Interview with Karen Gee of Journeys of Distinction

Karen Gee, Managing Director of Journeys of Distinction, talks to Debbie Marshall from Silver Travel Advisor about escorted touring, with some personal tips and advice about how to get the most from your tour.
Debbie Marshall:
Journeys of Distinction’s escorted tours include some very unique and interesting experiences. In your opinion, what is the most original and unusual?

Karen Gee:
We try to add a soupcon of uniqueness in everything we do.. There’s a variety of very moving and exclusive experiences such as meeting Maori Chief Hone Mihaka whose direct ancestor personally signed the Waitangi Peace Treaty. And for a one-off specific tour, we travelled up to Shimla in the Indian Himalayas in the Viceroy’s Railcar which was the 1920’s equivalent of a company car. Planning in the wow factor moments to each of our tours is one of the greatest pleasures in our office.

Many of your clients are retired, what is it about escorted touring that particularly appeals to  mature travellers?

Actually its not really age that is the determining factor – it’s more an attitude of mind. People who choose our holidays do so because they really want to experience everything that the region they are visiting has to offer. They don’t want to just skim the surface, they want to get underneath the skin of it, get to know it and do it in style. It’s the many little touches we offer that lead us to describe our holidays as enlightened touring.

What would you recommend to someone who’s quite active and wants something that’s a bit different?KG:
Machu Picchu, Peru My top choices would be the Very Best of South America and Footsteps of The Plant Hunters. South America is incredibly rewarding and exciting but also demanding because of the number of flights involved in visiting Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil and because of the different altitudes. You’ll see all the iconic sights and more besides on this exciting adventure. China is an incredible country that’s full of contrasts – iconic sights and history on the one hand, and hugely cosmopolitan and sophisticated cities on the other. It’s quite incredible.

Which kind of tour would you recommend to a client who is a little less mobile, though can still walk unaided or with a stick?

I would go for a tour where there’s a gentler pace such as New Zealand. But I would also advise preparing for your holiday a couple of months out by increasing your normal daily walk very gradually as preparation. Any tour will involve more walking and stairs than most people will generally do on a normal day.

A lot of older travellers are single. Would you say that escorted touring is for them?

Bridge of Ice - The Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina KG:
Going on holiday with a group is a great leveller as the bonding and camaraderie brings everyone together and forms friendships that last for years to come. Although friendships are made on all our holidays, sometimes special friendships are made and people decide to holiday together again and again. And sometimes those friendships can lead to marriage! It’s all lovely and heartwarming but in a very genuine way.

What pointers would you give to someone choosing an escorting holiday for the first time?

Don’t skimp on time because if you’re going to really experience a destination, you’ll want to do it justice. Nothing’s worse than travelling somewhere and not having enough time to see it properly. Read through the itinerary and think through what it would actually be like to be on the tour – we tend to avoid one night hotel stays and opt for two or three nights in most cases because we know its more relaxing and enjoyable.

I hear that you’ve just launched a very special loyalty scheme to reward your clients who come back year after year. Can you tell me a little more about it?

Blue Mosque - Istanbul KG:
With so many clients booking with us again and again, it really made sense, and in fact the idea of the scheme was suggested to me by some JOD customers I met in India last autumn. The way it works is that each time you book a holiday, you get a ‘reward’ or discount you can use against your next holiday booking. When you’ve travelled with us five or more times, we think of you as a VIP, and increase the level of rewards to show how much we appreciate your continued loyalty.

What’s your tip for next year’s most popular travel and holiday destination?

Vietnam is tipped to be the must-see destination for next year and we’ve put together a cracker of a tour with some really special features and all at a very reasonable price.

On a personal level, what is your favourite holiday memory of all time?

Wildflower Hall, Shimla in the Himalayas KG:
Staying in Lord Kitchener’s former home, Wildflower Hall in the Indian Himalayas. I’ve been lucky enough to stay there a few times and the views of the Himalayas are spectacular. In the early morning before breakfast, there’s a rosy light and you can see the Himalayas most clearly at this time. There’s so much greenery with all the woods and the wild flowers and the air is so fresh that you could think you were in Scotland. It’s not what you usually think of from India.

Some people won’t travel without tea-bags, some insist on splitting their packing between two suitcases in case one is lost.
With years of experience of planning and organising holidays, what is your top travel tip?

My top tip would be not to follow my example! I’m the world’s worst packer, always starting with the very best intentions for a ‘capsule wardrobe’ but always taking far too much. I can never seem to pare down on shoes, handbags and toiletries.

Journeys of Distinction Leading escorted touring specialist Journeys of Distinction has re-invented the concept of escorted touring as `enlightened touring’, part of a branding exercise as the company launches seven new brochures and enters its 40th season of operating, since it was established in 1972.

Journeys of Distinction can be contacted by calling 0161 491 7616 or visiting Their worldwide brochure offers escorted group and tours and private tours to destinations in Australia & New Zealand, South America, Asia & the Far East, India and The Subcontinent, Africa, USA, Canada and Europe.

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