Here's what some of our past traveller's have to say about their holiday with us:
Amber, Dec 2008
|XMAS, Kremlins & Tsars - 9 days ex. St Petes|
Victoria Wright, Nov 2008
|Vodka Shot - 6 days|
Caine, Nov 2008
|Vodka on Ice - 9 days|
I am a 55 yr female who usually travels alone but often with a group tour, so I have some experience with tour companies. This time I travelled with a friend of the same age.
We recently completed 3 OTG tours, Russia Unplugged; Totally Jordan and Turkey Discovered, back to back. We both completed the feedback sheets at the end of each tour however this are really 'happy sheets' and don't provide detailed feedback, hence this email. The 3 tours also gave me the opportunity to compare and identify patterns which obviously characterise OTG.
At the outset the most outstanding feature of each of the tours was the tour guide. In Russia, Natasha Smirnova; in Jordan, Ogla Nawfleh and in Turkey, Gorkan Mevlevi. I really cannot state strongly enough how professional, helpful, knowledgeable etc these people were. My judgement is that the key to OTG success is this use of local guides. Too many tour companies use ex-pat Australians, Canadians etc. etc and while this type of person is helpful there is no way they can bring to a group the detailed knowledge and understanding of a country. I can't emphasise enough how important this was in our enjoyment of each of the 3 tours.
What was most impressive was the breadth of knowledge displayed in each case. Questions on any topic from the political system, history geography, flora and fauna . etc were all answered with a depth of knowledge across a range of areas. This has never been the case when I have previously travelled with tour companies. It was outstanding (I can't think of another word). Each person had an in depth knowledge across so many areas of information. It didn't matter what the location was or the period of history, our tour leaders knew it all. FANTASTIC.
The guides were available, I think, 24/7 (I didn't test this out but my guess is that none of the three would have baulked had I called them at 2am) Certainly this was balanced delicately with the fact and I'm not sure how to describe it, but a fine sense of when not be there . to let the group or individuals alone yet they always seemed to be there, or available when needed . I guess the best way of saying this is that they didn't get in the way!
Most obviously, from each of the guides, was the tremendous love they had for their countries - not in a nauseating way but in a manner that underpinned their communication with the group.
Another aspect I noticed (ex-school teacher and management consultant) was the quiet and effective manner in which they managed the group. The groups were diverse in terms of age and background, yet in each case the group leader included and involved everyone, spoke to them individually about their particular interests etc. The last group, Turkey, consisted of an initial 24 people of whom only 4 of us were over 50. On the first night I looked at my travelling companions and thought that there was no way the next 15 days would be bearable . too many young people having a good time and not interested in what we were to experience. Whether it was because of the nature of the people - or more likely, Gorkan's group management skills, the group worked well together and at no point did we feel we were holding the group up or were too old to enjoy.
The structure of the tours means that we didn't pay entry fees etc as part of the deal which meant we always had a choice of what to see and do. While we mostly did an activity, there were times we didn't and that was our choice. I think this is an excellent way to conduct a group tour and commend OTG, I've not experienced it before and thought it worked well. From the outset each tour leader made it very clear what we were up for in additional costs - this was always done in a straight forward, open manner so we were always very clear on the fees and costs. Then it was up to us to determine what we'd do. In one case a tipping kitty was organised and my recommendation would be that this is extended, as an Australian I'm not comfortable with tipping and having the tour guide take care of it made life less complicated.
Another aspect of the OTG experience that we were particularly impressed with was the transfers. I was aware that if we arrived or departed a few days either side of a tour, it was our responsibility ,and I have no problem with that. What amazed me was being picked up at the airport in Amman at 3am and transferred to the hotel! And having the person responsible for picking us up in Istanbul putting out PA messages when we failed to appear in what he considered to be good time - he was genuinely pleased when we turned up after a long queue at passport control (just a note: we heard the message but being in a queue with no airport officials around meant that we didn't know where the information desk was until we emerged from the inner part of the airport to the public area, we also had no way of letting him know that we there, just in a queue) nonetheless his persistence and relief in seeing us was great.
We also noted the immense trouble that OTG went to, particularly in Jordan and Turkey to make one-off arrangements for travellers. People were picked up and dropped off at their convenience, not the company's, people left the tour early or started a little late, did part of a tour, all sorts of variations were catered for, I was most impressed at this individual service on a group tour - I've never experienced it before.
Natrisha, this is a great selling point I think for OTG .they really will go the extra mile as far as I noticed. And to be honest given the low price of the tours I was surprised.
There was a lot of physical activity on the tour (and I didn't really get fit before I left as I meant to) however as I said earlier, the guides always supported us and encouraged us so it really wasn't a problem. It was incredibly hot in Jordan and Turkey (also humid on the coast) and I really wouldn't recommend travelling there in July and August although I know that my work circumstances mean I have no choice.
Capadoccia was incredible (seen from a hot air balloon) as was the Jordanian desert at Wadi Rum, while I anticipated that Petra would be a highlight - and it was ( especially the donkey ride to the monastery as I avoided the 800 steps!)- the afternoon and night at Wadi Rum were magic.
I have no problem recommending OTG, though for people my age, the website and literature tend to be a little aimed at the younger generation. There is a degree of activity that I hadn't really anticipated and perhaps the odd extra free day or afternoon would help. Though I can't say what I would have missed.
Happy to expand on any of this for you or for OTG and will send you some photos shortly. There'll probably be another chapter when I can .. hope this gives you enough to go on.
My thanks and congratulations to OTG for their professionalism, efficiency, tremendous selection of staff, the consistency of their product and their organisation. Hopefully this will find its way to OTG, if so I would be most grateful if my thanks, and those of my friend, Margaret, could once again be passed onto Natasha, Ogla and Gorkan - the wonderful impression they made on us has left us with a wonderful perception and understanding of their countries.
Deborah May (55 yrs), Jul 2008
|Russia Unplugged - 9 days|