Breaking the Ice With Tour Group

Kovell is a veteran journalist in seniors' interests.

A frequent complaint from many mature travelers who travel alone is the difficulty of breaking the ice with other members of a tour group. This dilemma applies to couples as well as singles.

Many of us are hesitant to make that first overture that could lead to making a trip more memorable and pleasant. John (Giovanni) DiPonzio doesn't let this happen to patrons of Giovanni Tours, the company he organized 17 years ago. Not only does he ensure that all of his travelers become acquainted by various pre-departure activities but they are pampered in a fashion that has brought such accolades as "America's best tour operator" and "There is none better."

Giovanni Tours, based in Southern California, has had psychological studies performed to determine which components of their tours are best suited for older travelers. More than 95% of their tour business is comprised of persons who are over age 60.

The schedule of activities on any tour, however, is judged suitable for the average 70-year-old, even including those who may have limited physical infirmities. All hotels for shopping and sightseeing, and even the interior design of all hotels, are studied to determine their suitability for the ease and convenience of the mature traveler.

Parties Before Tours

A pre-departure party, hosted at no additional cost to the traveler, is held a few weeks before each tour and is usually a cocktail party and/or dinner held in the Southern California area. It's in a lodge or restaurant that is similar in decor to the foreign tour area for which the guest has signed up. Meals are typical of the area to be visited, as is the informal entertainment. Some of these functions are overnight events.

DiPonzio firmly believes in "know before you go," and upholds this principal by providing tour members with a book on the destination plus information sheets on cities or points of interests on the itinerary.

Other information sheets give passport information, embassy and consulate addresses and phone numbers, tips on customs and currency exchange as well as tips on packing. Lists of common words and phrases are provided in French, Italian and German, plus an anti-jet lag guide.

He also provides a written test of 85 questions, the answers to which can be found in the materials he furnishes. Travelers with Giovanni Tours will also find a song sheet with lyrics to popular tunes relating to countries to be visited.

On the more practical side, these tours provide some advantages that are money-savers. By arrangement with a chain of Southern California photo stores, Giovanni provides coupons valid for five free passport photos, a free roll of film and a free 5x7 color print of any photo taken during the trip. Discounts on film developing are also provided after all tours. There's a free contest in which the person submitting the best photo, as judged by the camera store staff, will receive a $50 prize.

Another Feather

Prizes are, in fact, another feature of Giovanni Tours. Everyone on the tour votes for the Most Valuable Person as well as the Most Congenial, Most Considerate and other categories for which prizes are awarded.

A Scavenger Hunt is part of every tour, for which teams are given a list of 10 things to see or do in the area to be visited. The team of tour members that accomplishes the largest number of assignments on the list wins a prize.

Prizes at pre-departure parties and throughout the trip are of considerable value. They include ocean cruises as well as trips, including transportation and hotel, to Palm Springs, San Diego and San Francisco. Merchandise prizes are also awarded. These togetherness activities may account in part for the fact that many of mature travelers on Giovanni's tours are singles.

In addition to selecting first-class hotels in cities visited, Giovanni Tours include breakfast and dinner, all local tours and all gratuities. Even complimentary passes on local transportation--bus or subway--are provided for free-time use.

Breakfast is usually in the host hotel, while dinners are in carefully selected first-class restaurants. Tips for meals, guides and all other activities are included, as are passes to all attractions listed for each tour.

Because of the all-inclusive feature of the tours operated by Giovanni, they have come to be known as "cruises on land." About the only thing the traveler must buy is lunch and, if desired, alcoholic beverages. There is no tipping of any kind on any portion of the tours.

Tour Choices Listed

Giovanni Tours is conducting five major tours this year, and a program of additional tours will be added later this year for the 1987 season. Tour choices for 1986 are:

London Theater Tour, eight days, $1,586. Australia/New Zealand/Fiji, 20 days, $3,386. Britannia '86 (England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland), 16 days, $2,686. Grand Europe '86 (known as SHAGIFE from the first letters of Switzerland, Holland, Austria, Germany, Italy, France and England), 23 days, $3,486. Heart of the Orient (Japan and Hong Kong), 14 days, $2,986. All prices are per-person.

Brochures describing day-by-day itineraries, prices and tour conditions are available from most Southern California travel agents or you may send a card or letter (be sure to specify which of the above tours you are interested in) to Giovanni Tours Inc., P.O. Box 24, 5308 Derry Ave., Suite F, Agoura Hills, Calif. 91301, phone (818) 889-3156.

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