knowledge that not all of them can be filled, but the operator is confident they can switch you to another tour and end up with a few departures that are full - and very profitable. Some of them might even have more clients than their stated maximum group size. By accident...or design?
Our hotel partners have told us competitors often reserve rooms a year in advance for all of these departures, but also tell us most of them are cancelled. This can also help to restrict competition by booking up choice hotels in a region - at least until the hotel figures it all out. They often tell us, "Don't worry, they cancel most of these dates, we're sure we can take care of you."
Once your tour dates have been changed, can you juggle your vacation schedule to match up with them? What if the new dates simply don't work for you? While most tour operators will refund your deposit in full or credit you towards a future tour, if you've already purchased non-refundable airfare, will you lose 100% or be forced to pay a lot extra to change the travel dates?
Each spring we receive panicky calls and emails, saying "Company X just cancelled on me, have you got space available for a tour on these dates?" Sometimes we can help them, sometimes not. One company explains they'll run your chosen tour with less than their minimum participation numbers, but only if you accept just one guide... and pay a surcharge!
ALL of our 2016 departures are guaranteed* as of today with the following exceptions: Paradise in Piedmont needs 4 more reservations while Taste of Tuscany needs just 2. No switching, no extra costs, no cancellations. Our departures are usually just one per season per tour. If you can't make it on those dates, we'll hope to see you on another tour or in a future season, If the dollar vs euro exchange rate stays favorable, we'll promise some special surprises (like last season) so reserve your place now - More Monferrato 2016 is already sold-out.
*More Monferrato, Vineyards to the Sea, Grandi Alpi and Legendary Climbs are viable with the number of clients currently reserved. This assumes 100% of these reservations are completed by payment-in-full by April 15, 2016. Otherwise CycleItalia reserves the right to cancel any tour at any time for any reason. 100% refund of all monies received shall constitute full settlement.