Q& A with Mark Yacker, Director, Insider Journeys, Westminster, Colorado, USA
“North America’s leader in small group and custom-designed tours to Asia.”
WHAT INSPIRED YOUR PASSION FOR ASIA?
I had traveled to many parts of the world because I love experiencing difference cultures. But once I arrived in Asia - my first trip was about 18 years ago - I was completely mesmerized by how different it was from anywhere else I had been. I was also quite taken by how warm and welcoming the local people were.
Wow, narrowing it to just one is hard…spending a starry night on a boat on Ha Long Bay [Vietnam] and waking up to the mist hanging on the surrounding limestone islands. Walking through the jungle by flashlight as the sun came up before exploring the temple of Angkor Wat [Cambodia]. Playing a game of 'petanque' with the locals in Luang Prabang [Laos]. All the friendly people I have met and the amazing food I have tasted.
WHAT DOES “INSIDER JOURNEYS” MEAN?
We operate seven offices with more than 90 full-time local staff in Asia, so we consider ourselves insiders to the region. We use the experience and insider knowledge of our local teams to create the most authentic experiences for our travelers. Some of our trips cover the “must-see” highlights and will appeal to the first-time visitor or those with limited available time. Other trips might appeal to returning visitors.
SO YOU HAVE REPEAT CLIENTS.
Absolutely! Once people have experienced our Small Group Journey style of travel and the outstanding service of our guides, most come back to us when they are looking to return to Asia.
We are very fortunate to have a fantastic team of local guides. They each have strong English language skills, enthusiasm and good personalities. Many of them have worked for us more than 10 years because we pay them a good wage and keep them busy! I think it’s important to share that we use one guide per region. So let's say you tour Vietnam, you will be joined by one guide in the South region, a different guide in the North region, and a different guide for the Central region. Each guide was born and raised in that one particular region. Also our Western Tour Leaders live in Asia year-round and can offer great insights.
As with any developing country, and even many developed countries, you have to expect some differences. One thing people always ask is about drinking water. We always recommend drinking bottled water. We provide bottled water on our mini-coaches, and some of the hotels will offer complimentary bottled water. Our travelers really love that most of our itineraries include comfortable 3.5 and 4 star level hotels. These all feature air conditioning and western style bathroom facilities. Also approximately half of our itineraries offer an upgrade option for those who want a more luxurious experience.
Some our journeys - which we identify as “Adventurous” - do include a home-stay in a rural village, or perhaps an overnight train, where facilities do not necessarily reach the comfort level of the hotels. Clients who are booking these itineraries are happy to forego the normal comforts for a night or two in exchange for the experience. Also there may be some bumpy back roads in remote locations where fewer travelers go. Sometimes there are options to take a short flight rather than the overland drive to reach these locations.
HOW DO GUESTS KEEP THEIR VALUABLES SAFE WHILE ON TOUR?
All of our hotels have complimentary room safes for our travelers’ valuables. When traveling between destinations by vehicle, our drivers always stay with the vehicle, and we typically recommend travelers leave their valuables in the vehicle rather than carrying them around.
In India we arrange safaris into some of the national parks where there is a good chance of viewing tigers, leopards, rhinos, monkeys, elephants and a variety of birds. Thailand and Laos are great for learning about and interacting with elephants at responsible conservation facilities where travelers can feed and bathe these gentle giants. In Thailand we’ll often see deer, Sun bears, gibbons, macaques and possibly tigers and leopards. Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park is famous for leopard sightings. They have elephants, crocodiles and colorful birds there too. These are just a few examples.
CAN YOU ADD RIVER CRUISES TO LAND BASED TOURS?
Absolutely. River cruises are a great and leisurely way to explore several parts of Asia. However, some regions are not accessible by river. We have several itineraries called ‘Cruise Plus’ which involve both land and river travel. We can also design a customized itinerary upon request.
Choose a tour company with an active Responsible Travel Policy in place. This policy should emphasize small group tours to lessen environmental impact. Also preference should be given to locally owned hotels and restaurants. We care about the destinations we visit and the people who live there, and that's reflected in our policy. You can read more details on our site.
ANY SPECIAL TIPS FOR FEMALE TRAVELERS?
There are women who feel quite confident traveling on their own. But sometimes they prefer to join a group. Last year about 25% of our guests were solo travelers, and most of those were female. By using our ‘Willing-to-Share’ option [shared rooms] they can save a little money.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE GUESTS WILL GAIN FROM THESE TOURS?
We hope by the end of the tour that each guest will feel enriched by the experience and have gained a new appreciation for these different Asian cultures. We hope to make the world a more compassionate place through these cross-cultural exchanges.
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