July 25, 2024

Adventure Destinations League

Navigating Travel Wonders

Our Readers’ Favorite Tour Operators of 2023

While we travel to see the sights, what we really take home with us are the experiences. And finding the right tour operator — one that’s able to meld insider knowledge about a destination with the best ways to take it in — can make or break a trip. But when the right combination does come along, it can be pure magic, so it’s no wonder that the last year has seen group travel on the rise.

How Voting Works

Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Nearly 165,000 T+L readers completed the 2023 survey, an increase of nearly 25 percent over pre-pandemic voting levels. A total of more than 685,000 votes were cast across over 8,500 unique properties (hotels, cities, cruise lines, etc.).

Tour operators and safari outfitters were specifically rated on the criteria below:

  • Staff/guides
  • Itineraries/destinations
  • Activities
  • Accommodations
  • Food
  • Value

For each characteristic, respondents could choose a rating of excellent, above average, average, below average, or poor. The final scores are averages of these responses.

What Readers Loved

With nine of the companies returning from last year’s list, one major trend that stands out is the focus on a region, like with this year’s No. 1 pick, ATJ, which focuses on luxury travel, ranging from bespoke private to small group itineraries, in Austrasia. Also destination experts are Inside Japan Tours (No. 10), who offer themed trips, from honeymoons to diving, around the island nation, and Vagabond Tours of Ireland (No. 12), which makes its debut on the list, standing out for its B Corporation status, as it guides travelers around the Emerald Isle in their choice of style, either relaxed and culture-focused or active and adventurous. 

Also notable are the operators who go a step beyond, like two returning favorites: Artisans of Leisure (returning as No. 3) has been called “top notch”; one reader said that “no other tour operator comes close in terms of knowing the destinations [and] understanding what we want and executing our trip flawlessly.” Black Tomato (dropping from last year’s No. 4 to a still respectable No. 6) manages to both fulfill curiosity and allay FOMO on its adventures globally.

But more than anything, it’s loyalty that shows what a strong tour operator is made of, and readers often raved about return visits with a particular company. One, for instance, shared that after 25 journeys, Du Vine Cycling + Adventure Co. (No. 2) stands out among them all. “The best cycling trips I’ve been on,” they said. “Great staff, accommodations, and first class all the way.” And that’s the winning combo for a tour company — leaving travelers with that passion for exploring the world through their eyes. See the complete list of top 15 tour operators, according to T+L readers, below.

The Winner

ATJ

Courtesy of ATJ


Formerly known as Asia Transpacific Journeys, ATJ made the list in 2011, 2017, and 2018, and it now leapfrogs back in triumphantly, notching the No. 1 spot. Offering tours in countries like Australia, Bhutan, Japan, Laos, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, Vietnam, and Taiwan, the company specializes in custom itineraries and private group trips. But what travelers rave about is its band of extremely helpful customer service reps who are “responsive and personable.” They added, “I can call and speak with a live person immediately.” Customers tend to be loyal, but so are the agents: “I have used the same agent and she always remembers what we like and any special needs we have.”

T+L Reader

I have used the same agent and she always remembers what we like and any special needs we have.

— T+L Reader

The Full List

1. ATJ

Reader Score: 99.07

2. DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co. 

Reader Score: 99.05

3. Artisans of Leisure 

Reader Score: 98.89

4. TCS World Travel

ReaderScore: 98.84

5. Trek Travel 

Reader Score: 98.62

6. Black Tomato 

Reader Score: 98.29

7. Classic Journeys 

WBA Hall of Fame honoree.

Reader Score: 98.27

8. Adventure Unbound 

Reader Score: 98.15

9. Scott Dunn 

Reader Score: 98.15

10. Inside JapanTours 

Reader Score: 98.13

11. Butterfield & Robinson 

Reader Score: 98.00

12. Vagabond Tours of Ireland

Reader Score: 97.78

13. Quasar Expeditions

Reader Score: 97.53

14. VBT

Reader Score: 97.33

15. Jacada Travel

Reader Score: 96.20

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