Planning trip to China

My husband and I are planning a trip to China in November or December, 2011.  One of the tour companies we are researching is offering a very attractive tour with local guides but not a National Guide,  How important is it to have a National Guide?  We will visit Bejing, Xian and Shanghai. Thank you.

Hi Lynda. What happens with many packaged tours is that they'll be led by a national guide, who accompanies the tourists throughout their tour in China, from international arrival to departure to exit the country. When a group arrives in a particular destination, the national guide would connect and work with a local company/local guide (the Chinese term is "di jie"), who makes local arrangements and shows the tour group around. The advantage is, of course, the local guy knows his own area better. The national guide, on the other hand, coordinates among the different segments of the tour scattered across the country. He'll go with you on trips between your destinations, on flights, train rides, etc., and return with you to the beginning city of tour and see you off on your departing flight out of China.

If the tour company you contacted is not providing a national guide, this means that they'll probably arrange your transport and hotels to and in the cities that you'll visit, organize the local guides for you, and have a local guide meet you when you arrive in a particular city. So, without a national guide, one thing that happens is that you won't have a guide with you on your trips between cities. This does not seem to be too much of a problem in your case since among Beijing, Xian and Shanghai you'll be probably flying. So you'll probably have one local guide to send you off at one airport and another local guide meet you at the arrival airport. That is, of course, proper planning has been done and local guides do show up on time to make smooth connections. With a national guide with you, even if the a local guide does not show up promptly, you still have a guide there for you.

In addition to the little uncertainty on connections among local guides, another consideration is what happens if there are some tiffs between a tour group and a local guide. Local guides generally want to do well with their tour groups because they of course want to have repeat business from the tour company that has chosen them for local service (and they probably expect tips from tourists too). But the matter remains that you have booked and paid the company that set up the whole national tour. If you have a national guide with you, he should be your advocate to make sure that local guide do their job as expected. With no national guide with you, you do not have that advantage. If some disagreement does emerge, your booking company is far away and it is of course harder to get them to intervene on your behalf. Again, as noted above, local guides do have incentives to do their job well and things may indeed go very smoothly.

In any event, make sure that the tour company you're working with is legitimate and is at least properly  licensed. You do not want to end up with someone with no experience who just hooks up with a few local guides in a makeshift way and then takes no more interest in what happens afterward. So, ideally, if the tour company is not providing a national guide, it should have good connections with the local guides and is prepared to speak out for throughout your trip if some issues come up on any legs of your tour. Make sure there are ways to reach them easily. It is also important that the local guides are experienced professionals properly licensed, not just people who do part time jobs to make a few quick bucks. That should be part of a packaged tour.

Tourism is big in China nowadays, so there are many experienced and reliable travel professionals working in the country. Tourism administration offices of the country also take complaints seriously. So, in most cases things should work out fine. Still, you want to find and work with right tour company and right people to go on your tour.