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Hi from Rick: What Makes Our Tours Unique?

Imagine: You run a tour company that you really love, and you finally return to Europe after two long years. Landing in Rome, one of the world's great cities, you meet up with your group: 20 bright, talented, and eager tour guides from all over Europe, excited to travel and learn together.

I just got home from my big fall trip. Being back in Europe was pure joy…made even sweeter by getting to experience it with that busload of guides. People often ask me what makes a Rick Steves tour unique. Sure, you get unforgettable experiences, great food, smart itineraries, and the wonderful fellow tour members we attract. But if I had to sum up the magic ingredient in two words, it'd be this: great guides.

This trip's goal was to train and mentor the "class of 2020" — the crop of new guides who were preparing to start working on our tours when the pandemic hit. Before we send them out in 2022, we thought it'd be worth a refresher on how to create a special Rick Steves tour. And it gave me (and key members of my office staff) a chance to experience a tour during pandemic times, too.

Our route was one of our most popular tour itineraries: the Heart of Italy in 9 Days. This provided a wonderful mix of teaching experiences, with stops in a big, bustling city (Rome), a dreamy hill town (Volterra), a stretch of the Riviera (the Cinque Terre), an art capital (Florence)…and just the right amount of time relaxing on the bus.

We also filled each day with hands-on lessons, exercises, and workshops. We went through all the key guiding skills, from making a daily schedule, to expertly leading city walks, to earning a group's attention when picking up the microphone. It was an energizing time to share and inspire each other. We know that they're already great guides — in most cases, with many years of guiding experience. Our goal is to transform them into great Rick Steves guides.

For example, one of my favorite activities was the time we spent each morning turning our hotel breakfast room into a classroom. Each guide took turns working on their speaking style and teaching techniques. Every fact a guide shares needs to pass the "so what?" test: It must be worth knowing and presented in a way that's easy to grasp. We need to get this right, because we're the luckiest teachers in the world — our classrooms are the historic and cultural wonders of Europe, and our students are the curious and eager-to-learn travelers who fill our tours.

As for the pandemic: Like the US, Europe is not out of the woods yet. But I'm inspired and emboldened by the way Europeans are taking things seriously and striving to get their travel industry back on track. Even with winter cases currently increasing, based on what I've observed, I'm optimistic that Europe will be ready for us in 2022. And we're thinking strategically about how to adapt our tours for the times we live in (for example, proof of vaccination will be required to take part in any Rick Steves tour) — without sacrificing the focus on rich experiences that's so fundamental to our style of travel.

In this month's Tour News, share the experiences on our Heart of Italy tour with a colorful day-by-day slideshow, meet a handful of our amazing Heart of Italy tour guides, read tour member reviews of what they enjoyed most about their Heart of Italy tour experience, and join me on a visit to the charming hill town of Volterra.

I flew home satisfied that those 20 guides have bonded and are well on their way to joining the ranks of great Rick Steves guides. I'm confident that they'll be ready to meet the already high expectations of the travelers who entrust us with their European experience year after year…and, year after year, enjoy high-caliber guides.

Happy Travels!



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