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Group or private tour

Piercy, California
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Group or private tour

Hello! I'm new here. I'm trying to set up a shore tour in St.Petersburg in May. I have found several companies. They are offering group tours and private - what are the differences, advantages, disadvantages.

Okeechobee, Florida
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1 post
6 reviews
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11. Re: Group or private tour

Stanj, Are you talking about the Baltic Cruise Association BCA? I have heard of them and they are headed by Anastasia Travel, one of the oldest private tour Operators in St. Petersburg (the website says 10 years). It unites other very highly respected operators like TJ Travel, Ulko Tours, Maxibalt Tours, Alex Tours, Alla Tours, Spb Tours and others, I think. I toured St. Petersburg with Anastasia Travel earlier this year and the Catherine's Palace visit was perfect. It was crowded but the guide had reserved our time to enter and we entered right on time so we were able to avoid the long lines. I have recommended Anastasia Travel to friends who are scheduled to go with them and the brochures all said they were going to Catherine's Palace. I can't imagine that would change as they are really looking forward to it.

12. Re: Group or private tour

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Edited: 06 December 2012, 09:06
Washington DC...
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13. Re: Group or private tour

Oops!! I wanted to reply to the post from Linda. I copied it to my computer so that I could answer it and when I edited my response I accidentally posted the original as well as my answer. Does anyone know how to delete a response? Please let me know. Thanks.

Washington DC...
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14. Re: Group or private tour

Stanj brought up some interesting points. I emailed all the mentioned operators and all their offers are basically the same and they all are offering Catherine's Palace. I am still trying to figure out which tour to take. Spb looks pretty cheap but they are being too persistent and pushy. They have sent me numerous emails asking me to book with them and each one has a lower offer than the one before which means if I wait long enough it will be free!! LOL. I never like to take the cheapest offer as you usually "get what you pay for" and the cheapest will skimp on everything. Still deciding.

St Petersburg Russia
Destination Expert
for St. Petersburg
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2,705 posts
26 reviews
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15. Re: Group or private tour

LindaK,

I am afraid you have been misinformed. There are two tour associations, neither is active but one is official and was formed by the port authorities and 30 or so member companies. Despite its official sponsorship and hefty dues, it seldom meets and has completed none of the planned projects the dues money was to go to.

The one you are referring to is essentially a dead-end project also. It was a revival of an inactive group, by a Polish woman last spring, who got everyone together and organized it. She invited 10 companies to participate but soon found some of them were very difficult, to work with. She held meetings periodically through the summer but the larger companies pulled out after she gave up due to the in-fighting, schemes and hostility between some of the members.

Their still unfinished web site lists 4 founders and one member company, although they all were among those who she originally invited. She wrongly assumed that they were major serious companies due to forum reviews only to find that few of them were what they claimed. They all say they have been doing shore excursions for 10 years or more but anyone with working memory knows that can't be true since there were only a small handful of companies working with shore excursions 10 years ago and any new company would have been noticed. Few cruisers dared use independent tour operators since the ships had strong holds on the passengers by insisting they could not get off the ship unless they bought tours from the ship. At that time 4-8% of passengers used independent tours and most had been convinced they needed visas. The companies who were specializing in shore excursions were larger companies who were primarily doing ship contracts for giving thousands of tours each ship port call. There were 3, the companies who had the resources to handle that were Arctur, Baltic Travel and DenRus. Red October was primarily doing independent tours but not ship contracts. That was pretty much it.

When cruisers started communicating by email and forums they started share notes and more realized that they could use an independent tour operator and that the ships had been lying to them for years.

With the rise in forums there also quickly developed small start ups of just a guide, a cell phone and a computer, who could post referrals on the forums as happy customers. Suddenly a lot of tiny, under the table tour operators, unlicensed and without resources, became well known based on positive reviews by fictitious past clients. That was the end of the innocent period of the net, where people generally were who they said they were and before forum and user reviews became a thriving and eventually, dominate way of forming public opinion. The forums are cracking down on it but it is so pervasive that reviews for tours, hotels, movies, books, restaurants are highly manipulated. For a small budget, product opinion can be swayed much easier and completely than any very expensive ad campaign.

That is the background. One of the key pledges the organizer of the revived tour association insisted on was that members stop with the fake reviews and cheating. It was a hard habit to break since it was how promotion was done for the small companies. Although they signed an agreement it was just one of the problems to address. A typical example of "creative promotion" many of you have been on the forum long enough to remember. A flurry of rave reviews popped up for a new tour provider that no one had heard of, a number of them over 2-3 days at the end of a tour season 3 years ago. The rave reviews propelled this tour operator to #1 in the best activities in the city in less than a week, above the Hermitage, Russian Museum, Fountain Park, ahead of all attractions. Yet there was no evidence that anyone had taken tours. The patterns were all there, and it was obvious the "company" had posted them. A few minutes of investigation revealed the phone number for the "office" was a cell phone, the web site got its domain a few days before the rave reviews and did not exist before that date, The listed address was a vacant derelict building, the city had no business license listed, the federal registration tour operators(needed to legally host foreign guests) did not have an entry, all the usual stuff. A quick check with several established tour operators who are at the port every day, turned up not one person remember ever seeing the name. An inside contact with immigration confirmed that no passengers had been admitted through passport control for a tour operator of that name. But being #1 meant hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales for the new operator. The next season she got registered, got legal and is now a member of the tour association, .

That sort of situation repeats a number of times with the origins of several of the members and past members of the BCA which has dwindled from 10 members to 5 as of now and I have no idea if any more meetings have been conducted..

The rejuvenation of the tour association did get them to pledge to adjust prices to be "compatible". Most of them raised prices for next season so the 2 day comprehensive tour that all use is around $330 this next year.

Another agreement was to boycott Catherine Palace because the current members did not have contracts with the museums so were at the mercy of scalpers, ticket agents and corrupt middle managers on the palace who were selling tickets for over twice face value under the table to tour groups. One of the goals of the association was to get one of the larger companies who did have contacts, to supply tickets to all of those who didn't. There was no benefit for doing that by the company who did have contracts, it means a lot of financial risk and large off season deposits to cover tickets estimated to be used during the summer.

Another goal was to develop a promotion web site that would promote the members on a common site.

Another goal was to create a cruise blog and hire someone who understood the industry and the cruisers. I was approached by the organizer who said the members wanted to hire me as the editor and writer. I immediately turned it down, knowing as much as I did about some of the members(not all, some were legitimate), it would be bad for my reputation for being seen as connected with them. The core reason for offering that, I am sure, was to limit my frequent catching several of them in posting fake referrals.

The in-fighting made meetings frustrating and counter productive and there a lot of yelling and screaming between some of the members who seem to hate each other.

The organizer abandoned any connection with it. The larger companies went away and it appears to be as much smoke and mirrors as some of their origins.

Funny thing is they all claim things that are so easy to check but they know, they have the benefit of the doubt and no one will check. We know the 10++ year claims are bogus, you can see the evolution of their web sites which only go back a couple years. You can check claims of volume against the list that immigration has. I have a list of all the total passengers hosted by each of the companies last season and the season before. Of those with the largest number of customers who passed through passport control, down to about 18th place. After the top 6 or so the numbers go down very sharply. There are shore excursion operators who have more reviews on Trip Advisor than total customers(!) last season. Some of the largest, have fewer reviews. Since they are all generally high praise reviews, it is pretty easy to see that legitimate reviews are not as common as one would think looking at the totals of reviews.

16. Re: Group or private tour

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Removed on: 06 December 2012, 09:06
17. Re: Group or private tour

-:- Message from TripAdvisor staff -:-

This post was determined to be inappropriate by the TripAdvisor community and has been removed.

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Removed on: 06 December 2012, 09:06
Piercy, California
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18. Re: Group or private tour

Thank you for all the details you have provided. I would also highly appreciate it if someone has the official information. I would agree here with WilliamS, that the last post by StanJ doesn't sound like an expert, however, I should say, that there is real truth in it. The post by JKB_Westboro sounds like a real confirmation of StanJ's words about fake reviews. JKB_Westboro was registered on November 28 and immediately rated the company and posted the “Thankful” post here. I agree this kind of self promotion is a very bad way of starting up a new business.

I would definitely not book with his company, russiantourguide.com.

Looking carefully through all the discussions on this, I think that taking a private tour sounds better for me. We have a party of 4 already and another couple of my friends are seriously thinking of joining us so we would have a good group for our own small tour. Thank you for all your help.

Sydney, Australia
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376 posts
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19. Re: Group or private tour

And thank you, StanJ for your reply (post #9)! Good advice, we will have an 'orientation' tour on our first day to become familiar with layout, transport etc. and hopefully also get our train tickets sorted.

Saint.-Petersburg...
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53 posts
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20. Re: Group or private tour

First of all, thank you for your interest in our young Baltic Cruise Association (BCA).

The Association was registered in the Russia Ministry of Justice February 28th, 2012 by 5 founders: Alex’s tours and travel, Anastasia Travel Group, TJ Travel, Ulko tours and MaxiBaltTours.

The main idea was to create a group Association that would unite local tour operators in order to create a comfortable atmosphere in the growing St. Petersburg cruise market. This is for the operators to have the opportunity to support each other and provide the highest standards of travel in St.Petersburg. The idea of the Association is to create guarantees as a whole for the clients that they are being served by "Union" membersand not by one chosen small operator in the unknown and scarey Russia.

This way the customer is served by an Association that guarantees the highest standards from each of the members. Each client of a member of the Association will be able to disembark and pass passport control without any problems, no matter which operator the client has chosen. The clients of the Association member know they will be provided with the highest standards of services and that they know they will be returned to the ship on-time, no matter what the circumstances.

StanJ is right. During the last several years many new companies appeared and that is really great. Competition is very good for our customers and very good for the older operators as well. It makes everybody raise the level of their services and create new interesting tours and opportunities for our guests.

LastSpring Joanna (the Polish lady Stanj was talking about) the former co-owner and CEO of DenRus (and the former Boss of StanJ) came up with the same idea of uniting tour operators in order to create a strong developing market with the highest standards of travel services. However, because of some changes in the policies of the DenRus owners, they decided not to join the BCA.

Eventhough our Assocciation is less than a year old, since its inception, we have already had such companies as Tour DeForce, Alla tours, Classic tours, Insider tours and SPb tours join us. Soon all these changes will appear on our web-site together with other site renovations.

We look forward to welcoming you to St. Petersburg.