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Tour reviews/evaluations vs. the tour forum

Hi everyone, and welcome to our tour forum!

We're really happy to have a place for tour members to share memories, continue friendships, and start planning their next tours. We're also excited for people who are planning a tour for the first time or just curious about the experience of a Rick Steves Tour to have a place to come and ask real questions of our tour members.

One thing I wanted to address, as I've seen this mentioned in a few different threads, both here and in the general travel forums: this forum is not intended to be a replacement for the tour evaluations you receive upon the completion of your Rick Steves Tour. Those evaluations are specific to individual tours and are used as an internal tool to make the hotels, restaurants, itineraries, and guide experiences on our tours even better. They are not, and were never meant to be, planning tools for the general public, even though a few fields are made public on our website.

A little background: we used to have different questions on our evals, and we'd make them all public. Due to changing technology and an increase in the number of tours (and, consequently, tour members over the years), we realized that our very small staff could no longer keep up with the work. We pared down the evaluations to include a few general fields, but for the most part your evaluations are now basically guide performance reviews (as well as hotel and restaurant feedback). We decided not to expose the rest of the form because we don't think it's fair to the guides to have their performance reviews made public.

Please continue to send in your tour evaluations at the end of your tours. Those evals are vital to our tour program, and it's the only way we can continue to improve our tours. The people who read over each evaluation are not looking at this forum, so to choose to post your evaluation here as opposed to sending in the form will not help us improve our tour program at all.

Does this make sense?

Posted by
1928 posts

Yes, it makes sense. And it is the way evaluations should be done to improve on all those fields you mentioned.
But I love the questions/answers Nancy has received on her upcoming Ireland tour posted elsewhere. It's great to have that information when considering which tour to take next. Is this the link (https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum) you would like us to use when giving information about the specific tours ("tour reviews") we have taken or questions we have about a specific tour we might be thinking about taking? Right now, tour related "reviews" are sort of all over the place and hard to pin down. Well, at least to me but then I am fairly new at this forum stuff!

Posted by
672 posts

Perhaps this section will help replace the tour reviews for your customers, but, at this point, it certainly doesn't. It's hard to find this section and I'm guessing most people don't know about it. The tour reviews were a great resource that, as far as I know, was quite unique to RS tours. There were negative reviews, although overwhelmingly in the minority, but even they were helpful. And, with 18 tours under our belts, they certainly didn't discourage us from signing up for more of your tours.

One thing you might consider would be to ask tour members to add their thoughts to this site when they return from their trips. Perhaps you could put a link to get them here in the email you send asking them to fill out their evaluations. There's nothing like a "fresh from a tour" review for great insiders tips. Having a request that members do this as well as your evaluation might encourage me to fill out the tour evaluation.

Posted by
55 posts

Thanks for your thoughts! However, as I said in my original post, we do not want this forum to replace tour reviews. We need those tour reviews sent in as usual, after your tour has ended, to be able to evaluate and improve our tours. Those evaluations are internal tools for us that we rely on heavily to improve and enhance our tours. Our tour operations department does not look at this forum... they only examine the evaluations you send in.

As I explained, the workload of the way we handled evaluations in the past outweighed our staff, so we had to pare them down. And technology -- and fairness to our guides, whose performance evaluations should never be made public -- made it necessary to not reveal the entire evaluation anymore on our website.

What we're hoping for with this forum is for past tour members to share memories, swap stories, as Stan mentioned in another thread, chat about itineraries and what worked and what didn't, etc. We're also hoping this can be a place for folks planning to take a tour or who are just curious to ask questions our tour members and get a sense for what it's like on the tours.

Our tour evaluations were never meant to be an external planning tool at any stage of their existence. They were always meant to be exactly what they are... evaluations of the tour itself, the guide, the assistant guide, the hotels, and the restaurants so that our tour department can improve our tours.

As to your point about the positioning of this forum, this is what's called a "soft launch." We launch it without an announcement or prominent placement and see if it generates interest on its own. Then if it does, we improve its visibility and make an announcement about it.

Posted by
8203 posts

I'm glad you explained and it makes sense to me. I am far more motivated to review performance than to provide fodder for website blurbs.

When I reviewed my Heart of Italy tour last year I did ask for some statements not to be published as it involved another tour member and my request was respected. However the rest of my review was written keeping in mind it might show on the website.

The guides and drivers work so hard and deserve feedback. I'm currently on the Ireland tour and look forward to providing top-notch evals for the Stephen/Stephen team.

Posted by
1928 posts

from Nancy: (or is that supposed to be @Nancy??-new to all this....)
"One thing you might consider would be to ask tour members to add their thoughts to this site when they return from their trips. Perhaps you could put a link to get them here in the email you send asking them to fill out their evaluations. There's nothing like a "fresh from a tour" review for great insiders tips."

Kate, couldn't/wouldn't this work? Seems like a good and workable idea to me. I have lots of thoughts resulting from some great experiences on the Adriatic tour (returned May 29) and no where to put them on the eval. Maybe it wouldn't be necessary to publish any of the tour evals? BTW, I did fill one out......

Posted by
1610 posts

Hi Kate, thanks for taking the time to explain what happened to the Tour Member Feedback and for trying to establish another vehicle for recording comments. I've taken 5 RS tours and I really looked forward to reading the comments that my tour mates submitted about our trip. It was a nice way to wrap up a nice vacation. Nearly all the comments were positive so I don't think it hurt future business in any way. The fact that you posted unsensored comments made me think that RS was upfront about what he offered and confident that he provided an interesting tour experience at a good price - and he did! The way the reviews are posted now makes them look like a marketing tool, nothing more. And although the Feedback section was not intended to be used for planning future trips, that's what I used it for.

Posted by
55 posts

Hi Andi and Donna -

Andi, Nancy's suggestion is great, and is one of the things we're exploring when we officially launch this forum. As I mentioned, this is what's called a "soft launch..." which means we're still evaluating its use and traffic as we figure out how most effectively market it. So stay tuned!

Donna, we still don't censor any evaluations save from deleting expletives or tour member's names. The difference is, we've changed the questions to get more to-the-point so our very small staff doesn't have as much text to comb through, and due to technology constraints and the nature of the new evaluation questions being much more performance focused, we no longer expose the entire form. Exposing the reviews has always been for the same purpose. That hasn't changed. What has changed is the amount of tours (and tour members!) each year combined with old technology no longer able to support the old evaluations and the way we revealed them, a small staff no longer able to handle the workload, and the fact that it isn't cool to show the world employee performance evaluations.

Hopefully tour members will come to this forum to engage in lively conversations with each other and any potential tour members who might pop in, while at the same time filling out our extremely important tour evaluations so we can make our awesome tours even... er... awesomer!

Posted by
654 posts

I want to add a contrary point of view and explain why I'm not going to return the tour evaluation anymore.

Kate from RS writes "Our tour evaluations were never meant to be an external planning tool" and yet many people took them as just that. Something that set RS tours apart (or, I should say, "seemed" to set them apart since it now turns out it was entirely unintentional) was their openness about their product. The website proclaimed "look, here is what ALL past customers have said, uncensored" and that degree of openness sent a message about the company. It fostered a sense of trust. A tour is an expensive purchase and you always wonder if the operator is trying to hide something. RS warns in his books of tour companies that have an attractive come-hither price but then charge for excursions and take you to shops where the guide gets a kickback. And that's almost industry-standard, from what he writes! Since most people don't work in the tour industry they have no idea what other shenanigans tour operators might pull.

So posting uncensored all the customer reviews that were returned was an amazing step! It gave prospective customers assurance that RS wasn't trying to pull anything. They didn't need to know all the tricks that might happen. Those who had already gone on the tour would have seen them and commented on it. That the reviews were almost unanimously positive would come as a very encouraging sign to prospective buyers. Even some criticisms such as "too much walking" helped people understand what the tours were like. And now we're told they were never meant to be used that way. Okay...

Instead we're told that "no, the tour evaluation was for our use only. Post public comments here". In a forum without a link in the pulldown, that I'd bet not even 1 in 100 customers has seen.

But we'll still get the tour evaluation form to fill out. No thanks. First of all, why take the time to fill it out? Before the feeling (apparently mistaken) many people had was that by responding they were directly helping fellow tourists spend their money wisely, the same way they may have been helped themselves. It takes a few minutes to fill out thoughtfully, but doing so engendered a feeling of community.

Now its just for the internal use of the RS company. With the new performance focus, they're really asking us to do part of their HR & purchasing work. Fine. But what is RS offering to fill it out? A map? Entry in a prize drawing? No, nada. Well, in the consumer products industry the common practice is to give people a small gift for spending their time filling out surveys. And don't tell me that filling it out helps future customers as justification for why one ought to return it. The people that sell blenders or burgers are just as proud of their product, just as interested in finding out how buyers like it and how it might be improved, as are the good folk at RS. They offer a token of thanks for helping them manage their business, why isn't RS?

Second we are told "the workload of the way we handled evaluations in the past outweighed our staff." An even better reason to toss out the evaluation when we get it!! An evaluation might take someone at RS 5-10 minutes (if that) to tabulate and review, so how much could the salary for that time have cost? And if they want to keep HQ staff small there are companies that handle survey responses. Looking at tour prices, many couples are paying RS $4,000-$6,000. I find it telling the company didn't find it worth even a few dollars of what they spent with RS to evaluate the old feedback form (or an expanded form with more performance feedback).

In sum, we are no longer directly and visibly helping our fellow travelers. RS didn't value the old information at a even a few bucks. We are being asked to do part of their HR & purchasing functions for free. Why bother?

Posted by
25570 posts

I think that John raises some interesting points.

I'm not sure I go along with the freebie for form filling, but I certainly do think that the unfiltered tour comments were a massive credibility and sales tool.

It is a proper shame that they are gone.

The huge great preponderance of the comments used to be very positive.

I have a hunch. I bet that a past tour leader saw a bad review posted and sued the company for publishing negative information or threatened to do so and the lawyers said to remove anything that could cause for concern. And then the company removed it all.....

Or maybe I'm wrong...

Whatever, 'tis a shame that prospective tourers can't see what their predecessors really thought.

Posted by
672 posts

John, those are my feelings exactly. And, Nigel, you bring up an interesting thought that might well explain it. I so miss the reviews.

Posted by
8203 posts

As far as I remember from the Tour Eval I completed in 2013 they asked you NOT to use your guide's name in the review.

I just came back from Rick's Tour of Ireland and noted the tour eval now has more questions on it than before with more specific questions relating to guide, hotel, group meals. Before, the eval had about 5 general questions, the same as the ones that showed in the online review section. I thought some of the answers on the prior method showed a redundancy as answers showed up on the review page as something like as above which was not much help. You are asked on the review if you would agree to them being used publicly.

I think getting feedback from tour members/customers regarding the trip is a critical part of the process for evaluating a guide and the tour as a whole. No professional or peer evaluating the guide is going to have the same view as a tour member and after all, we are the ones ponying up the cash for the trip. There were things I liked, there were things I didn't like. I felt it important that the RS office staff know a grump had gotten thru the grump filter because I am sure that person will complain about everything!

Last year I took a couple of tours with Road Scholar. One of the guides was so bad (really, how can you make London boring??) he must have received multiple poor ratings on the post tour eval because the Road Scholar office actually called me to discuss it. I thought that was excellent customer service as it showed they were reading the evals. I have no doubt that if the same thing happened on a Rick Steves tour a staff member would be on the phone trying to find out more about the situation. However, I have more confidence in the ability of a Rick Steves guide!

Interestingly, on the last day traveling from Belfast back to Dublin the tour guide kind of did a review of the trip. He particularly mentioned the group meals we had, so it struck me that sometimes people must complain that they didn't get as many meals as they thought they were going to get. I didn't mind the review at all and I think it was a good technique to provide trip closure.

I would never want or expect something for filling out an evaluation. I do it because I feel I am a reasonable traveler and that my opinion will be used for critical assessment of the program. Before I retired I went to probably hundreds of workshops/seminars/conferences for my profession and always filled out an eval for content/presentation/speaker, etc. This is the same thing.

Posted by
2788 posts

I miss the old evaluations that asked many questions and then they were published as it provided me with valuable information in deciding which RS tour to take next - 12 so far. I doubt that the RS enterprise is lacking for funds that could have been used to hire a person to tabulate and put on line the old evaluations. So..Bulgaria in 2015.

Posted by
2828 posts

Just my two cents: if trusted customer reviews are not available on this site, directly, as they used to be, ultimately RS Tours risk seeing tour goers posting their reviews on third-party websites, where they will have absolutely no control over the content and be, sometime, at the mercy of fake reviews.

Right now, if one is to search online for Rick Steve tour reviews, the search engines will return some old news articles and a couple links to TripAdvisor and Yelp. There is also a link for a RS page that no longer features those reviews. Over time, more people would just post their reviews elsewhere, instead of making them available in depth for RS staff.

I don't mean to be overly-critical, but at this day and age there is no way one can prevent costumers from writing online reviews, and in my humble opinion it is always better to have a honest tool that display those on your own website, including some negative ones, instead of letting a third-party take over the reviews. Just my two cents.

Posted by
55 posts

OK there is some wild speculation and misunderstandings on this thread, so hopefully I can put them to rest here, and we can move on. Forget my begging you to fill out your tour evaluations.

Bottom line is, honestly, if you don't want to fill out the evaluations you receive after you take a tour, you certainly don't have to. You are under no obligation. We ask our tour members to fill those evals out, just like many, many other companies ask their customers to fill out surveys and evaluations, so that we can improve our tour program. If you want to forgo those evaluations and post your reviews here specifically to help potential tour customers help plan their trips or decide on a tour, go for it. That's awesome, and this forum is the perfect place for it. No third party of consultants came in and told us what to do with our evals or how we display them. We would never trust someone who hasn't worked here since just about the beginning to change something that important, anyway.

I'll state again, though: our evaluations -- the ones we send to each individual tour member after their tour is over -- have always been to help us improve our tour program. We've always posted unfiltered and unedited (save for perhaps if there are any curse words or someone uses a fellow tour member's name) evaluations on our website in the spirit of transparency. We continue to do so. How customers "use" the evaluations is up to the individual; we can't control that.

What's changed is the question we ask, and we changed them to get more specific feedback to help us be more effective in any changes or adjustments we make to our tours. Our evaluations used to be short, very general, all-text-field, repetitive questions. We were finding them difficult to weed through and get the most effective feedback. So we switched up the questions to be more direct and detailed, and because of this, we only now show -- in their entirety, unfiltered, uncensored, unedited -- the two most general questions, since those two questions were basically the same as our former evaluations. If people don't choose to write in those two fields what their issues with the tour may have been (and I encourage you to scroll through the reviews -- plenty of people have indeed been critical of our tours in those first two fields), we can't control that.

No one got sued, no guides complained, no one got fired, we don't send our evals out to anyone who hasn't been on a tour, we don't cherry pick the positive ones, we don't edit them, we don't censor them, and we don't filter them. Fill them out, don't fill them out, post your review here, only fill out the evaluation... whatever you want to do is fine by us.

Posted by
195 posts

I'm looking forward to my RS Heart of Italy tour in September but would love it if I could see recent reviews that had specific take always from recent tour members. You know things like "buy a bottle of water before you leave to go on the tour of the Coliseum".

Would it be possible to send a link to this forum that generates in an auto reply when someone fills out their survey?

That way folks would have a chance to do it when everything is fresh in their mind.

Posted by
1142 posts

As Nigel, Andre and others stated I will greatly miss the way tour evaluations were previously handled. I used them to choose my tours similar to how I use TripAdvisor to choose hotels. I felt the openness of publishing them was part of what made the RS company different. I am not adverse to change but this is another change that probably explains why I haven't taken a RS tour since 2011 and instead of visiting the traveler's helpline daily this is the first time I have visited since early April.

Posted by
329 posts

this is obviously a sensitive topic and I admire the way people have expressed heir opinions honestly without aggressive blaming language. Laura from rick steves organization has been very consistent in her message about the evaluations not being intended for us travelers. Yet i hope the organization can, at some point, reconsider this position. It is unfortunate that an organization that built brand loyalty by its transparency is now perceived to be less transparent and the reviews less trustworthy. it may not be the reality that the reviews are cherry picked however public perception is powerful.

Like many posters here I find a website more trustworthy if there is no attempt to hide negative comments. In fact when I book an apt on vrbo.com and see only 5 star reviews, l ignore the listing and opt for an apt with reviews that appear less like paid advertisements. The website TripAdvisor (like it or not) has given the public a taste for sharing information and the cuurnt RS policy seems to be ignoring this trend.

Your customer base is pleading for more info about your tours. Many companies wish they had this probl em. I hope the RS group can provide what their customers are seeking.

Posted by
97 posts

Things continue to change as we prepare to depart for our 13th ETBD tour in September. How did we get started? Years ago one of our children was married in Germany and before departing we found Rick's ETBD (we did not know anything about him) guidebook in a college bookstore in Berkeley. On this our first European trip we were suprised by the number of positive comments from those who saw our ETBD guidebook. Returning home and viewing Rick's PBS shows we realized that we had unknowingly passed by many interesting things on our independnt tour. We then chose the 21 day Best of Europe, and by then had bought into Rick's approach. Over the years we have had many travel missadventures on our own independent European travels, and also on pre and post tours, and on "free time" on the tours. We learned a great deal from the experiences of others via the Tour evaluations. The "comment" area resulted in changed tour dates to avoid weather, holiday closures and info about upcoming local events. The comment area was also very helpful in deciding what to research and plan ahead for during the "free" time on Rick's tours. On one pre tour when the Spain & Portugal tour were combined, and following up on a "comment" section, the responder forwarded info that was very complete for a buisness type hotel with late arrival early departure in Madrid. We received detailed driving instructions from the airport to the hotel and then which exits on the traffic circles to use enroute to the Basque Area. Our disappointment on the post tour evaluations started when they were no longer posted in chronological order. We did not fill out the past three tour evaluations. We think customer loyalty is a challenge to develop and have found that often our fellow tour members have completed previous ETBD tours. We believe in Rick's approach, and drove 500+ miles for his informative presentation on travel as a political act, in Lafayette CA. last year. Hopefully, we will continue to be able to improve our tour experience via the experiences of other tour members. Thanks to all of you travelers and ETBD office staff who continue to share in the constructive imput of the traveler helpline forums. Keep on traveling and sharing the passon!