It’s a pretty good question really. Why on earth would you pay good money for something you can get for free online? Why not just Google ‘best places to visit in Melbourne” when you arrive from overseas, interstate, regional Victoria or the suburbs of Melbourne?
Obviously I’m biased in that I operate a tour company, and private tours are one of our main products. So how can I even answer this question in an honest way? Well I go on a couple of things. One is my experience of guests feedback, both in-person when we are together on the tour and the reviews we receive after the tour. Dr Ginger from the US wrote: “My son & I had the most delightful time today on a walking tour with Allan from Melbourne Food Experiences. If you’re looking for a real insider’s look at this beautiful food Mecca of a city, you won’t be disappointed.”
There are lots more five star reviews online (yes, on Google) from guests who have taken the time to find us online and let us know how their tour was for them. This is typical of the reviews I receive in-person and as feedback from travel agents.
These guests could have Googled to find the best places to visit/eat/drink in Melbourne (which I just did) and came up with results that recommended high end restaurants, cocktail bars, plus a number of fairly ordinary neighbourhood pizza places, pho shops and coffee outlets. Ordinary in the way they are not the best of the best. Not what you spent good money on travelling to and staying in Melbourne for.
In reality there is nothing like spending a day with a local expert. They are a treasure trove of information on the cities story and history too and strive to create context to the tour by explaining how Melbourne came to be the city it is today. MFE guides also have strong links with Melbournes hospitality scene. These are people dedicated to keeping up with the local food news, movements of chefs, new signature dishes, special menus and the latest places to be dining at.
Each tour actually starts with a quick overview of what’s planned, and to check this is all ok. Then we ask what they have heard of Melbourne and if there is anything they would love to see, visit or learn about specifically. Then we allow the guests to speak.
Most of the time they like what we explained and we are on our way exploring Melbourne. But there have been many tours which have diverted from the planned route, in order to do something the guests really wanted to do, or avoid a double up on something they have done recently. There is no reason to visit the Queen Victoria Market if they spent time at Sydney Fish Market the previous day. Or explore the Italian precinct if they were in Italy a few weeks ago.
This city has so much to offer we can easily fill a tour with things that interest the guests. We have had tours where guests asked to see cathedrals (Melbourne has many), buy an akubra hat (Queen Vic Market), find Australian themed Christmas decorations (Myer Christmas shop) and Australian children’s books for grandchildren (Wombat Divine from Dymocks).
Or guests have an interest in learning about Melbourne’s indigenous history, which will lead us to discussions about William Barak and visits to the Koorie Heritage Trust, Birrarung Marr and tastings of native ingredients. For those with interests in architecture we explore beautiful Victorian era buildings such as the State Library, the Town Hall and Treasure Buildings. As well as spending time in The Royal Arcade, Block Arcade and Degraves Street. Ditto for Australian galleries, street art, sport, gardens the gold rush, immigration and culture.
I know from my own experience of travelling that booking a private tour and landing with a local expert is a real bonus. I’ve had really outstanding tours in Vietnam, New York, San Francisco and Thailand in recent years. I know I would never have made it to an amazing rum distillery or artisan coffee on Phuket. Nor would I have tasted New York’s best pizza if I was not with an incredible local guide.
As a final point I’d say the conversations between guide and guests creates an in depth experience that cannot easily be found online. Guides love explaining our city and sharing its stories. Recommending restaurants and the best dishes to try, sharing tastings at Queen Victoria Market, outstanding coffee, treats at bakeries, cheese shops and suggesting the best rooftop cocktail bars to visit. Many times we make bookings on guests behalf too and ensure they get the full VIP treatment when they visit.
If a private tour sounds like something you would love to experience in Melbourne, (rather than Googling) check out the options we have for gift vouchers and tour bookings.