Choosing a tour company, leftover foreign coins

by Steve Venables, CTC


Steve, my wife and I are starting to plan a trip to Africa next year to experience a wildlife safari. Usually, ITN has about 18 to 24 different companies advertising such journeys on a monthly basis. Is there a website or other source to cut through the covers of these companies and find out which ones do the best job and are the best value for the high cost of such a trip, especially when one includes airfare from the States? We have read the “Tours in Review” column, but they are much less numerous than the ads that run monthly. Thank you. — Paul Gianini, Port Orange, FL


Dear Paul, you have given me a million-dollar idea. Start a website that does exactly what you’ve suggested and then sell it.

Basically, there are two kinds of tour operators: outbound and inbound. Outbound operators organize travel arrangements for individuals and groups, often in collaboration with inbound wholesale operators, and then send the travelers to the destination. Inbound operators are already at the destination and seek business from the outbound operators but may also organize their own trips and promote them worldwide.

And as a part of tourism, the largest industry in the world, there are a zillion tour companies, from one-person operations to huge affairs. If you take a look at www.worldtourism, you’ll get some idea of what I’m talking about.

What others experience is a good predictor, one of the best, of what you may expect of a company. Travel agents are always anxious to hear how their clients’ trips went, for this very reason.

You can get some idea of an outbound company’s reliability by going to the American Society of Travel Agents website,, and seeing who’s listed in their Tour Operator Program. Also, you can see who’s a member of the United States Tour Operators Association at

For inbound operators, I go to the official tourism website of the particular country I’m interested in, which usually has a list of operators who participate in the country’s tourism association. Of course, this doesn’t prove they do a good job or offer the best value.

In Arthur Miller’s dramatic stage play “Death of a Salesman,” the leading character Willy Loman complains to his wife when their brand-new Hastings refrigerator keeps breaking down. She justifies its purchase by saying, “They got the biggest ads of any of them.” Later Willy laments, “I told you we should’ve bought a well-advertised machine,” and concludes that his friend and neighbor Charlie had “bought a General Electric and it’s 20 years old and it’s still good. . . . Who ever heard of a Hastings refrigerator?”

Advertisements give you lots of information and a great place to start digging for what you want, but until my million-dollar website goes online you may need to do the dirty work yourself.


Dear Steve, over the years, we have ended up with lots of small change from a variety of foreign countries. Do you know of any organization, such as UNICEF, that can use this money? — Nell McCombs, Ventura, CA


Dear Nell, I too have baggies full of foreign coins, going back years and separated into countries, which I always try to remember to take with me the next time I visit one of those countries.

Sometimes it has resulted in embarrassing incidents, since, unlike American coins, which have always been worth at least their face value, foreign coins may become obsolete or valueless with age (except to collectors), due to currency changes or inflation.

UNICEF (a part of the United Nations system and whose task is to help children living in poverty in developing countries) does have a “Change For Good Program” whereby several airlines, including American Airlines, British Airways, Qantas and Cathay Pacific, have their flight attendants pass out special UNICEF envelopes at the end of each flight back into the States so passengers can donate their left-over foreign change with ease. Millions of dollars have been raised this way.

But if you miss that opportunity, you still can clean out your dresser drawer by sending your unwanted coins and currency to U.S. Fund for UNICEF, Attn: Change for Good Program (29 West 38th St., 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018). Include your name, address, e-mail and/or phone number with the donation so they can send you an acknowledgment of your gift.